Friday, October 14, 2011

The Tudors in Opera

Stephanie Mann looks at famous operas which have Tudor characters.
I thought I should complete the survey of Donizetti's Tudor operas with a post on Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux, which both feature Elizabeth I in a leading, though not title, role.

The first opera is based on Schiller's play, Maria Stuart, and like the Vanessa Redgrave/Glenda Jackson movie, commits the wild inaccuracy of having Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I meet. Donizetti's librettist Giuseppe Bardari creates a love/hate quadrangle: Elizabeth loves Leicester; Leicester loves Maria; Maria hates Elizabeth; Elizabeth hates Maria. From that you get three acts of bel canto drama, confrontation, but no mad scene. In the end:

Maria's friends lament her fate, and she, facing death calmly, tries to comfort them and give them strength. As the cannon sounds the signal for her execution, Cecil asks for her last requests. She forgives Elisabetta and prays for a blessing on her and the kingdom. She tries to calm the grief-stricken Leicester and hopes that her innocent blood will placate the wrath of Heaven. She goes resolutely to her death as her friends grieve over her fate.
Roberto Devereux gives us the triangle of Elizabeth and Essex and Sara, the Duchess of Nottingham, whose husband plots the death of Essex. There's a great love duet between Essex and Sara--and a tremendous mad scene for Elizabeth before Essex's offstage execution. She abdicates at the end.

There is really a fourth opera in Donizetti's Tudor series, Il castelo di Kenilworth, but even though it features the really great triangle of Elizabeth, Leicester and his wife Amy (Amelia), it does not get as much attention because it is not a tragedy. Amy survives attempted poisoning and does not fall downstairs. The opera is a comedy (not a funny comedy but a comedy in the classic sense): Elizabeth gives her blessing to Amy and Leicester and everybody is happy--except for the villain, of course.

Donizetti wrote other operas with an English or Scottish setting: Lucia di Lammermoor most famously, but also Rosmunda d'Inghilterra about the Fair Rosamund, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Emilia di Liverpool. English royalty also appear in L'assedio di Calais, with Queen Isabella begging King Edward III to show mercy to the burghers of Calais. (Read entire post.)

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