Thursday, July 2, 2015

Exhilarating concert performance of “Maria Stuarda” – even with a disjointed ending – closes out the Astoria Music Festival on a high note

Led by soprano Angela Meade in the title role, the Astoria Music Festival lit up a houseful of vocal fireworks with an ardent, concert-style performance of Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda” (“Mary Stuart”) at the Liberty Theater on Sunday (June 28th). Mesmerizing the audience with a gorgeous tone and emotional intensity, Meade conveyed the complexity of a character who, in the end, realized that she brought about her own downfall. It wasn’t all Meade, though. She was joined by an excellent cast of principals that included Canadian soprano Alexandra Deshorties, tenor Aaron Blake, mezzo-soprano Angela Niederloh, and baritones Richard Zeller and Matthew Hayward. With Keith Clark conducting the festival orchestra, the performance was positively electrifying until the last few measures when some kind of miscommunication put a damper on things.

“Maria Stuarda,” inspired by the execution of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, veers away from actual historical events. It fashions a power play between Mary and Queen Elizabeth due to their rivalry over the Earl of Leicester, and the two queens meet, which in life, they didn’t. But this is opera, and the meeting, as sung by Meade and Deshorties (Queen Elizabeth) scorched everything in sight. 
Alexandra Deshorties | photo by  Dwight Caswell
Dishing out huge helpings of disdain and contempt for Mary, Deshorties’s Elizabeth displayed the power of the royal throne forcefully and persuasively. Meade, gave it all back and topped it off with an extra flourish, but that sealed her character’s fate. The exchange riveted the audience, which let out an audible gasp.
Deshorties and Meade | photo by  Dwight Caswell
As the Earl of Leicester, Aaron Blake’s singing was absolutely thrilling. His voice balanced well in duets and impressively cut through the ensemble passages. Richard Zeller was a perfect match for the compassionate role of George Talbot. In the role William Cecil, Matthew Hayward eagerly urged Queen Elizabeth to dispose of Mary asap. Angela Niederloh created a steadfast and compassionate Anna (Mary’s lady-in-waiting).
Deshorites and Aaron Blake | photo by  Dwight Caswell

The orchestra sounded a little ragged at the outset with the exception of David Hattner’s plaintive clarinet solo, but the ensemble caught fire after the soloists appeared and played with more consistency. The chorus sounded a little tentative at time, but they had to sing from a raised platform in the back of the stage only had a few numbers to contribute.
Clark, Meade, and Richard Zeller | photo by  Dwight Caswell
The ending got a bit jumbled. There was a cut that seemed to have caught some of the singers by surprise. They kept singing for a few measures then quieted as they realized that the orchestra had transitioned to the end. Fortunately, Meade knew what to do (or figured it out), and she hit the final high note with a little room to spare and then lowered her music stand to signal that all was done. The result was a bit anti-climactic, and it made me wonder if she had called an audible. One more rehearsal would have certainly fixed things.

Fortunately, the singing up to that point was so stellar that the audience erupted into cheers and bravos, which went on for quite a while with several curtain calls for the soloists. The Astoria Music Festival and Keith Clark can be rightly proud of putting together a barnburner for its grand finale.
PS: I've been informed that the final cut was not as major as I had thought, So I removed the word "major" from that sentence, which now reads "There was a cut that seemed...."

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