Pacific Opera Victoria is treating audiences to an epic tale of duelling divas in Maria Stuarda, a rarely produced opera in the bel canto style making its Canadian West Coast premiere at the Royal Theatre April 12.
Gaetano Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda is an Italian twist on old English history, pitting Mary Stuart, former queen of Scotland and France and true heir to the British throne, against her formidable cousin Elizabeth. Stir in a love triangle and a fight to the death and you have both dramatic and vocal fireworks.
Directed by Maria Lamont in her POV debut, Maria Stuarda is sure to impress with its bel canto lines, something Victoria audiences haven’t often had the pleasure to hear.
“Bel canto means beautiful singing,” says Lamont. “You can’t do this opera if you don’t have fantastic singers. And we do in this case. It makes a huge difference and carries the drama so well. Fans of singing will be quite happy with this production … It’s like the Olympics of singing.”
Luckily, POV is on the ball in the planning department and booked two of Canada’s leading sopranos almost two years ago; Tracy Dahl as Maria (in her first appearance with the company), and Sally Dibblee (POV’s Madama Butterfly) as Elisabetta.
“I’ve been very impressed by the preparations. I’ve had the contract for two years,” says Lamont. “Good singers book very far in advance and on the technical side, you need almost a year’s notice to cost things, make your budget, and prepare the work and do the work. In terms of dealing with the preparation, I’ve been very impressed by POV and the quality and professionalism in the shop. All the departments are well organized and there are serious professionals in charge. It’s not the biggest company I’ve worked for in my life, but certainly one of the most organized.”
Lamont says she was drawn to work with POV and conductor Timothy Vernon because it’s a company that takes risks.
“I’ve never worked at POV but I’ve wanted to for a long time. It’s one of the only companies in Canada that makes new productions and that’s very exciting for a director. It’s very gratifying,” says Lamont, who lives in Belgium. “I’m very happy to be here.”
That’s a feeling echoed by Dahl as well. “Timothy Vernon is such a delightful man and I’ve always been intrigued by this opera company and their success. They’re able to do things that are so off the beaten track and people still come. They’ve really built up something unique here, and the community is quite unique to support such a wide spectrum of opera experience,” says Dahl.
Dahl was in talks with Vernon for quite some time, trying to find the perfect role for her highly-coveted coloratura soprano voice.
“I said yes knowing that Beverly Sills had done it and Joan Sutherland had done it, so it was going to be fine. And then I got the score and realized that it’s so low, the range is so extreme. But with the tradition of bel canto opera being given ornaments, you can go high or low or do what you want.”
“You can almost throw traditions out the window,” says Dibblee. “It’s almost anything goes. There’s the notes on the page and then there’s the notes you make up.”
And although parts of the story of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda are made up, the characters are very real.
“The wonderful part of putting a role on the stage is knowing someone lived this life, that there is a long history involved,” says Dibblee. “And in this case it works, a love story always helps propel an opera along. The two never met.”
But the two queens do meet in Donizetti’s version and, when they do, fireworks begin to flare.
“It’s well documented that they each had explosive energy within them,” says Dibblee. “And it makes for a very exciting scene.” M
Pacific Opera Victoria
April 12, 14, 18, 20 at
8 p.m., matinee April 22 at 2:30 p.m. at the Royal Theatre.
Italian with English surtitles.
Tickets at rmts.bc.ca