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Good, but not great
on 11 May 2014
I, too, saw this as a live transmission at the cinema, and was bowled over by the dramatic intensity. Not my favourite out of the 'Three Queens', but still a marvellous work. I would have liked to give this at least 4 stars, but could not do so on 2 counts.
Mathew Polenzani was weak as Leicester, and on top of that, I was infuriated by his arrogance in the between scenes interview, when he scoffed at the idea that Elizabeth had good reason to be tough on Mary. Mary had been complicit in the murder of her own husband, Darnley, and had WITHOUT DOUBT plotted to steal Elizabeth's throne. Standing as he was beside an Englishman who would know a deal more about it than an American opera singer, I thought his reaction was inappropriate to say the least.
But that is neither here nor there in the scale of things, any more than that the story, though based on fact, has been fictionalised for the purposes of this opera. There is no evidence at all that Mary and Elizabeth ever met - but hey! who cares - it's a marvellous and spine chilling scene, and the music is just great, though no opera singer has EVER spat out the words that Elizabeth was a dishonourable bastard of a whore, Anne Boleyn, with the conviction that Joan Sutherland did. And Leyla Gencer was a very close second on that score. Just don't go thinking that because you see it the opera, it actually happened! There is also no evidence for the 'love triangle' idea, but again, that doesn't matter in the interests of dramatic license. And the same is true of the last scene - no one going to execution would have had to walk up such a long flight of stairs, but again - unimportant, since it was wonderfully dramatic effect.
But most of all, there is also no evidence that Elizabeth walked with such a pronounced limp, to the point of disability. I liked Elza van der Heever very much, but her portrayal was distracting and unattractive. And her costumes, especially the hunting garb, were simply terrible, and DiDonato's were not much better. I would say that both the limp and the costumes were not her fault, but that of David McVicar, and although I like some of his ideas, he does sometimes overdo a good thing. From what we do know of Elizabeth, she could be vain and liked to appear feminine in the sense that she wanted to be an attractive woman, but she also liked to convey strength, so that those around her did not feel the lack of a king so much. But this masculine, butch portrayal, was just awful.
I thought Joyce DiDonato, whom I greatly admire, did an excellent job, thoroughly convincing, despite a little over-acting. But she was still a joy to behold, and to listen to. All in all, I enjoyed watching and listening, but it was marred for me by some of the above. If the production had not tried so hard to be so pretentious, and if van der Heever had been allowed to portray Elizabeth in a more dignified way, it would have been an almost perfect production. As it is, there are other performances I infinitely prefer.