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The set was mainly a plain, abstract space. Only occasionally did naturalistic details come through; a projection of sky and a few flowers livening up the bare prison walls for Maria's first entrance. A big feature of the design was the use of executioners blades; one hung from the ceiling like a pendulum and the guards' halberds reoccurred as a visual leitmotif throughout the opera. And for the ending, Souglides created a memorable coup de théâtre when the black rear wall opened to reveal a staircase going up, glowing with yellow light; the curtains descended as Maria started to ascend up it, presumably to heaven.

Kelly's Elizabetta was something less than the sacred monster of history. But she was still very much a monarch, albeit one wracked by all too human concerns, love of Lord Leicester, jealousy of Maria, concern over her status. Elizabetta is a relatively short role; after the climactic scene with Maria at the end of Act 2, Elizabetta all but disappears. It says much for Kelly's fine acting skills that she made much of the little Donizetti gave her and succeeded in creating a powerfully drawn Elizabetta without relying overmuch on caricature. Kelly can spin a fine vocal line and imbue it with meaning; every word of her dialogue told. When it came to the fioriture in the arias, Kelly was a little sketchier, relying on the expressiveness of the general shape of the music rather than using the fioriture for really expressive purposes. There are few artists capable of singing this style of music really well, which is the problem with trying to produce it. It is a measure of Kelly's stature as an artist that she found a way into the music that was expressive and suited her distinctive vocal attributes whilst doing justice to Donizetti's artistry and never doing violence to musical style.

The designer had given Elizabetta a distinctive look; once free of her Elizabethan costume she appeared in a number of stylish dresses. Kelly used the look admirably; at times creating an eerie echo of the film actress Glen Close.

Janice Kelly (Elizabetta), Adrian Dwyer (Lord Leicester) and Majella Cullagh (Maria) in the Grange Park Opera production of 'Maria Stuarda'. Photo © 2005 Alastair Muir
Janice Kelly (Elizabetta), Adrian Dwyer (Lord Leicester) and Majella Cullagh (Maria) in the Grange Park Opera production of 'Maria Stuarda'. Photo © 2005 Alastair Muir

As her opposite number, Maria Stuarda, Majella Cullagh knew how to caress a Donizettian line; after all she has done a number of projects with Opera Rara who specialise in Italian works of this period. In the past critics have complained over the way she projects a character, but at Grange Park she seems to have found form. Her Maria Stuarda mixed tenderness with an iron will all expressed within the bounds of some simply lovely Donizettian cantilena. The way she could caress the music's line did not prepare you for the violence of her outburst in front of Elizabetta. And with a soprano taking the role, rather than a mezzo-soprano, for once the two divas were equals in their fireworks.

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Copyright © 23 June 2005 Robert Hugill, London UK


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