Joyce DiDonato takes on opera's Scottish queen
In this April 18, 2012, photo provided by the Houston Grand Opera, Robert Gleadow, left, performs in the Houston Grand Opera's production of Maria Stuarda, with Katie Van Kooten, right, in Houston. Van Kooten, an imposing soprano, plays the part of Elizabeth in the show. (AP Photo/Houston Grand Opera)
HOUSTON (AP) — In real life, England's Queen Elizabeth I won her battle with Mary Queen of Scots by sending her rival to the scaffold. But in "Maria Stuarda," it's the victim who gets the last word — and the final curtain call.
So it's no wonder that ever since Donizetti's 1835 opera was reclaimed from obscurity a half-century ago, the title role has been a favorite of reigning prima donnas like Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills and Montserrat Caballe.
On Saturday night, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato joined this distinguished company, scoring a huge success as she performed the role for the first time in a production new to the Houston Grand Opera.
In this April 18, 2012, photo provided by the Houston Grand Opera, Joyce DiDonato performs in the Houston Grand Opera's production of Maria Stuarda, in Houston. Though the role has often been taken by sopranos who dazzle the audience with their high notes, DiDonato performs a lower-voiced alternate version, which can be just as satisfying. (AP Photo/Houston Grand Opera)
From her first entrance, wistfully recalling her happy childhood days in France, DiDonato sang with commanding power, silken elegance of line and deep expressiveness. She captured Mary's fierce pride and desperation as well as her religious piety and courage in the face of death.
Though the role has often been taken by sopranos who dazzle the audience with their high notes, DiDonato showed that, with the right singer, the lower-voiced alternate version can be just as satisfying. In the florid passages, her embellishments were exquisite — and all the more effective for seeming to flow spontaneously from her character's state of mind.