Unlike the French and their worship of summer holidays, London manages to propose a strong cultural season even during the summer. Tonight was Stuarda's premiere at Covent Garden, soon starting a European tour that will eventually lead to the Théâtre des Champs Elysées next season.
First objective was met: I didn't get bored during the show, as I often do with bel canto and Donizetti. Singers managed to become good enough actors for the recitals to be somewhat entertaining.
The staging, by duet Leiser/Caurier who I know best for their recent Otello with Bartoli, was harshly booed. The sets were too simple and uninteresting and stayed the same for most of the show. The production must have lacked funding, probably due to the heavy and exuberant Manon Lescaut (that I missed due to a flight cancellation). Thinking about it now, the staging wasn't that bad and did have some subtle ideas to boost the show.
The rivalry between the two queens is quite iconic: Stuarda is a sexy blond out of her royal garments and staged for most of the show in a very light blue dress. She appears as Maria, rather than 'Mary Queen of Scots.' She might be haughty in her words, but her singing and presence make the public feel compassion for the poor lady. As could have been expected, Joyce DiDonato was excellent, her voice well managed: not a diva, but a remarkable singer. Her every aria led to ovations from a full house.
On the contrary Elisabetta looked more like Burton's Queen of Hearts with her huge dress and collar, her red wig and her pale make up. Carmen Giannattasio was such a cliché of a queen, just as I could picture the Virgin Queen from the paintings of the nearby Portrait Gallery. Even in her acting she has something of the Queen of Hearts and her pragmatism, especially when she realizes Leicester doesn't love her. She reigns over the first act with great majesty and was the surprise of the evening.
Close to this duo of queens was Ismael Jordi as Leicester. According to my pre-performance reading, he's usually a left out character who hardly manages to have a say between the two queens. Here however, Jordi is ready to do anything to get on the front (evening get his shirt torn out by the cold Elisabetta) and manages to turn the duo into a trio thanks to his presence on stage and his young but promising voice. He reminds me, like for the rest of the minor cast and the chorus, of a Madmen character with his combed hair, his suit and his briefcase.
Bertrand de Billy directs, excluding all pathos and excessive drama. A very clean direction as a matter of fact, as clean as the staging is simple. In fact, from the few operas I've seen in London, most have proven to be so: excellent singers, classical staging and clean direction.