In the first half of the 19th century, all Europe seemed to idolize Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, first-cousin, once removed to Elizabeth I of England. In 1800, poet and author Friedrich Schiller presented his play fictionalizing a supposed meeting between Mary and Elizabeth.
Schillers play was a sensation, which inspired many contemporary composers to tackle the story. The play, seen by Gaetano Donizetti in the early 1830s, struck the rising composer with its theatricality. Employing a young, inexperienced librettist, he began to craft a story intended to impel the audience to sympathize with Mary and to vilify Elizabeth.
Apparently, Donizetti and librettist Giuseppe Bardari succeeded in their task a little too well. After the final dress rehearsal before the scheduled 1834 premiere of the opera Maria Stuarda, the King of Naples banned the opera. The Queen of Naples, a direct descendant of Anne Boleyn, who was Elizabeths mother, found the libretto repulsive. The opera received its premiere at La Scala, Milan, on Dec. 30, 1835.
Most great operas include crackling confrontation scenes at the center of the story. Donizettis Maria Stuarda ups the ante by having its two diva queens hurling insults during the confrontation that serves as the crux of his creation. The chaste Mary Stuart, pushed beyond courteous civility, slings the choicest barbs at her cousin, Elizabeth. Tragically, it is Elizabeth who is victorious in the end.
Hurling the insults and tossing-off the pyrotechnic vocal lines are two world class divas, American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in the title role and South African soprano Elza van den Heever as Elizabeth. Tenor Matthew Polenzani brings his trademark fine musicianship and vocal elegance to the role of Leicester. David McVicars Met premiere production of Maria Stuarda is led by the bel canto specialist Maurizio Benini.
Met Live in HD broadcast of Maria Stuarda
When: 12:55 p.m. Saturday, opera chat begins at 12:30 p.m.
Where: Douglass Theatre, 355 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Cost: $24 adults, $20 seniors and students