Mary Stuart review - The Age

Maria Stuarda review: Melbourne Opera stages electric revival of Donizetti classic

Barney Zwartz

Maria Stuarda​ is an Italian opera based on a German play about English history that never happened – a confrontation between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, which leads to the latter's execution. Much more challenging to English speakers brought up on good Queen Bess is that to Catholic Europe, including Donizetti​: she is the villain and the feckless Mary is the tragic heroine.

Melbourne Opera has staged this fine, under-performed opera with aplomb.

Elena Xanthoudakis​, the Australian soprano now forging a career in Europe, is thrilling in the title role: haughty yet vulnerable, agile and secure in the formidable technical demands. Matching her, tenor Henry Choo​ is near-faultless as the Earl of Leicester, singing with ardour and beautiful tone. They are electric together.

Rosamund Illing​, blazingly​ implacable as Elizabeth, can still spin a beautiful pianissimo, and the confrontation scene is tremendous. Eddie Muliaumaseali'i (Cecil), Phillip Calcagno​ (Talbot) and Caroline Vercoe (Anna) are all good.

Conductor Richard Divall​ – experienced in this work – and director Suzanne Chaundy​ are a fine team, complementing each other in highlighting the opera's dramatic moments but also its tenderness and beauty.

Christina Logan-Bell's sets are spare but effective, while Lauren Ritchie's costumes (from the Opera Australia production) are sumptuous 

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