Opera Scotland

Mary Stuart Maria Stuarda; Mary, Queen of Scots

Gaetano Donizetti (born Bergamo, 29 November 1797; died Bergamo, 8 April 1848)

Giuseppe Bardari

Tragedy Maria Stuart (1800) by Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805), translated by Andrea Maffei.

First performance: Composed 1834. Milan (Teatro alla Scala), 30 December 1835.
First UK performance: London (St Pancras Town Hall), 1 March 1966.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (King’s Theatre), 25 August 1969.
Scottish Opera première: To be confirmed (August 1991 and October 1994).

Perhaps more than any other of Donizetti’s great tragic operas, it is Maria Stuarda that has come to public notice in recent decades. Its early career was disastrous, in that it was put into rehearsal at the San Carlo in Naples in 1834, but at a late stage it was censored, and the composer had to do a rush job to convert it for a different libretto, Buondelmonte, by Salatino, which was performed on 18 October 1834. The original version was given at La Scala the following season. The opera did not have the kind of international success that Anna Bolena and Lucia enjoyed. Its first modern revival was at Bergamo in 1958 and the first British performance at the Camden Festival. There was a Florence production, brought to Edinburgh with Leyla Gencer as Mary. After that its popularity spread quickly, and the title role was taken up by Montserrat Caballé, Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills at many of the major houses. ENO mounted a famous production in 1973 with Janet Baker (who used the transpositions used by the mezzo Maria Malibran at the Milan première). Elizabeth was portrayed memorably by Shirley Verrett (in Florence and Edinburgh) and by Pauline Tinsley (in New York and London). The quality of the work is patchy, but the meeting between the two queens in the second act and the final series of solos for Mary are extremely effective.

Elisabetta – Queen Elizabeth of England (soprano)
Giorgio Talbot – George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury (bass)
Lord Guglielmo Cecil – Sir William Cecil (baritone)
Conte di Leicester – Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (tenor)
Anna Kennedy, Mary’s companion (mezzo-soprano)
Maria Stuarda – Mary Stuart (soprano)

Plot Summary
Leicester is in love with Mary, while at the same time being a favourite of Queen Elizabeth. Cecil is determined that Mary is the focus for possible rebellion and must be taken out of the way. Leicester persuades Elizabeth to visit Mary at her prison in Fotheringhay. While out for a walk in the grounds with her companion, Mary has a surprise encounter with a hunting party including Elizabeth, who taunts Mary into losing her temper. Mary hurls insults at Elizabeth (“Figlia impura di Bolena” and “Vil bastarda” scarcely require translation, and caused a stir in 1834). She has sealed her own fate. Cecil persuades Elizabeth to sign the death warrant, and Leicester is sent to witness the execution. Talbot, a trusted adviser to Elizabeth, and Mary’s jailer, is, confusingly, revealed to have Catholic sympathies and becomes a confidant of Mary before her death.


NVC (1 DVD) Sung in English Recorded 1982

Conductor: Charles Mackerras. Director: John Copley Designer: Desmond Heeley
Orchestra of English National Opera
Janet Baker (Maria), David Rendall (Leicester), Rosalind Plowright (Elisabetta).

1982 was the year chosen by Janet Baker for her retirement from the opera stage, to permit a few more years of less exhausting concert work. She went out on a high, and this revival of John Copley’s excellent production comes over with a great sense of immediacy. The edition used is basically that of the La Scala premiere, when Donizetti rejigged the piece so the star mezzo, Maria Malibran, could sing Maria. It must be said that the actual performance is less electric than when the production was new in 1973 (see below), and the supporting cast less special, even though Alan Opie and John Tomlinson are Cecil and Talbot. The chorus is a bit woolly, and this is more noticeable on the CD issue, in the Chandos “Opera in English” series.

DECCA (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1975

Conductor: Richard Bonynge
Orchestra of Teatro Comunale Bologna
Joan Sutherland (Maria), Luciano Pavarotti (Leicester), Huguette Tourangeau (Elisabetta).

Sutherland sang Maria in a number of the world’s great houses, usually with the impressive Canadian mezzo as her rival. In 1977, Covent Garden borrowed the Copley production from ENO for them..Having Mary as the higher voice was the original plan as prepared for Naples before the censorship problems, and until the Mackerras / Baker production it was the version accepted in modern times. The contrasts are always interesting. On this recording, the Bologna forces are quite acceptable, and the other roles are well done, led by Pavarotti, with James Morris, Roger Soyer and Heather Begg as Cecil, Talbot, and Anna.

LIVING STAGE (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1966

Conductor: Francesco Molinari-Pradelli                                                              

Orchestra of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Leyla Gencer (Maria), Franco Tagliavini (Leicester), Shirley Verrett (Elisabetta).

In 1969, five of the cast of six (excluding the Anna), came to Edinburgh under a different conductor, and the result was generally welcomed, the particular highlight being the Elizabeth of the great American mezzo Shirley Verrett. In Edinburgh, the Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer, one of the great stars of the Italian stage, was a bit variable. In this live recording from three years earlier, it is easy to see why she had such a high reputation. At her best she combined a dramatic chesty use of her lower register with ethereally beautiful soft floated high notes, very welcome in the succession of solos for Mary at the end.

PONTO (2 CDs) Sung in English Recorded 1973

Conductor: Charles Mackerras.                                     

Orchestra of Sadler’s Wells Opera

Janet Baker (Maria), Keith Erwen (Leicester), Pauline Tinsley (Elisabetta).

Reviewing this performance in The Times, William Mann called it an evening to tell the grandchildren about, and this live recording really is a bit special. The only thing missing is the visual side, since the great dramatic singing actress Pauline Tinsley just happened to look the spitting image of Elizabeth Tudor.

The Cast

 Hannah Kennedy, Mary's companion
 Elizabeth, Queen of England
Giorgio Talbot
 George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury
Lord Guglielmo Cecil
 Sir William Cecil
Maria Stuarda
 Mary Stuart
Roberto di Leicester
 Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

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