Maria Stuarda (ROH, 14 July 2014)

So, said the lady next to me at the end of the performance, can Mozart compare to this?
This is different, I said. This is something else.

  • Maria Stuarda: Joyce DiDonato 
  • Elisabetta: Carmen Giannattasio
  • Roberto, Conte di Leicester: Ismael Jordi
  • Guglielmo Cecil: Jeremy Carpenter
  • Giorgio Talbot: Matthew Rose
  • Anna Kennedy: Kathleen Wilkinson

Conductor: Bertrand de Billy | Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

First off I want to say that I don’t get all the fuss over the production. It seemed like a perfectly working production to me, if rather sparse. She’s in jail, what did some expect to see? Next up, the Queen’s quarters are not important. There was no need for lavish sets.

The dignified lady with whom I had had a very pleasant conversation was satisfied with my answer although I was being very chivalrous1. I know how to deliver a winning smile… It was something else all right but not in the sense that it could ever top Mozart. There’s never quite as much melodrama in Mozart. I guess this is a good preparation for Anna Nicole 😉

There are two things with Donizetti: a) the music is rather predictable, b) it’s hard to keep a straight face. I was grinning broadly at every aside the Queen or Maria uttered and they were dead serious. What redeems it is that he, like Rossini, is mostly inventive within his predictability. Just when you think he’ll pull the same old flourish he decides to go for a more tasteful (!) turn. He started very strong and I thoroughly enjoyed myself during Act I. The second act felt like steam had gone out a bit and his inventiveness had decreased. It was still enjoyable, mind, but not to a hell, yea! level. As for it all being a tad ridiculous – that never really bothered me. Bring on the cheese and the camp.

Another thing: there’s a lot of string plucking in this one and in belcanto in general, innit? After my mini belcanto fest from yesterday this came in sharp view.

One of the reasons I wanted to see this production was Carmen Giannatassio, known to me as the miscast Vitellia in the Aix production. I wanted to see if I was mad to think she was miscast. Nope, I was right. That matronly sound ain’t my thing. However I can’t bitch about her performance: she chewed the scenery like a berserk lawnmower! Some complained Elisabetta and Maria’s interaction was ripped out of Dynasty but the libretto is all what an arrogant bitch! this and her heart is full of hatred! that. Rather hard being dignified, not that there weren’t moments for the both of them. Elisabetta vacillated a lot before she succumbed to signing the death warrant and Maria forgave it all before death. Not a dry eye in the house. But, really, Giannatassio’s a good singer; pity I don’t like her peculiarities.

After my last year’s semi snooze during La donna del lago I took my revenge with a long lie in this morning. JDD is in the house, I should be paying attention. I was saying a while ago in eyesometric‘s blog that I prefer JDD in girl roles – and in belcanto specifically. I think this is what fits her voice best2, although I’m very curious about her Alcina. Somebody on the ROH site wrote that JDD has a small voice and compared badly to greats like Grubi, Sutherland and Devia. The thing is, this isn’t the kind of opera that requires a big voice. It’s nice if it’s there, especially for those who love shouters. But there’s barely any orchestral backing (ok, lots of plucking 😉 ) during arias. As long as you can project – JDD has no problems – the upper slips can hear you. She pulled out some breath-taking messe di voce through the night, on top of her trademark precise coloratura. I’m not even very enamoured of her tone but can she sing or what? – and act, of course, although from the lower slips you can’t catch a lot of detail. It’s all about broad gestures. Of which there were plenty, as in any self-respecting hair-pulling kind of production. In fact I felt she was a bit wasted as an actress in something that needs OTT rather than subtlety.

I said the sets didn’t bother me. In fact I rather liked Maria’s country-house-attic/cell. The picture projection idea was very touching, considering she was singing about missing the lands where she grew up. It was also cute knowing JDD likes taking photos.

The execution cell made an unexpectedly strong impression on me, coupled as it was with the chorus singing about Maria going to the chopping block innocent. It’s hard not to think about the story from earlier this year regarding modern executions.

Ismael Jordi was good in that tenorino kind of way. His chest was bared and swooned over by the predatory Elisabetta; he was committed to his done-more-harm-than-good well-intentioned Lay-ches-terre 😉 what more can one want? A different voice (I’m still bitter Castronovo pulled out to sing in whatever else he’s singing in currently).

Kathleen Wilkinson pulled some nice contralto notes in her very small bit at the beginning. Talbot and Cecil were fine as was the choir. Maestro de Billy matched the camp with a sprightly and elastic touch in his conducting. Very enjoyable if you like belcanto and don’t mind camp but don’t have to have lavish productions.

ps: the public behaved, although there were some very strange noises at random times during the evening (as if someone dropped something metallic, perhaps, but not keys).


  1. Although it was her passion for Verdi that convinced me to buy a ticket to I due Foscari today. 
  2. …yet maybe her voice is a tad heavy for this role? I listened to Devia again and, yes, there’s a reason she’s a soprano. Her top notes are brighter. You just have to like the voice better, which I don’t. 
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About dehggial

opera lover with a predilection for Mozart and Baroque

Posted on July 15, 2014, in belcanto, donizetti, live performances and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about the production values not being good enough either, I thought it was quite nice actually to have a set that allowed the performers to just do their thing without the distractions of an OTT monstrosity (did you see Manon Lescaut?!). I thought JDD was just incredible, it was my first time seeing her live and I can safely say I am now a massive fan!

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    • I suppose some people equate queens with sumptuous surroundings… I’m with you, I don’t want distractions, I’m there to focus on the performers. I did not see Manon, not being a Puccini fan but I heard mixed opinions. JDD is great, especially live and in bel canto and she seems to be at the apex of her career right now so we’ve all been lucky to catch her these days 🙂 Hope she returns to London soon, possibly in a mezzo role 😉

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  2. now i know why i missed this post, was on a ship 🙂
    i was checking out JDD’s but with another soprano that i wasn’t too hot about the voice.. there’s something also.. i think it’s simply not fair to go listening to others immediately after Devia… some hilarious comments on “american technique” on the clip too.. i was about to look for the Fassbaender’s version until i see now Nelly Miricioiu the ninja! have to check that first!

    I think the energy can definitely diffuse a bit when you end the first act with the confrontation!

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