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Review of macabre Tudor opera touring UK and Muscat
The political and personal battles between Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I are an emotional, passionate fracas that split the country in the Tudor period.
In fact, the embittered relationship of these half-sisters was still stirring up controversy with audiences and singers when this opera was in the run up to its premiere at Milan's La Scala in 1835, such is the strength of feeling behind this ultimate case of sibling rivalry.
The Welsh National Opera's Maria Stuarda
Maria Stuarda is one of Donizetti's trio of operas on The Tudors that stopped off at Birmingham Hippodrome as part of the Welsh National Opera (WNO) tour this season. (The opera company is also touring with the other two in the Tudor set - Anna Bolena and Roberto Devereux.)
What immediately grabs you is how wonderful it is for female singers. At its core are two strong, single-minded women, who eventually come face to face in a fiery encounter. They are the soul of this whole piece of work and steal the limelight.
The exquisite voice of Judith Howarth as Mary is completely breathtaking throughout. It's the sort of dreamy voice that sends you into another world.
Mary is a constant reminder on stage, locked in a cage similar to something Hannibal Lector would be kept in, while Elizabeth (Adina Nitescu) skulks around stage in black leather and knee high boots lusting after Robert, the Earl of Leicester.
Sadly for her, and ultimately Mary, the Earl is smitten with the prisoner, which only makes the Queen hate her more and speed up the death warrant.
Even his attempts of a pardon go awry as bringing the two women together brings out the worst in both our leading ladies, resulting in Mary calling Elizabeth the bastard child of Anne Boleyn. Not the best way to get on the good side of the woman that holds your life in her hands.
Judith Howarth's voice steals the show in Maria Stuarda
Packed with drama, this opera doesn't skimp on anger, passion and death. Even the signing of the death warrant appears centre stage in bright red like a smearing of blood while the axeman cometh for the final fatal scene.
But despite all these extras, it is the music at its heart that will linger in your ears. There's some really very tender arias despite the macabre nature of this historical tale.
It's an exciting performance that you won't want to miss.
Maria Stuarda - Welsh National Opera Tour Autumn 2013
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff - September 22 - October 5
Birmingham Hippodrome - November 12 - 16
Venue Cymru, Llandudno - November 21
The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton - November 28
Royal Opera House, Muscat - December 12-14