Tudor England has always exerted a fascination, from Henry VIII’s six wives and the splitting of the church to the age of exploration and the fabulous extravagance of its dress, art and literature.
Interestingly, while the traditional English view of Elizabeth I was as a brave, witty, and wise heroine, the European (and therefore Catholic) perspective saw Elizabeth as an illegitimate child and a heretic. She was therefore portrayed as arrogant, jealous and wilful.
To the Catholics, following the death of Mary I in 1558, it was Mary Stuart, the queen of Scotland, who was considered the rightful heir to the English throne. In their eyes, she was a strikingly vivacious and elegant woman.
There is no record that Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart ever met, but as cousins and as monarchs they would have maintained a relationship through letters and ambassadors. It was a time dominated by small but powerful dynasties, and riddled with hidden loyalties and intrigue. Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda takes all the drama and machinations of the Tudor period and condenses it into an electric – if fictional – confrontation between the two rival queens.
The opera’s centrepiece is described by Mike Ashman in Gramophone as a “Handel-like b****ing queens scene”. It sees Elizabeth and Mary go head to head with choice remarks that would be considered decidedly undiplomatic in any era. As Lauren Smith wrote in her 2015 review for What’s on in Cape Town, “Politically, Maria poses a threat to Elisabeth’s life, but it seems to be Maria’s youth, charm and beauty that Elisabeth finds most threatening, and it is on this jealousy that the fate of the Queen of Scots ultimately rests.”
The opera is, of course, more than a two hander. This production also sees tenors Lunga Hallam and Makudupanyane Senaoana alternate in the role of Robert Leicester, the man for whose love the two women are vying. Baritone Mandisinde Mbuyazwe as Talbot, baritone Thando Zwane as Cecil and the Cape Town Opera chorus join the two sopranos who make Maria Stuarda unmissable.
Cape Town favourites Violina Anguelov and Vuvu Mpofu return to repeat their powerful portrayals of the conflicted monarchs. Accompanied by the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Maestros Kazem Abdullah (26th Sept) and Marvin Kernelle (29th Sept), their spectacular singing and spine-tingling confrontations take the focus in Matthew Wild’s minimalist staging, which premiered to great acclaim in 2015 at the Artscape Opera House.
Date: 26 Sept @ 7.30pm & 29 Sept @ 6pm
Venue: Artscape Opera House
Cost: R130 | R200 | R280