MARIA STUART AT SAN CARLO
In music history there have been few operas so unlucky as Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda.
The composer created it for Naples’ Teatro San Carlo in 1834, and first of all, he couldn’t dispose of his favourite librettista Felice Romani, who was busy
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. So he was forced to accept a very young Law student, Giuseppe Bardari, with no experience at all.
Nevertheless he did such a good job and Donizetti was so satisfied, that he proposed Bardari to Milan’s Scala for a new opera, a project that never got real.
Also in the rehearsal Stuarda went through a stormy time: the two primadonnas were so mutually jealous that they fighted furiously, each of them accusing the other to be Donizetti’s favourite – so much that the composer, disgusted said ‘I don’t care about both of you – those two (the queens) were two whores and so are you!’.
Strange as it could seem, this calmed the two singers down, and at last it seemed that the opera could go on stage without any problem again.
But the biggest trouble was still to come: a few days before its première the opera was forbidden. Common opinion said it had been the censorship considering the insults at the edge of vulgarity that a Queen throws towards another, and the latter taking revenge sentencing the other to death. But now it seems that not the censor, but the King in person said ‘no’, simply because he didn’t like operas with tragic endings, specially in gala evenings.
So wanting it or not, Donizetti agreed to use the same music for a different apolitical subject set in , middle-age Buondelmonte
. The real Maria Stuarda had its first performance in Milan the following year.
Not that there everything went smoothly: the subject was so strong that this time it was really the censor’s intervention. New ban, the opera slowly found its way to different stages but never entered the great repertoire. It came back also to Naples in a different political situation, and here was on stage for the last time in 1866 before it fell in oblivion for almost a century.
Then as a sleeping beauty, the opera was reprised at the end of the 1950s, first in Donizetti’s hometown Bergamo, then in Germany, until the historical triumph of the duo Gencer/Verrett in Florence 1967
. The same great singers brought the opera to Naples the following year, and now it’s the turn of this new 2010 version.
So, the opera has come back where it all started more than 150 years ago and there’s a certain sense of revenge seeing it on the very same stage where it was forbidden at first.
In Naples opera lovers are a lot, and too many empty places in San Carlo are not a good sign, showing the difficult relationship between the city and ‘its own’ opera house.
But absents were in the wrong, because the opera was performed maybe in the best possible way.
Mariella Devia is the great Stuarda nowadays. She is constantly honoured for her spotless singing and her musical longevity, but this is not the only matter – this time, for instance, she has enchanted the audience even more than usual thanks to her skill full technique so that she doesn’t hide the tracks of time in her voice (easy to recognize in a certain heaviness of the lower register), but she’s able to adjust her singing line to it, her soprano sounding as carefully engraved, without overlooking not even a single note, musically and dramatic appropriate and exact in every situation.
Devia puts herself on the test winning every challenge. One example is the magnificent finale, where the beautiful variations, all pushed on the higher notes, are sung spotless.
Her expressivity is all in the perfection of the singing line, as it must be in real Belcanto, without naturalistic effects which would be out of place.
Moreover, her Stuarda is regal as a real Queen must be: not a victim to be sacrificed, but a real sovereign, who’s able to conceal her own faults to herself, almost bored when Lord Cecil reminds them before the execution.
Director’s choice was that in Sonia Ganassi’s Elisabeth the nervous and naughty side of her character are highlighted, a limited one-way vision of the Queen’s complexity. It changes only at the beginning of third act, here is her dialogue with Lord Cecil, which comes out from the deep black of the scene (visually a very beautiful moment), and the Queen in her torments shows more dramatic depth, well supported by the artist.
Ganassi’s mezzo is a first quality one, as she has always demonstrated. But in this occasion she didn’t seem at her best, her vocal emission sounding under effort so that she had to take breathe too often being clearly tired to the end of the longest phrases.
That said, how not to point out the homogeneity of her voice in every register, and the variety of her accents? She’s always highly expressive so to keep the attention alive, and to give light to a character that, for saying the truth, lives in the other queen’s reflected glory.
The performance of tenor Ricardo Bernal has been controversial and there have been discussions in the audience with some open disapproval. Young Mexican sings with a certain skill and good musical intentions, but it can’t be denied that his voice is not well focused and projected, lacking of the necessary shrill.
Maybe the good-looking tenor was not in good shape? We can verify soon, because in two months he will come back to Naples for a new production of the Merry widow.
Very good Carlo Cigni as Talbot: his basso is imposant and solid as a rock, while Marco Caria has been a Lord Cecil properly insinuating. Crystal clear and taking good part to the action, Caterina di Tonno as Anna Kennedy.
Andriy Yurkevych says that he’s the ‘most Italian among the Ukraine conductors’ and with reason.
His conducting has been inspired and faithful to the musical and dramatic spirit of the opera as Donizetti wanted, or at least as we imagine that Donizetti wanted. Every scene, almost every moment has been enhanced in the best way. Yurkevych has displayed all the musical colours of the score, being able to hold the right tempi, hastening when necessary or loosing the melodic line free. San Carlo’s orchestra has followed him very well with a brilliant clear sound, always well controlled in every nuance and in the different sound level. Also the connection with the stage has been excellent, not only in term of volume but also for the synchrony with the singers. Really a very good result for the San Carlo’s orchestra.
Director Andrea de Rosa had staged Friederich Schiller’s drama Maria Stuart three years ago for Teatro Mercadante in Naples, and he has reprised his own creation for the operatic version of the story.
A staging’s shift from drama to music is something very interesting: we have same scenery and a direction that has been not ‘operatic’ as we could expect, but bearing more the dryness of drama theatre, with a sober, subtly careful acting.
The whole performance has been very good, weaker at the beginning; it has gone gradually better and better.
The first scene hadn’t impressed very much: the stage was closed by three big plain walls, with no other than some doors allowing the characters to come in. The walls were composed by two parts, and from time to time they splitted horizontally in the middle opening a line allowing the chorus to appear singing and watching what was going on.
The second scene, the entrance of Stuarda, was more striking and suggestive: the upper part of the scene became lighter and moved up showing just a slice of sky giving the right impression of the forced seclusion the Queen was forced in. Here takes place the famous meeting between the two Queens, Devia calling names without emphasizing too much a libretto which is already strong enough, and Ganassi staying icy cold hearing the insults coming from the rival.
In the second part no scene: De Rosa used the huge San Carlo’s stage sinked in an absolute darkness from where only spot of lights revealed the different spaces where the action took place. Here we see a tormented Elizabeth sitting at her table at the light of her candle, and Lord Cecil coming out like a black soul from the obscurity in the back gently insinuating and winning in convincing her to sign the death sentence.
Where De Rosa’s direction seemed less happy, is in managing the crowd, something he has solved out just lining up the chorus on the stage standing still as for a concert.
In the whole, an excellent performance, it would be worth while to put it on stage again and again in next years, but in Italy it doesn’t work so: staging’s, as expensive as they can be, are given only a few times in their season and then they’re forgotten, seldom are reprised by other opera houses. We can just hope for a DVD to be recorded and sold in the future to keep memory of this Maria Stuarda.
direttore Andriy Yurkevych
regia Andrea De Rosa
maestro del coro Salvatore Caputo
scene Sergio Tramonti
costumi Ursula Patzak
luci Pasquale Mari
Elisabetta Sonia Ganassi
Maria Stuarda Mariella Devia
Anna Kennedy Caterina Di Tonno
Leicester Ricardo Bernal
Talbot Carlo Cigni
Cecil Marco Caria
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro di San Carlo
Teatro di San Carlo