Maria Stuarda – Opernhaus Zürich

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At last, one week late, I get around to writing about the Maria Stuarda I saw in Zürich.

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The delay is only due to my being tired, I think I have been exaggerating a bit with opera trips lately. The production was by David Alden, and I positively hated it. Nothing on stage. Mary and Elizabeth in 1800’s costumes, generic long ball-gowns, and everybody else in modern clothes. The aristocrats in the hunting party sporting deer antlers on their heads. Lord Cecil turned into a caricature, roaming on stage with a huge axe, making chopping-heads gestures. Elizabeth turned into a mix between Morticia Addams and Lady Macbeth, including a sleep-walking scene with lantern and all. The forest where the two queens meet is a grass carpet, maybe 5 x 2 meters, which gets moved around, depending on who needs to stand on the grass. Oh, and a gigantic half-horse. Not only it was non-sensical, it was ugly, and boring, and we have seen stuff like that for 30 years now can you give it a rest already.

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There was one good idea: Leicester and Elizabeth are in a real relationship, and he is cheating on her, and in love with Mary. Usually the relationship between Leicester and Elizabeth is only hinted at, and it’s more depicted as he leading her on, and she hoping, but here it was very explicit, and made Elizabeth’s rage even more understandable.

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Pavol Breslik (Leicester) and Serena Farnocchia (Elisabetta)

Diana Damrau, at her debut as Maria, was wonderful. Her voice is still amazingly beautiful, and she took full advantage of all her assets: the legato, the incredible filati, the breath. She doesn’t have super-high notes anymore, the highest note she sang was, I believe, a high C. It is a bit weird to hear Donizetti without super-high notes, but honestly, who cares. Her acting was absolutely wonderful. I saw Joyce Di Donato as Maria, and I thought her interpretation would be impossible to beat, but I must say that Damrau may have surpassed her. She has such a natural way of staying on stage, her reactions are so spontaneous, it’s beautiful to watch. In the confrontation scene, when Elizabeth starts to insult her, she looked at Leicester with an expression like “WTF!!” it was so perfect. And after she lashes out, calling Elizabeth a bastard child, a whore who defiles England’s throne, she cries and laughs together, like a child who finally gets a moment of triumph. It was so good.

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Serena Farnocchia (Elisabetta)

Serena Farnocchia was Elizabeth. She has a solid soprano voice, very smooth, perfectly supported. She may lack some nuance, but her performance was extremely enjoyable. The director didn’t treat her nicely, but her Lady Macbeth scene, in the second act, was well acted.

I have a soft spot for Pavol Breslik, I absolutely adore his fast vibrato. It gives a sense of excitement, of fluttering of the heart. His slightly acidic voice is lovely, perfect to convey the young lover. I would love to hear him as Lenski.

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Lady Macbeth on the set of Shining

The conductor was Enrique Mazzola, who left me very cold. He was competent, but nothing more than that, in my opinion.

As far as I could hear, Damrau still has many years of good singing ahead. I’m happy!

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