Opera review: Maria Stuarda, at Cork Opera House

Tara Erraught shines in the title role of an impressive production from Irish National Opera 
Opera review: Maria Stuarda, at Cork Opera House

Tara Erraught in Irish National Opera's production of Maria Stuarda. Picture: Pat Redmond


Donizetti, the 19th-century Italian composer who wrote 70 operas is best known for Lucia di Lammermoor. Just three months after Lucia premiered in La Scala, Milan in 1835, his opera Maria Stuarda, premiered at the same house. It was not a good night. Both lead role singers were in poor voice and Donizetti himself described the evening as ‘painful from start to finish’. 

After a brief performance history, the opera disappeared from the schedules until the first 20th century revival in 1958. Happily, the INO production heard at Cork Opera House last night did not suffer similar constraints as both leading ladies playing the clashing queens, Tara Erraught as Maria Stuarda and Amy Ni Fhearraigh as her cousin Elizabeth were in fine voice.

Director Tom Creed stages the drama in a modern setting with the accoutrements of a business environment and TV cameras. Katie Davenport’s costumes are a quirky mix. Elizabeth dressed in a business suit in Union Jack print and high heels; Mary in floral print and bovver boots. The male characters are the best dressed in deer stalkers and tweedy plus-fours. The sword-brandishing guards in act 1, are bizarrely attired in red knee socks, modern white fencing gear and busby hats.

Anna Devin in Maria Stuarda. Picture: Pat Redmond
Anna Devin in Maria Stuarda. Picture: Pat Redmond

There is much to relish in the lyrical melodies, particularly in the ensemble numbers featuring Italian baritone Giorgio Caoduro and Erraught. Gemma Ní Bhriain impresses as Maria’s nurse, Anna. The chorus in colourful tartans and paper crowns shine in the final scene in answer to Mary’s prayer as she prepares to die ‘Deh! Tu di un úmile preghiera il suono odi’’. It is a dramatic and moving finale.

On the second night in Cork, it was disappointing to see that the stage with a generous chorus and pit with a 40+ strong orchestra under Fergus Sheil appeared more fully populated that the stalls. This was presumably down to the plethora of other attractions in the southern city at the moment, with the Midsummer Festival and several series of gigs under way. 

 This is the first staged production of the work in Ireland. It might be a while before we see another. Miss it at your peril.

• Maria Stuarda will be at National Opera House, Wexford, on June 19; and Limerick University Concert Hall (concert performance on 22 June)

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