Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

More die of Heartbreak

February 23, 2008

Kate Aldrich as Queen Elizabeth I
Photo: Ken Howard/San Diego Opera 2008
It is always tempting to talk about Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda in terms of competition. The cooked-up libretto about the "adversarial relationship" between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart certainly lends itself to this motif. Donizetti further divides the vocal fireworks between these two roles and thus forevermore two artists taking on this production will beg direct comparison. Leave it to San Diego Opera, which is currently staging Maria Suarda, to turn this contest on its head. They have taken a quite vocally reasonable cast and weighed it down in such an awful out-of-date production that the real contest is apparently for most ridiculous period costume. Friday’s real winner, if you want to know, was in fact the tenor, Yeghishe Manucharyan for his white knee-stockings that survived multiple wardrobe changes by everyone else in the cast.

Actually though, while it is easy to sit here and heap criticism on the faults of the evening, I must say I rather enjoyed it. With the exception of Mr. Manucharyan, the cast is more than adequate and at times very good. Angela Gilbert, the Mary Stuart, has been criticized elsewhere for her very mannered singing and far too apparent efforts at breath control. But on a purely auditory level, she was actually wonderful at many points in the evening. The vocal lines appeared intact and her performance was nothing but pretty as long as you weren’t watching her do it. Kate Aldrich, the Elizabeth, fares better in the dramatic performance department, but I must admit that I came away feeling her part wasn’t quite as enticing musically. How much of that is in design and how much is in the performance isn’t entirely clear to me. Plus I had trouble getting over that whole mid-scalp hairline which I know may be more historically accurate but always ups the Sci Fi quotient in my book.

Edoardo Müller led an amicable if underplayed rendition of the score. Still, this was more enjoyable than not and frankly with a better production would have been quite good. Which gets back to all the falderall about why we don’t see more of this and other bel canto operas. Of course there is the party-line garbage about not being able to find singers who can do it. But if San Diego can find a cast this good, it’s hard to believe that no one else could mount a staging as good if not better with more resources. There’s one more performance on Sunday afternoon for those who are interested.


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