Vocally Potent Maria Stuarda Closes Pocket Season
Gaetano Donizetti: Maria Stuarda
Ellen Kerrigan (Mary Stuart), Vicky Van Dewark (Queen Elizabeth), William Gorton (Earl of Leicester), Todd Donovan (Lord Cecil), Richard Mix (Lord Talbot), Claudia Berman (Hannah)
Pocket Philharmonic, Donald Pippin (Conductor)
Russell Blackwood (Director)
San Franciscans did not need to wait until the Fourth of July for fireworks this year. Nor did they need to go to the War Memorial Opera House for some first class operatic singing. Both these elements were supplied, in tandem, by Pocket Opera in its last offering of the current season, Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, here Mary Stuart as sung in Donald Pippin's own inimitable translation.
From her first entrance, Vicky Van Dewark commanded the stage as befits Queen Elizabeth. Her confidence, carriage and presence all contributed to a convincing portrayal of England's great ruler. Van Dewark sang with equal authority and a sure sense of Italian style, soaring in elegantly phrases, her warm, gleaming mezzo in complete control. Her use of the text to inform her singing and her clear, effortless diction also contributed to this remarkable portrayal. That she accomplished all this despite one of the worst costumes to disgrace any stage is further evidence of her gifts as a singing actress.
Ellen Kerrigan provided an apt foil as Mary Stuart, her shimmering pure soprano conveying Mary's essential innocence and purity as well as her vulnerability in the face of the invincible Elizabeth. Kerrigan, in a costume only slightly less offensive, though equally in apt, was every inch the passionate woman whose heart-dominated reign led to her ignominious demise. Throughout the performance and especially in the long, demanding final scene, Kerrigan paced her self expertly, the voice sounding fresh and strong for the final pray and finale. An underdeveloped chest voice detracted slightly from the overall portrayal, particularly in the confrontation scene that concludes the first act, but this was a minor flaw in an otherwise, convincing, moving and heart-felt portrayal.
As the Earl of Leicester, William Gorton handled the vocal demands of role with considerable style and feeling. A tight, nasal top not withstanding, Gorton provided plenty of idiomatic, lyrical singing and a committed, ardent portrayal of the nobleman caught between the two queens.
Richard Mix started off the evening with a wooly, swallowed tone and uncertain singing as Lord Talbot. But by the second act had focused the tone and relaxed sufficiently to give a solid performance. Mix's big, burly presence is matched with an equally big, round tone. As he continues to develop as an actor and singer, he has the potential to provide an imposing, genial presence, something only hinted at in this performance.
Todd Donovan was the conniving Lord Cecil, his singing silky and smooth as suits this scheming, ambitious lord. Not for him a sudden recognition of Mary's innocence and ensuing contrition and remorse, Donovan's Cecil was cold and unmoved to the end.
Claudia Berman was a lively, touching presence as Mary's confidant, Hannah, and the Pocket Opera chorus provided both a full sound and dramatically involved contribution to this Mary Stuart.
Donald Pippin did his usual multi-tasking with considerable aplomb. His narration as clear and pithy as ever, his support for the singers solid and his conducting of the Pocket Philharmonic from the piano strong and musical, an an unusually hurried account of the pray in the final scene aside.
Even on the miminal budget allotted, the costumes were not up to snuff and no costumes would have been preferable. The set pieces however worked well and director Russell Blackwood provided a clear, concise staging with a few individual touches but nothing to draw attention away from the performers.