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Donizetti's Maria Stuarda

Duration:
3 hours, 15 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 19 June 2010

Donizetti's 3-act opera Maria Stuarda was inspired by Schiller's play, and is based on fictional events leading to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and caused such controversy that it was originally banned in 1834. After then the opera was occasionally performed in Italy but in a censored version, and the opera's twentieth century revival was in 1958.
The focus of the opera is on the fictional and confrontational meeting between Mary Stuart, the Catholic Queen of Scotland, and the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I, resulting in Mary's condemnation and execution. The opera is now considered one of Donizetti's most powerful and compelling, culminating in a dramatic final scene.
Sarah Connolly sings the title role of Mary Stuart, and Antonia Cifrone sings Elizabeth. This new production by Opera North is directed by Antony McDonald, and is conducted by Guido Johannes Rumstadt, who makes his debut with the company.

Presented by Donald Macleod.

Mary Stuart ..... Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano)
Queen Elizabeth ..... Antonia Cifrone (soprano)
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester ..... Bülent Bezdüz (tenor)
Sir William Cecil ..... David Kempster (baritone)
George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury ..... Frédéric Bourreau (bass)
Hannah Kennedy ..... Michelle Walton (soprano)

Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North conducted by Guido Johannes Rumstadt.

  • Presenter Donald Macleod talks to Director and Designer Antony Mcdonald

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    The director and designer Antony McDonald talks to Donald Macleod about his approach to a work of artifice, the look of the sets and the timeframes he sets the opera in.

    Photo: BBC

  • Presenter Donald Macleod talks to Conductor Guido Johannes Rumstadt

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    Donald Macleod talks to the conductor Guido Johannes Rumstadt about the mismatch of high drama with the formality of the music in Maria Stuarda; also the challenge of having two divas in opera, conversational style of the writing and the character of the music for different personalities.

    Photo: Opera North

  • Presenter Donald Macleod talks to mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly

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    Donald Macleod talks to Sarah Connolly about the role of Mary Stuart, Mary's confession scene and the final moments of opera.
    They also discuss her preparation for operatic roles in general.

    Photo: Bill Cooper

  • Antonia Cifrone as Queen Elizabeth

    Antonia Cifrone as Queen Elizabeth

    Photo: Bill Cooper

  • Mary Stuart, Sir William Cecil and Queen Elizabeth

    Mary Stuart, Sir William Cecil and Queen Elizabeth

    Sarah Connolly as Mary Stuart, David Kempster as Sir William Cecil and Antonia Cifrone as Queen Elizabeth

    Photo: Bill Cooper

  • Bülent Bezdüz as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Antonia Cifrone as Queen Elizabeth

    Bülent Bezdüz as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Antonia Cifrone as Queen Elizabeth

    Photo: Bill Cooper

  • Fotheringay Scene

    Fotheringay Scene

    left to right:

    Michelle Walton as Hannah Kennedy, Sarah Conolly as Mary Stuart, Bülent Bezdüz as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Frédéric Bourreau as George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.

    Photo: Bill Cooper

  • Sarah Connolly as Mary Stuart and Frédéric Bourreau as Talbot (with crucifix)

    Sarah Connolly as Mary Stuart and Frédéric Bourreau as Talbot (with crucifix)

    Photo: Bill Cooper

  • Mary Stuart with the Executioner

    Mary Stuart with the Executioner

    Sarah Connolly as Mary Stuart and Paul Spruce as the Executioner.

    Photo: Bill Cooper

  • Synopsis - Act 1

    The Palace of Westminster

    The Court awaits the arrival of Queen Elizabeth, who is expected to
    announce her marriage to the Duc d’Anjou.

    Elizabeth reveals that she
    is still undecided as whether to unite the thrones of England and
    France by this marriage but assures her Court that she will only act
    for the good of the people.

    Aside, she confesses her secret love for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

    Talbot and the courtiers plead for mercy towards Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, imprisoned at Fotheringhay, but Elizabeth is unwilling to relent, a course in which she is encouraged by Sir William Cecil.

    Leicester arrives and is ordered by Elizabeth to take her ring to the
    French envoy as a token of her provisional acceptance of the marriage proposal. Deeply hurt by his cool reaction to this news, the Queen departs.

    Talbot tells Leicester of a meeting with Mary and gives him a portrait of her, along with a letter begging for his help. Leicester vows to secure Mary’s freedom. When Elizabeth returns she demands
    to see the letter he is holding.

    Despite her anger at Mary’s aspirations to the English crown and her intense jealousy of Leicester’s
    affections, she reluctantly agrees to visit her.

  • Act 2

    Fotheringhay Park

    Mary is walking with her companion, Hannah, recollecting her early
    life in France. Hearing the sounds of the Royal Hunt, Mary realizes
    that Elizabeth is in the vicinity.

    Leicester arrives and explains that
    the Hunt is only a pretext for Elizabeth to visit Mary and persuades
    her to be submissive if she hopes for mercy.

    As the two women meet for the first time, each feels instant hostility towards the other. Mary humbles herself but Elizabeth responds by accusing her of treachery, murder and debauchery.

    Mary, taunted beyond endurance, denounces Elizabeth as the bastard daughter of Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth summons the guards and has her led back into captivity.

  • Act 3 - Scene 1

    Elizabeth’s study, Westminster

    Cecil urges Elizabeth to sign the order for Mary’s execution,
    following her complicity in the Babington plot to assassinate the
    Queen, but Elizabeth is still undecided; she cannot bring herself to condemn an annointed monarch.

    Cecil eventually succeeds in
    persuading Elizabeth to sign the warrant. When Leicester learns
    that Mary has been condemned to death he makes a final plea for
    her life, upbraiding Elizabeth for her cruelty when she refuses to
    yield.

    He is then detailed by the Queen to witness Mary’s execution.

  • Act 3 - Scene 2

    Mary’s Chamber, Fotheringhay Castle

    Mary is visited by Talbot and Cecil; the latter hands her the death
    sentence and leaves her alone with Talbot. He tells her of Elizabeth’s decision that Leicester is to witness her execution.

    Mary becomes distraught and imagines that she sees the ghost of her
    former husband, Darnley, who some suspect she had murdered.

    Talbot urges her to place her trust in heaven and to prepare to face
    her death with resignation.

  • Act 3 - Scene 3

    A room in Fotheringhay Hall

    A waiting crowd watches the preparations for Mary’s execution.
    Mary bids them farewell and they join her in a final prayer for
    heavenly pardon.

    A cannon shot is heard and Cecil announces that the time of execution is near. Mary forgives Elizabeth and prays for the welfare of England.

    She breaks down when Leicester arrives, protesting her innocence and asking him to support her as the hour of her death approaches.

    A final cannon shot is heard and Mary is led out to the scaffold.

    © Opera North

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