Opera Scotland

Maria Stuarda 2015Magnetic Opera

Read more about the opera Mary Stuart

Donizetti's tragedy is mostly composed on an intimate scale, and works well in a reduction for the six soloists with a piano accompaniment. Back in 1991 Scottish Opera had a successful tour in this format, and Magnetic Opera's version, produced for their second visit to the Edinburgh Fringe, is highly promising.

As a prelude to the four Edinburgh performances, there were two in what could hardly have been more appropriate locations. Two ancient buildings that have been lovingly restored in recent years have a close connection with Mary herself, having been built on the orders of her father, James V. The Great Hall of Stirling Castle and the chapel at Falkland Palace both provide an excellent sense of atmosphere. The chapel is an intimate room, with an excellent acoustic due to its shoe-box shape. With stained glass windows to the right, tapestry-clad wall to the left, and intricately painted ceiling, this is rather a special location for chamber music.

The reduction in scale of course requires the loss of the chorus. This inevitably restricts the effect of the final scene, where the beautifully paced increase in tension provides a fitting framework - In this version, the solo voices do not quite achieve that. However the requirement for a Fringe show to come in at less than two hours means further cuts, so Donizetti's cannily-paced recitatives go as well, to be replaced by very brief spoken dialogues (written by conductor and director). In the circumstances this has to be seen as an acceptable measure, though it is, thankfully, unlikely to become standard practice.

The performance itself was thoroughly enjoyable. Perhaps the most complete performances came from Francesca Matta as Elizabeth, with Robert Garland's warm bass-baritone and Hannah Poulsom's mezzo sounding particularly well in this acoustic. Melanie Long, in the title role, sounded lovely most of the time, but still needs to find a bit more variety in her succession of slow arias. Edward Jowle's Cecil found an appropriate incisiveness for his role as Mary's Nemesis. Ian McBain's voice has developed well, with a nice Italianate ring, but he, more than the others, perhaps failed to turn down the volume and increase the subtlety when moving from the first night in a big hall to a second in more intimate surroundings.

The cramped playing area at Falkland clearly hindered some of the dramatic effects of Thomas Henderson's production which will have been possible in Stirling. Like the adjustments required by the singers, this should be more consistent with the group of Edinburgh performances. The conducting of Calum Fraser was well-paced, and the excellent pianist was Charles Curry.

English libretto by Mark Herman and Ronnie Apter, with dialogue by Thomas Henderson and Calum Fraser for the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Running time 2hr  £12 (£10) (£32 F)

Performance Cast

Elisabetta Elizabeth, Queen of England

Francesca Matta

Giorgio Talbot George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury

Robert Garland

Lord Guglielmo Cecil Sir William Cecil

Edward Jowle

Roberto di Leicester Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

Ian McBain

Anna Hannah Kennedy, Mary's companion

Hannah Poulsom

Maria Stuarda Mary Stuart

Melanie Long

Performance DatesMaria Stuarda 2015

Map List

Stirling Castle | Stirling

14 Aug, 19.30

Falkland Palace | Falkland, Fife

15 Aug, 18.00

Lauriston Halls | Edinburgh

18 Aug, 18.00 19 Aug, 18.00 21 Aug, 18.00 22 Aug, 18.00

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