You know the prayer scene in the second half of this opera? Every time I see it, I always end up wondering, who are all these people? If they’re supposed to be Elizabeth’s courtiers and they all think that Mary Stuart is really great, I begin to see William Cecil’s point, if you know what I mean.
This performance had more mojo than Tuesday’s. Unlike last time, I was not struck by that feeling of a sort of mild dramatic stall in the second half; the emotional pitch and energy of it seemed to tighten at just the right speed. I have warmed up to Elza van den Heever as Elizabeth – by the confrontation scene in the park I was wholeheartedly enjoying her singing, and this remained the case through the last time we see her, in the first scene of the second half. There was more punch and tension to Elizabeth and Leicester’s arias/duets early on, and the showdown between Elizabeth and Mary was very effective. AND I found myself listening to the orchestra during that part! (The section that leads into the sextet that ends the act.) I am not a head-banging Donizetti fan, but I certainly wasn’t bored. And while I am on the subject of the orchestral playing, the introductory music seemed tighter and snappier than last time – the solo clarinet was very good. And this is pure idiocy on my part, but, er, I never noticed before that in the very last scene of the opera, as Mary is about to go up those steps to the executioner’s block, one of her themes from early on comes back.
DiDonato does this bel canto stuff beautifully – as before, I was utterly caught up in parts of Mary’s aria “o nube che lieve” in Act I. Some of the sections of that that were impressive last time were even more so this time – the same is true for her performance in the scene that follows that big choral prayer number in the second half. Whenever I hear her sing I am amazed anew at how she can just spin out a phrase, with all kinds of beautiful little twists and turns, for what seems like forever. (Good thing that Mary gets a lot of phrases in this opera where she just says “ah….si!” or “ah … no!” Can we have a Mary Stuart drinking game, perhaps?) I don’t love this as much as I love her performances of baroque material or Mozart – but this is 1. partly to do with the music, since there’s more “there” there with, say Handel, than there is with Donizetti and 2. another way of saying that while at times in the past she has melted me into a little puddle of appreciative goo from start to finish, here I was only goo for maybe 75-80% of the time. Which is pretty damn good.