One of the most celebrated opera singers of our time giving a role debut, a story about a rivalry between two queens, as well as a narrative packed with intrigues, jealousy and power should be everything an evening needs to move an audience. If only a good adaptation of an idea wasn’t such a big factor for the success of an evening. American director David Alden had all the elements to tell a gripping story, but instead it seemed like he couldn’t decide which of his ideas he should pursue. At the end he told Maria Stuart’s story in a very common but also ironic way, which unfortunately took a lot of the tension from the actually very exciting plot. A huge plastic skeleton as well as the chorus dressed as deer in the hunting scene made the whole production look rather amateurish and cheap. Another reason for the failure were some very unfortunate issues with the staging. For example, during the highlight of the opera when the two hostile queens finally meet, Alden’s stage designer Gideon Davey chose the floor to be high grass, which had the consequence that the two singers with their long dresses were stumbling around which made the whole scene rather ridiculous, and not the finale of an exciting act.
Luckily the Zurich Opera managed once again to hire an enormously competent team of singers who made the audience break out in euphoric cheers at the end of the opera. Especially the German soprano Diana Damrau showed the audience again that she was worthy of being called “The Queen of the High C”. From her beginning with the astonishingly beautiful pianissimo phrases of “Oh nube, che lieve per l’aria ti aggiri” till the phenomenal “Preghiera” at the end she managed to keep such an energy and so much emotion in her voice that the unlucky staging was forgotten quickly. Her precise technique and wonderful phrasing managed to even impress the audience in Zurich, who were used to hearing legendary singers like Edita Gruberova in such roles. Soprano Serena Farnocchia produced a dazzling portrayal as Elisabeth I. Although her voice isn’t young anymore nor is her voice silky and soft like Damrau’s (which in fact makes her portrayal of Elisabeth I even stronger), she possesses a strong flexible soprano, which she used expertly to illuminate Elisabeth’s inner emotional turmoil. Although it was announced at the beginning of the performance that he was sick, Pavol Breslik convinced in every aspects as Roberto, the object of the queens’ desires. His attempts to keep a rather soft phrasing were a perfect match to his beautiful timbre, and gave this true Belcanto role a new angle. Nicolas Testé (Talbot) surprised with a beautiful, rich bass-baritone. Andrzej Filonczyk sung a scary Lord Cecil and Hamida Kristoffersen showed some good acting skills as Anna Kennedy.
Together with Enrique Mazzola, the stunning Philharmonia Zurich and the very well rehearsed Chor der Opera Zürich (Ernst Raffelsberger) created a wonderful balance between a gorgeous, colorful sound and those heartbreakingly beautiful moments of despair. Mazzola, a true Belcanto specialist managed to keep this contrast as well as a focus on the rhythmical aspects of the rich score. A musically overwhelming performance of an opera which has so much more to offer than just a rivalry between two queens.
- Based on Friedrich Schiller’s play
- Directed by David Alden
- Libretto by Giuseppe Bardari
- Music by Gaetano Donizetti
- Cast includes Diana Damrau, Serena Farnocchia
- Zurich Opera
- Until 12 May 2018
- Time: 19:00, Tues, Fri, Sat; 20:00 Thurs; 14:00 Sun