Today’s MetHD broadcast of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda was a bit of a mixed bag. There were some really good performances. Joyce DiDonato in particular gave what may well have been a truly great performance and I would have loved to have seen it live. David McVicar’s production was much better than his Anna Bolena; visually interesting and with some strong dramatic ideas. However the good was pretty seriously undermined by another really awful piece of video directing by Gary Halvorson. I guessed it was him after about ten minutes. The incessant use of the nose cam and the incredibly irritating low level tracking shots were a dead give away. It was a big disappointment since the last two shows I saw, La Clemenza di Tito and Les Troyens, were filmed by Barbara Willis-Sweete and had given me some faint hope that the Met was capable of self analysis and improvement in this area. Hope that was, alas, sadly dashed today.
McVicar’s production is quite interesting (at least as far as one could tell). His Elizabeth is a curiously masculine and informal figure. The antics at her court and her willingness to be “one of the boys”; even to the point of rather being brow beaten by her courtiers are very unhistorical but do set her up as an interesting dramatic contrast to the more feminine, and in some ways more regal Mary. He has the perfect executant in Elza van den Heever who manages a very masculine posture and way of moving throughout. It’s a bit like Henry VIII in drag but it’s effective. Most of the rest of the production is unfussy, bar a few McVicar clichés like cheeky chappy acrobats and a giant executioner. McVicar, rightly I think, concentrates on the relationships; the Elizabeth, Mary, Leicester love triangle, the conflict between Cecil and Talbot and, above all, the central one of the queens’ view of themselves and each other. It explodes in the great confrontation scene where each of them lay out their position with vehemence and a sense of being utterly right; as both, in their own terms, are. From then on the scenes follow with a certain inevitability but the pathos is well handled.
The performances were all helped by the singers clearly buying in to McVicar’s concept. Both DiDonato and van den Heever in particular entirely characterised what was needed. Add in that DiDonato sang both as dramatically and as beautifully as I could ever imagine and I think we can count that as a truly great performance. Van den Heever also showed terrific vocal power and some subtlety too to match her fine acting. I don’t think she’s exactly a bel canto natural but she was good in this role and she’s only 33 so I think we can expect some really good things in the future. The men were all fine too. I particular enjoyed Matthew Rose’s sympathetic Talbot but Joshua Hopkins was also good as an appropriately cold Cecil and Matthew Polenzani made the most of the rather daft Leicester. With the Met orchestra and chorus and a bel canto specialist in Maurizio Bernini on the podium everything came together just fine.
Shame about the camera work. This could have been awesome.