Review by George Dixon
Melbourne Opera’s Maria Stuarda is the second of Donizettis’s Tudor Trilogy (Anne Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux.)
While the previous performance, “Mary Stuart” (2015-2017), was presented in English, Maria Stuarda is sung in its native Italian, which boosts the Operatic experience.
Maria Stuarda is an outstanding performance that ticks all of the right boxes.
A master class in all essential elements, a wonderful experience of sight and sound wrapped in the emotional feeling and experiences of many passions and tensions.
History tells us that Queen Elizabeth 1 and Mary Queen of Scots never actually met; with this in mind, Maria Stuarda explores the question, “What would have happened if they had met?”
One of the outstanding aspects of this production is Peter Amesbury’s lighting design. The very high standard, with its clever use of light, shade, and shadowing, adds terrific depth.
Amesbury previously worked with The Australian Shakespeare Company and other production companies, with design experiences at venues like The Sydney Opera House and Melbourne Arts Centre; there is no doubt that Amesbury is a master designer.
From the moment the ensemble positioned themselves at the stage’s apron to the final curtain call, every lighting element was perfectly executed. Special mention for Act Two Scene One introduction with the frozen pose of Queen Elizabeth at the desk at Westminster and Act Two Scene One introduction of Queen Mary’s frozen posture in prayer in her cell at Fotheringay Castle; the simple use of dead black staging and a single white spotlight on the subject presents a living image suitable for a classical oil portrait, it would have been easy to place a frame to complete the imagery.
Hats off to the casting team for selecting such strong, high-calibre main characters, particularly Helena Dix as Maria Stuarda and Eleanor Greenwood as Elisabetta. Two strong personalities paired with Two strong performers.
Greenwood’s portrayal of Elisabetta is outstanding, with its multi-layered emotional tensions between personal feelings and duty to the country and the internal conflicts of what is expected of a Queen (her external persona) against the pleas for clemency from Roberto, played by Henry Choo who is portrayed as the love interest between Elisabetta and Mary.
A warm audience applauds follows the introduction of Dix (Maria Stuarda), whose commanding stage presence is electric. Her personality reflects the complete opposite of her cousin Elisabetta.
When they first meet face to face, there is a gasp from Elisabetta, who recognises how alike and opposite they are. Elisabetta in her Royal Red and Mary in her Royal Blue, with both of them having the same red colour hair, and both equally as obstinate.
Vocally, Maria Stuarda is considered a challenging Opera for all cast members with various duets and the build-up towards Maria’s prayer.
Dix’s facial expressions and vocal prowess shine throughout the production, with her graceful movements and vocal talents highlighted at Maria’s prayer.
It is a delight to experience and witness this outstanding production of Maria Stuarda.
The audience’s reaction and satisfied expressions were also a testament to how entertaining it is.
Maria Stuarda is currently playing at the Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne for two final performances on September 15th and 17th.