The Met’s Maria Stuarda on DVD

Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda featured in the MetHD series in January 2013 and has now been released on DVD.  My review of the cinema broadcast is here.  It’s always a bit different watching the DVD rather than the cinema version but in this case I think my somewhat different reaction has a lot to do with having recently seen various versions of the other Schiller/Donizetti Tudor queen operas, especially Stephen Lawless’ Roberto Devereux at the COC.

1.acrobatsThe issue is how does a director treat Schiller’s viewpoint?  It’s a massive exercise in very crude Catholic propaganda that might have come straight out of Douai and is utterly at odds with the view that most people in the English speaking world have of the events described ((assuming they have one!).  At the Met David McVicar deploys his trademark lack of subtlety to emphasize Schiller’s black and white version of events.  Elizabeth, striding around and snarling like Churchill in a dress, is utterly unsympathetic.  Cecil is unrelievedly pompous and evil.  Mary is presented entirely sympathetically despite, in reality, being a person whose behaviour managed to shock even the Scots.  I think it’s a valid approach but part of me yearns for the more subtle ambiguity deployed by Lawless.

2.queensSo, it’s McVicar à l’outrance.  There are jugglers and acrobats.  The sets loom loomingly.  Cecil has a trademark bad guy beard.  There’s a big scary executioner.  And so on.  The performances tend to reinforce the effect.  Elza van den Heever, singing Elizabeth, has a rather heavy voice for bel canto as well as acting up a storm of masculinity.  Joyce DiDonato, on the other hand, gives a beautiful, lyrically sympathetic account of Mary.  The confrontation scene exemplifies it.  Van den Heever is all manic indignation while DiDonato is dignified even when spitting out epithets like “impure bastard of Anne Boleyn”.  The men, unfortunately, never really get beyong cardboard cutout status though they sing well enough.  Joshua Hopkins glooms his way through Cecil.  Matthew Rose does his best with Talbot and Matthew Polenzani seems rather miscast as Leicester, here presented as Mary’s lover (one of many I suppose).  Maybe it’s just that the role is so silly that no-one could bring it off to good effect but Polenzani just comes off as a romantic tenor who has wandered in from another opera by mistake.  Chorus and orchestra are predictably excellent and I couldn’t fault Maurizio Benini’s conducting.

3.warrantGary Halvorson is the video director and,as in the cinema, I thought the camera work was pretty awful.  Even when McVicar is setting out one of his big, garish tableaux, most of what we get is close ups; often from odd and unflattering angles.  Picture quality is good for DVD and the Dolby sound is quite good (though the stereo track seems very flat).  Neither are exactly state of the art and there’s no Blu-ray version.  There are the usual MetHD interval interviews (this time with Deb Voigt).  The booklet has a short essay and a synopsis.  Subtitle options are English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

4.mariatalbotJoyce fans will want to have this disk and, despite the camera work, it’s an interesting example of McVicar’s recent work.  I’d really like to see what a more subtle director might do with this piece though.

5.executioner

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7 thoughts on “The Met’s Maria Stuarda on DVD

  1. I saw this at the house and basically agree with your review. The first opera I saw was Roberto Devereux with Sills and it was WOW! So I have a great fondness for Donizetti going back to that time. I thought this was marginally less boring than Ann Bolena. I love all three operas and Rad so I guess I will have to go to all three productions next season. I am beginning to wonder what McVicar’s rep is based on. I have come to think of him as McSchenk. BTW, I hate Benini–he is the Met’s designated Bel Canto specialist and I have heard performances (Le Comte Ory in particular) which I did not think were competent. If you are interested, Sills’ recordings with Rudel and Schippers (he makes Lucia sound like Otello) make these Bel Canto works much more dramatic and exciting.

    • Having seen Sondra sing Elisabetta in RD I would totally crawl over broken glass to see her do all three. That said, I think van den Heever was probably right for McVicar’s production. McVicar’s early work I rather liked. I think his Giulio Cesare is tons of fun but somehow the Met seems to have brought out the worst in him (as it did in Lepage who, generally speaking, I greatly admire). These Schiller/Donizetti pieces really set me thinking. They are so at odds with the Elton (GR or Ben), let alone Shakespeare, view of the 16th century.

  2. Well after sitting through The Ring and his production of Damnation de Faust (early 20th century technology to do a late 19th century production) I have no use for Lepage. I do think directors are pulling their punches at the Met because of the audience’s infamous conservatism. Even the much awaited Herheim Meistersinger looks somewhat tame compared to his Boheme, Onegin or Carmen (all of which would make many heads explode at the Met).

    • I’ve seen some of Lepage’s better work. In straight theatre his one man Hamlet and his The Seven Streams of the River Ota were pretty spectacular. His production of Stravinsky’s Nightingale was a hit in Toronto, Aix and at BAM. His Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and Erwartung are being revived at the COC in a couple of weeks. They got good reviews last time out (in the awful O’Keefe/Hummingbird/Sony Centre) so I’m very curious to see how they play in the new house. I do think directors are intimidated by the Met. Time to give Bieito a go?

      • BTW I meant early 21st century technology for Faust. I will take your word on Lepage’s past work but The Ring was such an epic fail I can’t imagine going to see anything by him again. He also gave an interview in the NYT where he came across as a smug, obnoxious jerk. Which if he had done something good, I wouldn’t care about. Actually, Gelb said a while ago that he has engaged Bieito for a future project but I haven’t seen or heard anything since then.

  3. Props for the “straight out of Douai” line.

    Also, re: “Schiller’s black and white version of events” While McVicar’s version may be black and white, I don’t think Schiller’s was – the libretto for this opera doesn’t do the play justice.

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