Conducted by Antonino Fogliani
Directed by Pier Luigi Pizzi
Starring Mariella Devia and Anna Caterina Antonacci
Sung in Italian with English subtitles
2 hrs 39 mins plus one intermission

“Maria Stuarda” premiered at La Scala in 1835. The opera is famous for the real-life power struggles that took place on stage during the rehearsals, and on opening night, between the two prima donnas. No such drama in this La Scala production, where the luminous Mariella Devia as Maria Stuarda and Anna Caterina Antonacci as Elisabetta came together in wonderful harmony. Act I, Scene 1 – The Palace of Westminster. A tourney is given in honor of the French ambassador, who is negotiating a marriage proposal between Queen Elizabeth and the King of France. While Elizabeth contemplates it out of duty, she secretly pines for Leicester, who is absent from the court. Talbot intercedes on behalf of the royal prisoner Maria Stuart, imprisoned in Fotheringay Castle since fleeing from Scotland. The Queen is torn, at once sympathetic for and wary of Maria; Leicester arrives and is commissioned to take to the French Ambassador Elizabeth’s acceptance of the offer of marriage. Privately, Talbot gives Leicester a portrait of Maria and a letter from her and Leicester resolves to free the woman he loves by any means. His enthusiasm for her rival’s cause reminds Elizabeth of Maria’s attempts to take both the English throne and the man she loves. Scene 2 – The grounds of Fotheringay Castle. As the royal carriage approaches, Maria regrets having asked Elizabeth for a meeting, but supported by Leicester’s assurances, agrees to stay and face her. Elizabeth has mixed feelings, simultaneously dismissive of Cecil’s urgings that she execute Maria and enraged by the fervor with which Leicester argues her rival’s case. The queens confront one another, each suspicious of the other’s motives. Maria makes an effort to humble herself, asking for clemency, but Elizabeth provokes Maria, who in turn taunts her adversary. Furious, Elizabeth advises her to expect her death sentence, but Maria exults in her temporary triumph. INTERMISSION Act II, Scene 1 – The Palace of Westminster. Elizabeth hesitates to sign the death warrant, despite Cecil’s urgings that her safety and that of the realm depend on Maria’s death. Only the arrival of Leicester and his prayers for mercy provoke her into ordering him to witness the execution. Scene 2 – Maria’s apartment in Fotheringay. Maria exults over her humiliation of Elizabeth, but fears that Leicester may be in danger. Cecil brings the death warrant. She admits to Talbot that she is oppressed by her sins and confesses to guilt over the murder of her husband, Darnley. Talbot gives her absolution. Scene 3 – A room next to the execution chamber. Maria’s friends lament her fate, but she faces death calmly. For her last requests, she forgives Elizabeth and tries to calm the grief-stricken Leicester. She goes resolutely to her death as her friends grieve over her fate.