Metropolitan Opera broadcasts continue on Classical 90.5 at 11:00 a.m. this Saturday, February 13, with a performance of Maria Stuarda by Gaetano Donizetti, set an Italian libretto by Giuseppe Bardari who based his text on Andrea Maffei's translation of Frederich Schiller's play Maria Stuart. The performance will run approximately three hours. Riccardo Frizza conducts.
Maria Stuarda is a searingly dramatic setting of Friedrich Schiller’s play about Mary, Queen of Scots, and her political and personal rivalry with Queen Elizabeth I of England. While based relatively closely on historical characters and events, the opera’s central scene is fictional: the highly emotional meeting of the queens that concludes the first act (originally invented by Schiller) never took place. It’s a dramatic device that brilliantly highlights the two women’s contrasting characters.
The opera takes place in the late 16th century at the court of Queen Elizabeth I in London and at Fotheringhay Castle in central England, Mary’s final place of confinement. At the time of her death in 1587, she had been imprisoned by Elizabeth for more than 18 years.
For all the beauty of its orchestral writing, Maria Stuarda is a prime example of the mid-19th-century bel canto style—the drama is firmly embedded in the vocal parts. A notable curiosity of the score is the wide range of casting possibilities for the two leading ladies: either role can be (and has been) sung by a soprano or a mezzo-soprano. Much depends on the contrast of the voices, especially in the great confrontation scene at the end of Act I, in which Maria calls Elisabetta “vil bastarda”, a “vile bastard”— tellingly set as a dramatic recitative rather than as part of a show-stopping aria.