I don’t know much about opera. To me, it’s very connected to classical music, of which I also know nothing about. I try to approach new things with an open mind; there must be a reason why people keep going to the opera despite it not being a very contemporary art form.
In my head, opera is a weaker storytelling form than, let’s say, theatre. I find that it’s more about showcasing the human voice as an instrument and using story as a vehicle for music rather than the story itself.
Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda is not necessarily the strongest story I’ve been in contact with. The love triangle between Mary, Leicester and Elizabeth is tenuous at best (and not even historically accurate). Elizabeth’s conflict is predictable and not especially gripping.
None of this is the fault of Pacific Opera Victoria, though. According to the program, this opera was chosen in part because of the current interest in the Tudor dynasty. It’s a fairly obscure piece that is not presented very often. Let’s simply say that it’s no Carmen.
Despite the faults of the story, I quite enjoyed the musical aspect of it. While Maria Stuarda doesn’t contain very memorable arias, it does have two powerful women signing insults at each other. Mary’s “impure daughter of Anne Boleyn” was a definite burn!
Tracy Dahl and Sally Dibblee showed considerable skill (as far as I can evaluate them) and really shone for me. Both were able to sing so softly as to be barely heard, and then raise the volume to sign louder than the orchestra. Edgar Ernesto Ramirez as Robert Leicester seemed a bit weak compared to the two sopranos, but then, what earl can compare to two queens? However, I really enjoyed Andrew Lowe as the Lord Chancellor.
The set and the costumes were sombre and understated, except for the last of Elizabeth’s dresses, meant to echo one of her most famous portrait. The opera begins in a museum with a portrait of Elizabeth being taken down. The audience is a visitor to the museum witnessing the revival of the queen. It’s quite appropriate, actually, as this opera can be considered a “museum piece” that is being revived on the stage. The lighting work was especially effective in conveying a sense of realism to the whole opera.
I felt that the visual elements of the opera de-emphasized the spectacle element to let the two sopranos’ voices really shine. The lack of visual distraction really let me focus on the vocal and musical performance.
I must admit I don’t need much to be entertained, but if you like stellar vocal work and historical cat fights, you should catch one of the last two representations of Maria Stuarda at the Royal Theatre on Friday, April 20th and Sunday, April 22nd. You can get tickets here.