Opera North presents Mary Stuart at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle. In a story of love, power, rivalry and jealousy set against the ‘meeting’ of the two queens. It is very much the perspective of a Catholic European culture and not an English history lesson given on a warm sunny afternoon when the sun beats down onto your desk making you drowsy. For we all remember the rivalry and political struggle of the two queens in Tudor England, that lasted almost all of their lives until Mary was finally executed and the many threats to Elizabeth’s crown and monarchy was quelled.
In Mary Stuart by Donizetti, the political struggle and facts of history are re-written and as with so much theatre and film becomes fiction. But this is opera, taken from the play written by the German playwright and poet Shiller, who along with Goethe, are largely responsible for Weimar Classicism. So in Mary Stuart, artistic licence abounds for dramatic purpose; but what a purpose.
Mary, Sarah Conolly and Elizabeth, Antonia Cifrone are exceptional in their respective roles and mirror each other in more than a ‘negative’ dress sense.
Each looking as regal, insulted and tragically downhearted as two women who have been wronged could be, although Mary has more right to the despair. Elizabeth however is painted here as the usurper to the crown and not worthy of the title queen. For their respective take on each other’s right to rule; with almost sibling like jealousy, and insecurities.
Robert, Earl of Leicester is played by Bűlent Bezduz and makes a welcome return to the stage of the Theatre Royal; recently playing Rodolfo in La Bohème. Frédéric Bourreau plays Talbot, in their duet we had some of the most wonderful singing of the evening.
The orchestra was directed by Richard Farnes and although the playing was superb and each member should be given a round of applause, special mention must go to the harpist at this evenings performance.
This is an opera is full of symbolism, and is designed and directed by Antony McDonald. Here he creates stage pictures and groupings that are a visual treat. At once the court of Elizabeth I, with its stark modernist walls and floors, and next the rolling moorlands of a Stag hunt.
A court of power dressed men; and women dressed in corporate regalia, highlight the bland nature of politicians and ‘middle’ management in this country, where mandarins lurk in shadowy corners, seemly to run the affairs of our everyday lives.
This opera was an unknown quantity before this evening, but I wait with anticipation for its return.