Donizetti’s 1835 romantic opera on Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart Queen of Scots is based on a Schiller play which, like Shakespeare histories, has a relaxed attitude towards historical accuracy but plenty of compelling drama. Its coup de theatre, a fictitious meeting of the rival queens in which Mary hurls the killer blow ‘Vil bastarda’ referring to Elizabeth’s contested illegitimacy, is electrifying stuff.
To succeed, a performance needs two supreme divas and, here, American mezzo Joyce DiDonato – the reigning queen of bel canto, following in the footsteps of legendary Dames Joan Sutherland and Janet Baker – and rising star Carmen Giannattasio, triumph admirably. The light but powerful Italian soprano proves her vocal and dramatic mettle as Elizabeth, the insecure and vindictive villain of the piece who signs Mary’s death warrant and commands Leicester an impressive ROH debut from Spanish tenor Ismael Jordi to watch the execution. DiDonato’s Mary is magnificent; she is fiery, proud, dignified, and sumptuously sung. Her confession duet with British bass Matthew Rose’s staunch Talbot is intensely moving.
Directors Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier set their seventh ROH production in the present day, almost entirely in a drab gaol. The queens, however, are dressed in period garb, as if transported through time – a mystifying conceit reminiscent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail but without the humorous pretext. It is surprisingly easy to adjust though, and the drama is gripping. Conductor Bertrand de Billy ensures both sparks and tenderness in some of Donizetti’s finest music.
- Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
- July 5-18, PN July 5
- Author: Gaetano Donizetti composer, Giuseppe Bardari librettist
- Conductor: Bertrand de Billy
- Directors: Moshe Leiser, Patrice Caurier
- Design: Christian Fenouillat set, Agostina Cavalca costumes, Christophe Forey lighting
- Technical: Ilario Martello costume supervisor, Will Harding production manager
- Cast includes: Joyce DiDonato, Carmen Giannattasio, Ismael Jordi, Matthew Rose, Jeremy Carpenter
- Producer: Royal Opera House; Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona; Polish National Opera; Theatre des Champs-Elysees, Paris
- Running time: 2hrs 50mins
We need your help…
When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.
The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.
We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.
Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.