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Gaetano Donizetti: Maria Stuarda
11 Oct 2009

Donizetti's Maria Stuarda at the Sferisterio Festival

A number of performances from the Sferisterio Opera Festival have been released in recent months.

Gaetano Donizetti: Maria Stuarda

Elisabetta: Laura Polverelli; Maria Stuarda: Maria Pia Piscitelli; Anna Kennedy: Giovanna Lanza; Roberto: Roberto De Biasio; Talbot: Simone Alberghini; Cecil: Mario Cassi. Coro Lirico Marchigiano 'V. Bellini'. Marchigiana Philharmonic Orchestra (FORM). Riccardo Frizza, conductor. Pier Luigi Pizzi, stage director, set and costume design. Sergio Rossi, lighting design. Recorded during the Sferisterio Opera Festival, Macerata, Italy, 3 August 2007.

Naxos 2.110268 [DVD]

$29.49  Click to buy

A summer event, the festival setting, a classic amphitheater, can be seen under the opening credits of this DVD. This brief segment sets the mood for a good opera evening, as the crowd settles to view the action on the long, relatively narrow stage. Pier Luigi Pizzi directed an atmospheric Macbeth for the festival (search the archives for the review here). The same design principles that enhanced that Verdi opera do not work as effectively for Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. Once again, there are ramps, staired pedestals, a pitch black background, and simple, spare props. Costumes are heavy and detailed, with so much fabric in the ladies’ gowns that some produce annoying rustles with the slightest movement. Pizzi, who designed sets and costumes besides directing, must have decided he’d get more “budget bang” out of how he dressed his singers than in where he placed the action. Here he strands his performers in unatmospheric, dark surroundings, making the already sketchy drama seem portentous as well.

The weak structure of Maria Stuarda doesn’t help matters. Act one takes about 30 minutes to set up Elisabetta’s hatred of Maria Stuarda, not for political/religious reasons but because Elisabetta feels that Maria stole the Queen’s man, the Earl of Leicester. Maria only enters her eponymous opera in act two, where she is begged to tamp down her temper when Elizabeth visits, in hopes of a reprieve from her death sentence. But in the scene that keeps this opera alive, Elisabetta and Maria tear into each other with claw and fang. Understandably condemned, Maria then spends act three, after a futile attempt to change Elisabetta’s mind, exhibiting tragic nobility as she awaits her fate beneath the ax. The great choral number at the end serves as the audience’s reward for enduring Maria’s protracted leave-taking.

In a recent La Scala production on DVD, Anna Caterina Antonacci as Elisabetta and Mariella Devia as Maria put on a master class of vocal technique and committed acting. This Sferisterio production suffers from lacking a potent Elisabetta. Laura Polverelli scowls appropriately, and Pizzi certainly employed his skills to make her both as regal and as unattractive as possible. But Polverelli sings monotonously, with little color or insightful inflection. Maria Pia Piscitelli fares better as Maria, especially in the final scenes. As an actress she doesn’t possess much range, but her instrument at least can meet Donizetti’s challenges and retain some degree of appeal. She is thoroughly adequate, as are Roberto De Biasio as Leicester and Simone Alberghini as Talbot.

Ricardo Frizza and the Orchestra Filarmonia a Marchigiana play crisply, though not with immaculate tuning. Though the Naxos booklet comes only in English, it deserves praise for offering a full track listing, credits, essay, synopsis, photographs and artist biographies. Many booklets from larger companies don’t offer all that. Still, for Maria Stuarda on DVD, go for the La Scala.

Chris Mullins

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