Continuing Donizetti’s Tudor Trilogy in Naples with Maria Stuarda

In Naples, “another” of Donizetti’s home cities, I’m working on a project which is very special in terms of quality, continuity and significance. It began in 2022 with Le tre regine, which was both a concert and a narrative consisting of the finales from the operas in the Tudor trilogy. The following year, I returned here to conduct Anna Bolena in a Teatro di San Carlo, Dutch National Opera and Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía co-production with stage direction by Jetske Mijnssen. Now I’m back again from 20th to 29th June 2024 for Maria Stuarda entrusted to the same creative team and the same three co-producers. As musical director of Donizetti Opera, it is a privilege for me to have this opportunity to shape all these works both musically and theatrically: I’ll be completing the trilogy with Roberto Devereux, again at the Teatro di San Carlo, from 16th to 25th July 2025.

Maria Stuarda made its mark as the opera and in the year (1834) that rewarded Donizetti for his return to Naples after an absence of sixteen months: he was appointed professor of counterpoint and composition at the Royal College of Music, and received commissions for a royal gala performance and for the composition of a tragic opera for the Teatro di San Carlo. For this work, Donizetti chose a subject which was much loved by the Romantics, Maria Stuart by Schiller. It is well-known that Donizetti took an active role in writing the libretto because Felice Romani was unavailable, so he had to settle for the youthful Giuseppe Bardari. As a result, Maria Stuarda has one of the most interesting librettos of all Donizetti’s operas. In just a few months, the opera was ready, but not to be staged in Naples, after two sopranos hilariously came to blows during the first orchestra rehearsal, resulting in a royal ban on performances of Maria Stuarda at the Teatro di San Carlo. No harm came of this, because Maria Malibran fell in love with the tragedy and was determined to take it to La Scala, where it was performed for the first time in 1835. This was a version which had been adapted and revised for the sublime prima donna, very different from the one we’ve become accustomed to since 1958 thanks to its first modern day revival and “rediscovery”, which took place very aptly in Bergamo, and thanks above all to the subsequent critical edition.

If the history and legend of Mary Stuart was grounded, even before Schiller, in the relationship between love and power, Bardari (and Donizetti) chose to put the emphasis on the first of these, creating a psychological battlefield counterposing two leading ladies and a tenor in eighteenth century style. However, from a musical perspective, there is a subtle, modern differentiation between the two leading characters, which prompted the composer to make theatrical and musical decisions soon to be turned into opera.


Photo: Ben van Duin