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Welsh National Opera: Maria Stuarda – Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Music: Gaetano Donizetti

Libretto: Giuseppe Bardari

Director: Rudolf Frey

Reviewer: Jacqui Onions


MariaStuardaThe Welsh National Opera claim that “heads will roll” in the publicity for their Tudor’s season, and they just might following this production of Maria Stuarda.

Moving on from Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, also part of this Tudor’s season, the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, Elizabeth I (Adina Nitescu), is on the thrown and she has Mary Queen of Scots (Judith Howarth) under house arrest. From here we observe these two strong women pitched against each other until the fateful day that Elizabeth wins out and Mary loses her head.

Nitescu is a formidable Queen Elizabeth; as strong in voice as she is in character, yet also letting the audience share in and relate to the Queen’s darkest, most lonely moments – moments that are cleverly created within the hustle and bustle of royal life with a lighting design from Matthew Haskins that isolates Elizabeth even on a crowded stage.

As Mary, Howarth is a worthy adversary; equally as strong in voice and character, but really coming into her own in the bleakest moments and giving a sincere, emotive performance as Mary faces her fate.

Elizabeth and Mary both have their desires set on the Earl of Leicester and, thanks to Bruce Sledge’s charming performance in this rôle, the audience can understand why. Gary Griffiths provides a wonderful contrast to this charm as Elizabeth’s right hand man, Lord William Cecil – his sinister stage presence is a joy to behold.

With just the right balance of power, humour and tragedy, this enjoyable piece is performed well by an outstanding cast, supported by the ever strong Welsh National Opera chorus and orchestra. It is a huge shame then that all of these positives are completely overshadowed by Madeleine Boyd’s incomprehensible design for the production. A non-period approach has been taken, which has the potential to work if it has some cohesion – something that this production is completely lacking. Elizabeth has been given a quirky, almost goth look, juxtaposed against Mary looking like a Dickensian wench, complete with the cliché of a tartan skirt. The costumes take a step into absurd when Mary reveals, with an audible gasp of sheer disbelief from the audience, that she will go the block wearing a moulded bodice complete with nipples that puts one in mind of the scene from the Elizabethan Blackadder with the cast in comedy breasts! Add to this a strange piece of direction from Rudolf Frey that leaves Lord Cecil for much of a scene appearing to be standing in a hole, and Leicester committing suicide by stabbing himself in the chest with a gun that is totally out of place with both the period and the rest of the design, and it is impossible not to be distracted from the wonderful performances being presented. The Welsh National Opera cast deserve better.

Runs until 5th October 2013.


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One comment

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    I enjoyed the production, musically and theatrically. Some of the director/designer choices are not immediately obvious, but they did not detract from the whole. Why do people just focus on the negative? The use of lights, turning the “mirror” off between Elizabeth and Mary was very effective dramatically, leaving a palpable sense of friction between the two. That lent great tension to the music and to the whole evening, leaving one gasping at the finale as Mary went to the block. Great opera, great theatre, at incredibly affordable prices. Want more? Go to the ROH and see the same old trite/laboured productions for 10x the cost.