I have said this before, but I need to stop stalking singers who specialize in bel canto, because it leads to absurdities like seeing the David McVicar production of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda three separate times. And also owning the DVD recorded in early 2013. I think I can safely say that I have a handle on this one, interpretively.
But if it’s a matter of Sondra Radvanovsky singing the title role, I find I can easily put up with a little bit of repetition as far as the look of the thing is concerned. The weird gait the director has Elza van den Heever doing as Elisabetta is as weird as ever, possibly more so this time around – Elisabetta is clumping around as if she’s sustained some sort of traumatic back injury and/or has never experienced floors or stairs before. But the solution to this is to listen instead of watch, because van den Heever remains fantastic in this role. I looked at her schedule, and it doesn’t seem she’ll be back in New York soon, which is a bummer. I was also impressed with the men this time, including Patrick Carfizzi as Cecil and Kwangchul Youn as Talbot. (Or Talbo, as he is here. Or Talboe, as it was commonly spelled in the imaginary 16th century depicted in this opera. But anyway.)
The thing about this opera is that on one level, it’s completely inane. But the advantage of inanity in opera plots (and occasionally in opera music – nothing says “death scene!” like “oompah-oompah!”, am I right, Donizetti?) is that when you are transfixed by what is happening, you can safely say you have isolated the source of the awesome, which in this case was both van dan Heever and Radvanovsky. I think Radvanovsky must have signed some kind of subsidiary contract guaranteeing at least one electrifying high note per scene or the Met has to refund our tickets – and she came through, no question.
But that is merely one kind of excitement. Radvanovsky’s Maria struck me as a little more regal than DiDonato’s, who was slightly more vulnerable, occasionally even girlish. Radvanovsky’s rendering of the “figlia impura di Bolena” bit at the end of Act I was fantastic. And in Act II – well, you know how in Wayne’s World whenever Garth sees the pretty girl in the donut shop, he falls out of his chair and gets blown across the room? That happened to me three distinct times in the second half of the opera, during “quando di luce rosea”, again during those floating high notes in the prayer, and a third time during Maria’s last aria. As far as “quando di luce rosea” is concerned, what Radvanovsky did with that reminded me of Alice Coote’s performance as Ruggiero in Alcina a few years ago. This is a bizarre comparison, but hear me out. What struck me then was the intimacy of Coote’s performance, how despite the scale of the music and the hall, you felt as if you were right up close to what she was doing. She found the small scale within the larger. Radvanovsky last night did the same thing in the opposite direction – that scene with Maria and Talbot is an intimate confessional conversation; Radvanovsky nailed both the intimacy of it and brought out the regal grandeur that composer and librettist intended to project as well.