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04 April, 2022

Maria Stuarda at the Sydney Opera House Fri 25th March 2022

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS - Olga Peretyatko

ELISABETH I - Carmen Topciu

TALBOT - Richard Anderson

LEICESTER - Valerio Borgioni

 Conducted by Renato Palumbo

 This was a splendid outing of a Donizetti ‘Queen’ opera (the other two being Roberto Devereux and Anna Bolena).  It was the first time I have seen an opera ‘in concert’ in the opera theatre (1500 seats).  Many have been performed in the Concert Hall (2700 seats) which is currently nearing completion of major renovations. 

 It is such a pleasure to arrive at the glorious Sydney Opera House, mingle on the terrace with a glass of wine and attend a top cultural event after 2 years of stop-start Covid seasons.  We had almost a year in Sydney when we pretended Covid did not affect us, cut off as we were from the rest of the world.  Now the state of NSW is having up to 20,000 cases daily of what seems like a minor illness for most (Omicron variant).  At the same time New York City is having less than 1000 for reasons that are still not completely clear.  The logistics of daily RAT testing for orchestra, chorus, etc must be tedious and costly.  Masks are worn all round except when drinking or blowing an instrument (or singing!). 

 Back to the opera which I know and love mainly due to Joan Sutherland and Huguette Tourangeau’s wonderful recording with Pavarotti as Leicester. We also had a Sydney production in 1997 with Deborah Riedel and Amanda Thane.  It was originally intended for two sopranos yet the opening had mezzo Malibran singing and often one or other role is still sung by a mezzo-soprano.  The two queens exchange some of the nastiest insults imaginable as they almost tear each other’s eyes out in their out-door meeting (which historically never actually happened – but remember, this is opera!).  So bad is the regal language that the opera was banned in Naples which may be one reason it has never risen to the popularity of Lucia di Lammermoor, Elixir of Love or Fille du Regiment.  Also, despite lots of wonderful melodies, choruses and dramatic encounters, none of its arias has become a show-stopper.  Nor does it have cleverly lifted tunes which we find in Roberto Devereux (English National Anthem) and Anna Bolena (Home Sweet Home by Henry Bishop). 

 The star of our Sydney performance was Romanian mezzo Carmen Topciu with a large and expressive voice, breath control and stage presence as QE I.  Ms Peretyatko also sang well as Mary, keeping her final magnificent scena for her best.  As in act I of Lucrezia Borgia the soprano is required to sing a legato high note continuously for many bars while the chorus sings andante, then to do a forte run.  Very impressively and authentically done on this occasion as she heads for the block.  Mr Borgioni has a voice more suited to this part than Pavarotti ever did and he made beauty of the difficult tessitura and believable the drama of his place in the royal love triangle.  Mr Anderson is the local go-to basso and he did not disappoint in his major role as Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.  Maestro Palumbo and his orchestra gained a well deserved round of applause, as did the company chorus. 

 Again it is a privilege to hear such quality opera so near to home for Sydney-siders and I noted numerous visitors from out-of-town for this rare spectacle.  Even rarer was the opening night of Phantom of the Opera on a pontoon on Sydney Harbour across Farm Cove from us.  Obligingly the noisy Phantom fireworks occurred during our intermission.  Andrew Lloyd Webber was in town to supervise the first time his musical has been performed in the great out-doors. 

 Notes by Andrew Byrne .. recently retired doctor from Redfern via Bowral. 

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Ours was a concert performance, very cleverly lit from above with slick