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Opera: Maria Stuarda

Mary Stuart in a tartan and a Blackadder-style Elizabeth I typify a misconceived production of a 'Tudor' opera, says DAVID NICHOLSON

Maria Stuarda

Millennium Centre, Cardiff

2 stars

How do you solve a problem like Maria? Chop her head off is English Queen Elisabetta's answer at the end of Gaetano Donizetti's Maria Stuarda and a fine resolution to a troubled production it is too.

There were some unkind souls in the first-night audience who would no doubt have gone down the beheading route from the outset for the director and production team who dreamt up this troubled interpretation.

The opera is the second in Donizetti's Tudor trilogy and David Pountney's WNO's production is a real mixed bag, with more misses than hits.

There are some clever staging devices, including an imaginative set incorporating Stuarda's prison room and effective is made of the chorus. They freeze into immobility as Queen Elisabetta (Adina Nitescu) sings her opening aria, then segue into slow-motion movement to counterpoint her skittering around the stage.

Yet for some reason poor Judith Howarth is dressed in the most unflattering Stuart tartan as the doomed Queen of Scotland and her sister queen, sporting post-apocalyptic tank-girl black and complete with platform boots, comes across more Queenie from Blackadder then regal - surely an unintentional characterisation.

In another odd moment, Queen Maria shares a cigarette with her maid Anna (Rebecca Afonwy-Jones), a surreal element that is both historically incorrect- tobacco was brought to England after Mary Stuart's death -and dramatically ineffective.

And that really is the problem with this production, as it slavishly apes the rampant Catholicism in Donizetti's view of this episode of English history.

The love story played out is simply not believable - Alastair Miles's Giorgio is in love with Queen Maria, while Queen Elisabetta dotes on the simpering Earl. It all ends in tears, which could not come soon enough.

WNO have scored a definite miss with Maria Stuarda and a beguiling hit in the Tudor season with a triumphant Anna Bolena.

With Roberto Devereux to finish the season let's hope that the company get back on form.

Runs until October 5, box office: (029) 2063-6464, then tours, details:

David Nicholson


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