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Time for the newest in the occasional mash-up between SNLC and the occasional opera series started by Demi Moaned, which I've since appropriation w/o initial permission, but with subsequent approval, more or less.  Thus today's variation on the standard start-up question goes:

Anyone see the Metropolitan Opera HD-cast of Maria Stuarda today?

From just the title, even without knowing anything about opera. you can guess that the plot obviously deals with the conflict between Mary Stuart, a.k.a. Mary, Queen of Scots, and her cousin Elizabeth I, Queen of England, over control of the English throne.  However, to my very limited understanding, the opera's story plays pretty quite fast and loose with historical details (what else is new?).  But more than that, what makes this particular production notable are two things:

(a) This Met Opera production of Maria Stuarda is the first in the Met's history.  
(b) One of the leading ladies "did a DeNiro" in getting ready for the role, in terms of physical appearance.

More below the flip.....

First, as usual here, just so that everyone is up to speed on the plot, the Met's synopsis of Maria Stuarda is here.  Regarding historical accuracy, obviously no sensible person regards an opera, of all art forms, as reflecting precisely history exactly as it happened.  The same can certainly be said of books, plays and movies, of course.  One small detail about the fastness and looseness of the treatment of history is that the subtitles, and presumably the libretto by Giuseppe Bardari, is that Elizabeth and Mary are referred to as "sisters", whereas in real life, they were cousins.  The opera is based on the 1800 play Maria Stuart, by Friedrich Schiller, which I'll admit that I haven't read, so I don't know if the "sisters" bit is from the play also.

However, the most important departure from historical accuracy, but without which departure the opera (or the play) wouldn't exist, is noted as follows from this NYT feature by Vivien Schweizer on mezzo-soprano Joyce Di Donato, who sings the title role.  Emphasis is mine:

"History, however, is liberally blended with fantasy in the work, which has a libretto based on Mary Stuart, Friedrich Schiller's 1800 play about a fictitious meeting between Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots."
I remember reading somewhere that if Elizabeth and Mary truly had met, Elizabeth might not have had the stomach to sign the warrant for Mary's execution (yes, I just spoiled the ending, but you knew already how the story ended, didn't you?).  However, this is opera, after all, and what composer and librettist could resist an operatic catfight between dueling diva?  Anthony Tommasini noted as much in his his NYT review:
""Though history tells us that Mary and Elizabeth never met, Donizetti, following Schiller, gives them an intense scene of confrontation. How could he resist presenting his audience with dueling divas?"
That confrontation occurs at the end of Part I, after Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (sung by tenor Matthew Polenzani), has arranged a meeting between the imprisoned Mary and QEI (sung by South African [though more Scottish-sounding in her spoken voice - but 3CM digresses, as usual] soprano Elza van den Heever) during a royal hunt near the castle where Mary is imprisoned.  Leicester advises Mary to be contrite, but with both ladies extremely mistrustful and suspicious of each other, good luck with that.  Needless to say, it doesn't work out that way, and the climax of the confrontation is when Mary hurls the insult "Vil bastarda!" (Vile bastard!) at Elizabeth.

Schweizer notes in her article that this phrase caused a bit of a ruckus at the time:

"In their meeting Mary accuses Elizabeth of being a 'vile bastard', which displeased the Italian censors. (She also accuses Elizabeth of being an 'obscene, unworthy whore.')"
But in a bit of rebellion at the time (the very next sentence in the article:
"Maria Malibran, the mezzo soprano, rebelled against the censorship and reinserted 'vil bastarda' when she sang in the 1835 premiere at La Scala; the opera was then banned in Milan."
That moment is clearly the dramatic highpoint of the story, and both Di Donato and van den Heever went at it and each other pretty well.  In this operatic treatment, Mary gets pretty soft, sympathetic treatment, while Elizabeth comes off as much more of a bee-yotch type.  One possible reason why comes from Tommasini in his review (emphasis mine):
"With a libretto by Giuseppe Bardari, based on a play by Schiller, the opera gives a very idealized portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was no slouch when it came to political machinations. A 19th-century Italian audience of Donizetti's day would have rooted for her as a Roman Catholic who stands up to a Protestant queen and becomes a martyr for her religion."
I'm the village non-religious guy here, so all these historical spitball fights (and much worse) don't really take with me overall, but clearly in that different context of a past century, those religious conflicts would indeed have had strong resonance.

The director of this production is Sir David McVicar (yes, he's of Scottish descent), who also directed Anna Bolena, another in composer Gaetano Donizetti's "Three Queens" opera trilogy about Tudor monarchs and history.  BTW, the 3rd opera is Roberto Devereux, and it's not hard to guess that it'll be on next season's roster, but we'll find out later this year for sure.  Since this is the Met's first shot at Maria Stuarda, this certainly isn't a radically updated setting, but uses traditional-looking costumes and wigs, for example.  However, the sets aren't always hyper-literal, the way a Franco Zeffirelli production would be, for example.  Part 2, for example, which is set at the start in Mary's prison, features a mega-chalkboard-like backdrop with text written all over it.  I didn't have time to gauge the text, but my guess is that it's taken from letters that Mary wrote in prison.

There was also a pre-recorded chat between Met Opera General Manager Peter Gelb, McVicar, and set & costume designer John Macfarlane (also Scottish - well, duh).  One point that McVicar mentioned was that they tried to work in a bit more of the real history back into the production, particularly in Part 2, where 12 years or so have elapsed since Part 1.  Elizabeth is made up to look much older, bald, and Mary is nervous clutching her rosary almost the whole of Part 2, looking paler.  McVicar noted that this went somewhat against the text.  But then given that as bass Matthew Rose (Talbot in the opera) noted, the whole opera is based on fiction anyway, a meeting between the two that never happened.

All of the singers did quite well, IMHO, the two female leads in particular, of course, since they obviously have to carry the show.  Interestingly, to me at least, I thought that van den Heever did a stronger acting job, perhaps because her character is less sympathetic on the surface, compared to the relatively plaster-saintish Mary.  (My Italian friend at the HD-cast thought otherwise.)  Another reason for my evaluation might subliminally have been what she did to prepare for the role.  As reported by the NYT's Daniel J. Wakin here:

"Elza van den Heever, 33, a promising South African soprano, has had her head shaved for the role of Queen Elizabeth I, the wig-bearing monarch whose portraits often depicted her with an unusually high forehead, in the Met's new production of Maria Stuarda by Donizetti.....

"She said she was moved to shave her head as a way of contributing to the professionalism she saw around her at the Met, taking note of the highly detailed and rich costumes.

'I did my part,' she said during an interview, while a makeup artist, Jimmy Cortés, worked on her face before a rehearsal last week. Ms. van den Heever met with a reporter despite expressing reservations about discussing her shaved head, fearful it would be perceived as a publicity stunt."

But besides the artistic statement:
"Practical reasons also came into play. The bald cap that would have been necessary took a long time to apply and caused glue to get stuck in her hair. And Ms. van den Heever will appear in the movie theater simulcast of the opera, when high-definition cameras pick up the tiniest of details — including the edges of a bald cap. 'People will be looking for it,' she said."
If you read Wakin's article, EvdH said at one point that "she does not particularly consider herself a diva".  From her intermission banter 2 weeks back with Joyce Di Donato (!) during the Met HD-cast then of Berlioz's Les Troyens, I don't think that she was kidding.  She seemed a bit nervous doing the interview, and said more or less that she tends not to be demonstrative or particularly outgoing, which made it more of a challenge to play Elizabeth I, who had to be strong when needed (which was obviously a lot, if you're an absolute monarch).

For today's HD-cast, Deborah Voigt was the hostess, and got to do the intermission banter this time with both leads.  With EvdH, after an initial quick bringing up the microphone closer to her mouth, she seemed a touch more at ease, perhaps because she was in costume and obviously on adrenalin from the performance.  She also gave a goofily giddy shoutout to her friends in South Africa, Europe and elsewhere, almost like a teenager at the prom.  

The conductor, Maurizio Benini, is about as un-maestro-like as a conductor can look, almost like an Italian bureaucrat, if that makes sense.  However, he obviously has this music in his blood and paced the opera very well.  Nice work and camera shots of the solo clarinettist in the overture, for example.

So overall, a pretty straightforward day at the (digital) opera, without crazy cast changes or drama like that such as with Les Troyens recently.  Of course, both Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda end with the title characters going up the stage steps to the scaffold, so that might get a bit old, stage-wise, by the time the Met hits Roberto Devereux.  But since I'd never seen or heard Maria Stuarda in any form before, I wanted to check this out.  I'm glad I did overall.

BTW, if you have way too much time on your hands:

(a) This is a rehearsal session from 2005, with Joyce Di Donato singing Elizabeth (not Mary):

(b) There's also this version, in English, from English National Opera, conducted by the late great Sir Charles Mackerras:

So with that, since this is another mash-up, the usual 2 options for chit-chat:

(a) Comments about the opera and this production, or:
(b) The usual SNLC protocol (if you're not a regular, you can glean from my tip jar the general idea).

Of course, as always, both options can be practiced in the same comment :) .

Originally posted to chingchongchinaman on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 04:25 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.


Did you see the Met HD-cast of Maria Stuarda today?

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Comment Preferences

  •  about to..... (17+ / 0-)

    ......take off in 1/2 hour or so, so I might need help while I'm out if anyone comments here, to spread mojo and keep the chit-chat going.  But that's not my loser story this week.  My loser story is that after getting one new tire a few weeks ago, I apparently need another new tire, after a visit to the repair shop this week.

    "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

    by chingchongchinaman on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 04:24:50 PM PST

  •  I must see this. Opera is with out doubt the most (10+ / 0-)

    creative enterprise human beings produce for the shear injoyment of others. Thanks Mr. Chingchongchinaman for your work here which I be is a labor of LOVE.  

  •  Maybe I'll try to make the encore. Kicked myself (9+ / 0-)

    a bit when I saw that it had been on today. Of course, Mary Stuart being Roman Catholic had very little to do with her being beheaded. The multiple conspiracies against Elizabeth that used Mary as a focus were the principle reason that Elizabeth finally lost patience and had her beheaded. There were many Roman Catholic lords that survived quite well but had had the good sense not to conspire against their sovreign.

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 05:06:06 PM PST

    •  given my ignorance of the full history.... (9+ / 0-)

      ....or even part of the history, I did keep in mind that the opera is a pretty one-sided treatment, perhaps reflecting its source material in the Schiller play, but also the general Catholicism of Italy.  One other things about QEI and English Catholics were that two of the major composers of the time, William Byrd and Thomas Tallis, managed to survive with QEI acknowledging their talent.

      "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

      by chingchongchinaman on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 08:49:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Correct. Some other facts follow (3+ / 0-)

      The reference to "sisters" refers to Elizabeth's view of monarchs as siblings.  Elizabeth called Mary her sister queen, hence she couldn't quite bring herself provide the necessary consequence for Mary's treason.  Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's head of intelligence, was the force behind the decision to rid England of Mary and her meddling. As long as Mary lived, passionate Catholics intent on Catholic restoration to the English throne, were drawn to her and to plots to get rid of the woman they believed was a usurper.   Mary was neither bright enough nor politically apt enough to avoid becoming entangled in their conspiracies.

      Newt 2012. Sociopath, adulterer, hypocrite, Republican.

      by tikkun on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 02:33:05 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  A pretty fair summary. I never could quite (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        understand the passionate attachment to Mary that some Roman Catholics have, given her feckless private life, but I suppose "martrydom" overcomes a great many shortcomings. Charles the First has a better case for being a religious martyr, as he really did believe that bishops were an essential part of the church and that was one component, if not the only one, that led to his death.

        Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

        by Wee Mama on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 04:41:20 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  late reply #3; good points (0+ / 0-)

        In the opera, it's obviously Cecil who takes the initiative to push for Mary's execution.  Joshua Hopkins took the view in the intermission banter that he played Cecil as a "total patriot", with no personal animus against Mary, but the issue of a Catholic pretender to the throne in Protestant England obviously was a recipe for disaster.

        "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

        by chingchongchinaman on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 03:37:24 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Fortunate to have seen it (8+ / 0-)

    last Tuesday night at the Met, the night it was filmed for the Met-HD. It was a fine production. Joyce DiDonato was superb as Maria Stuarda. Elza van den Heever was very good as Elizabeth, with an exaggerated physical acting style. Thankfully the Met offers "Family Circle" tickets for $25. Seats are located in the top tier, but the sound is phenomenal nonetheless.

    The Met's program for this Donizetti opera, with an article about the true history of Elizabeth and Mary can be found here. One doesn't see this opera for a history lesson, of course, and Donizetti offers a beautiful, tragic story with libretto by Giuseppe Bardari, based on the Schiller play.

    I am horrified by the very idea of beheadings and read enough about the actual event so that the tension that develops and Mary's courage, as played out in beautiful singing and orchestration, is unforgettable.

    There's one fact that wasn't in the opera, thank heavens, or it would have been unbearable. Mary's beloved little dog was evidently hidden under her skirt at the scaffold. He wasn't injured but was traumatized.

    "No people ever recognize their dictator in advance. ... When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American." Dorothy Thompson (1935)

    by DorothyT on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 05:16:38 PM PST

  •  hi (7+ / 0-)

    Not much going on here except a big wind howling outside the windows.

    The way to get me to leave the cave usually involves grandbabies so I am looking forward to seeing three of them on Tuesday and again on Saturday.

    Best wishes to all here!

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 06:37:00 PM PST

  •  always (5+ / 0-)

    learn something new here!

    i still have not found my po box key and i still have yet to visit the post office to pay for whatever i need to do to get another key

    there's always next week...

    i think i keep hoping it'll turn up one day. it is a quiet night at home as well

    which is fine for an introvert like me

  •  Saw it; DiDonato moving, v.d. Heever not so much (7+ / 0-)

    Thanks to the Met HD series, I have gone from a sporadic opera goer to a regular one. I also am reading opera history. I really am still at the training wheels stage.  This is, in fact, my first written text on opera.

    Be nice, therefore:

    My feeling was that  v.d. Heever did not capture Elizabeth's supposed internal struggles about Maria's fate or Roberto's faithlessness in her arias. She was far more successfully dramatic in the duets/sextets. Never moving, though.

    v.d. Heever said that McVicar's directed her to make Elizabeth disport herself like the side-kick in a spaghetti-western as one reviewer said, more or less. I found it was not only inauthentic (untrue to any model, whether the historical Elizabeth or ones of Bel Canto recovery of the opera I see on youtube) but also actually deeply distracting, as if, while making her debut at the met, she was simultaneously  auditioning for a trouser buffo role. Director's bad descision, methinks.

    DiDonato gave Maria great complexity, having her first show her sensitivity to nature in the Clouds aria and then the very prideful arrogance that Elizabeth expected from her and which she eventually shows in spades in the Bolyen's bastard recitative.  I was profoundly moved by her act II.

    Rigoletto in Vegas next? I'll take Verdi anywhere, anytime. (first, however, encore of Les Troyens, if I can find a very very brave soul to go with me.)

    "Are you bluish? You don't look bluish," attributed to poet Roger Joseph McGough, for the Beatles' Yellow Submarine (1968).

    by BlueStateRedhead on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 09:36:26 PM PST

    •  I think Bernheimer agrees with you in his..... (5+ / 0-) that oculus posted the link to above.  I'll also acknowledge the strange costuming for EvdH as QEI.

      If you want, you could take over the Rigoletto SN@TO on 2/16/13, since I won't be able to catch it that day.  There's plenty of time beforehand to decide, of course.

      "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

      by chingchongchinaman on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 10:14:50 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  What an honor. let's kosmail closer to the date... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        martyc35, shari

        ...before hand. First to assure than I am going and then perhaps someone less rookie than I might be available.

        "Are you bluish? You don't look bluish," attributed to poet Roger Joseph McGough, for the Beatles' Yellow Submarine (1968).

        by BlueStateRedhead on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 06:20:54 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  late reply #4; sounds like a plan (0+ / 0-)

          In principle, if you're strapped for time, I can write a diary, repeating ad nauseum that I haven't actually seen the HD-cast, but riffing a bit on Rigoletto as much as I can, probably with a link to the NYT review.  You can just do the diary separately as SN@TO 15, so that I would do a separate Loser's Club for that Sat. night.  We'll figure things out closer to the date, hopefully a bit more than a week in advance, but we'll take it to PM/kosmail).

          "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

          by chingchongchinaman on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 03:40:23 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Hello, 3CM and everyone! (4+ / 0-)

    Read Tommasini's review of the opera & it sounded good -- but as I am not particularly a fan of opera I doubt I'll ever watch this one.

    Loser story this week: lost my voice.  Had it just fine on Thursday, although my throat was sore.  Woke up Friday a.m. with no voice but went to work anyway.  Luckily was able to leave early.  Worked a full shift tonight, still with no voice, and have to do it again tomorrow.

    It is very interesting to deal with customers who can't hear you.

    To make the argument that the media has a left- or right-wing, or a liberal or a conservative bias, is like asking if the problem with Al-Qaeda is do they use too much oil in their hummus. Al Franken

    by Youffraita on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 10:50:20 PM PST

    •  the joys of sign language, or general...... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      martyc35, shari, Youffraita

      ......charades, perhaps.  Sorry about the lost voice; hope you recover quickly.

      "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

      by chingchongchinaman on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 04:45:12 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks 3CM (0+ / 0-)

        It was a bit better today & Monday I have off, so that should help.

        This isn't a bad cold like the one in November -- it's just annoying that I came down with it during my work week.  Bad timing, iow.

        To make the argument that the media has a left- or right-wing, or a liberal or a conservative bias, is like asking if the problem with Al-Qaeda is do they use too much oil in their hummus. Al Franken

        by Youffraita on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 12:17:07 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  late reply #5; know what you mean about..... (0+ / 0-)

          .....timing, like me getting sick on Xmas Day, which must have been when I got the bug, or the bug blew up on me.  Hopefully things are better now a day later.

          "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

          by chingchongchinaman on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 03:41:23 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the memories (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    martyc35, shari

    About to board a flight. Will write more later. I did see Maria Stuarda. Here's what I wrote in an email to a friend:

    Yesterday was Maria Stuarda in HD. It was a fine performance throughout. Joyce di Donato is definitely ‘the big time’ (as the late Bob Hall used to put it). And I liked the staging. They seem to be using David MacVicar a lot these days. That’s OK with me. Have you ever seen the piece? I only had one previous encounter. It was in Chicago either in ‘73 or ‘74 with ‘Aballé. The music is decent enough, but the libretto is pretty lame, IMO. In particular, the character of Leicester is annoying.

    I was examining my conscience yesterday about whether it’s just the historical inaccuracies that I object to, which in principle I think should be irrelevant. And I was able to exonerate myself. The counter-example being Don Carlos, which is also profoundly ahistorical, but it treats the political side of the drama in a compelling way. Maria Stuarda, OTOH, can’t decide whether it’s about a love triangle (and a dull one at that) or urgent matters of state and fails to convince on either point.

    One annoyance was that the soundtrack was out of synch with the picture throughout the first act. Fortunately they corrected it for Act II. Mys sister attended near her home. She’s a big fan of the HD shows ever since she and Mom and I saw Boris, and she liked this one quite a bit.

    "The smartest man in the room is not always right." -Richard Holbrooke

    by Demi Moaned on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 07:48:29 AM PST

    •  late reply # 6; I didn't even notice the...... (0+ / 0-)

      .....out-of-sync-ness of the soundtrack, although the 2 or 3 momentary dropouts were very obvious, of course.  I'm not really a bel canto aficionado, so I was happy for the chance to "see" Maria Stuarda, even if it's just Memorex-live and not really live in the same hall.

      "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

      by chingchongchinaman on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 03:43:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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