Maria Stuarda, Minnesota Opera

The current production of Maria Stuarda is
the company’s second installment of the Donizetti Tudor trilogy, with a
production of Roberto Devereax in the 2009-2010 season.

The casting of dueling sopranos, Judith Howarth (Mary Stuart) and Brenda
Harris (Elizabeth I), was spot on. Harris’ golden soprano houses a steely
core, which captured both the warmth and terror of the strong-willed queen in
perfect balance. Her opening cavatina and cabaletta,
“Ah! quando all’ara sorgemi…Ah dal ciel discenda un raggio”
boasted incredibly fierce coloratura, and ascents into the heights of her voice
that both thrilled and terrified. Harris is clearly at home in the Bel
repertoire, though her performance with Minnesota Opera was her
debut of Queen Elizabeth I in Maria Stuarda.

1335.gifMichael Nyby as Lord Cecil, Elizabeth’s councilor and Brenda Harris as Elizabeth I, Queen of England

Judith Howarth’s silvery, spinning soprano was a wonderful
juxtaposition to Harris’ Elizabeth. Howarth gave Maria great depth of
character, vocally with amazing vocal and dramatic finesse and flexibility. In
the finale of Act I, Howarth’s biting Italian diction and metallic high
notes struck lightning during her quarrel with Elizabeth, while her sustained
B-flat sustained over the chorus in Act III seemed to emerge out of the

Both Howarth and Harris are seasoned veterans of the Bel Canto
repertory, and both approached these women with strong and meaningful dramatic
and vocal choices. Tenor Bruch Sledge (Earl of Leicester) nailed
Donizetti’s style musically, but his overall dramatic execution of the
role paled in comparison to the two queens. Sledge was quite awkward in his Act
I duet with Howarth, not connecting to her musical phrasing or even the
dramatic conversation. His stage deportment was impotent, and the love triangle
plot became quite implausible.

Victoria Vargas’ Anne sparked with complete ease in the coloratura and
line, and infused a fullness and warmth that easily cut through the
orchestration. This is certainly the best singing from this Resident Artist so
far this season.

Performances: Feb. 1, 3, 5, and 6 at Ordway

Sarah Luebke

image_description=Judith Howarth as Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots [Photo by Michal Daniel courtesy of Minnesota Opera]
product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: Maria Stuarda
product_by=Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots: Judith Howarth; Elizabeth I, Queen of England: Brenda Harris; Robert, Earl of Leicester: Bruce Sledge; Lord Cecil, Elizabeth’s councilor: Michael Nyby; Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury: Jonathan Kimple; Anne, Maria’s nurse: Victoria Vargas. Conductor: Anne Manson. Stage Director: Kevin Newbury. Set Designer: Neil Patel. Costume Designer: Jessica Jahn. Lighting Designer: D. M. Wood.
product_id=Above: Judith Howarth as Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots

All photos by Michal Daniel courtesy of Minnesota Opera