Succinct, vibrantly characterised, and containing some luminous Beethovenian woodwind writing, Donizetti's Maria Stuarda is well worth the journey to Hampshire. Stephen Langridge's production - designed by George Souglides and conducted by Sergio La Stella - references the funerary art of the Tudor period against a stark, angular, Germanic set.
Though Donizetti's sympathies are with Mary (Majella Cullagh) - she cutely dismisses the Babington Plot as "a terrible mistake" - his portrait of Elizabeth (Janis Kelly) is surprisingly subtle. Morally and politically compromised, and painfully aware of her relative plainness, Kelly's Elizabeth is riveting. Cullagh, whose weak point is usually her apparent invulnerability, has found a convincing balance of steeliness and softness for Mary. Their confrontation in Act II is electrifying.
Adrian Dwyer, a pitch-perfect but rather pinched Leicester, seems unsure of his emotions, while Jonathan Best and Quentin Hayes are wasted as Elizabeth's underwritten bookends, Talbot and Cecil. Harriet Williams (Anna) is the find of the season: a polished mezzo with natural authority. Like their peers at Garsington and Holland Park, the chorus have a tendency to wobble. (The vocal equivalent of dressing up in one's parents clothing.) They'd do better to celebrate their youthful ping.
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