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When the Deutsche Oper Berlin cancelled its run of Idomeneo because of a fictitious Islamic threat, the world sat up and watched. But something of far more note was happening just across the city in the Staatsoper. A good opera production! And that in Berlin!

Karten Wiegand’s staging of Maria Stuarda at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden is everything that has been missing in the Berlin opera scene for the past couple of years. It is thrilling, entertaining, funny, clever and poignant. And it’s musically stupendous.

Weigand reads Donizetti’s tale of 16th-century monarchs in a deathly squabble as a tale of divas, doubles, and showbiz. Donizetti’s two leading ladies ended the 1839 premiere at La Scala in fisticuffs. Weigand finds a parallel in Robert Aldrich’s 1962 trash classic film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, in which Bette Davis and Joan Crawford played two ageing divas at loggerheads.

Alain Rappaport’s set is a gloriously decaying Hollywood villa in mock Tudor style, seedily let by Andreas Fuchs. Katarina Karnéus as Elisabetta is a vain, vindictive star in decline. Elena Mosuc plays the title role in a wheelchair. She is a prisoner in her own home, earning her sister’s hatred by winning the most attention. They fight over the affections of Roberto, Earl of Leicester, here José Bros as a sly caretaker.

All three sing the roof off. Karneus is all silvery runs and feather-light top notes, Bros is bold and burnished and effortlessly accurate, Mosuc is the bel canto diva par excellence, with exquisite expressive detail. The smaller roles are equally brilliantly cast. Alain Altinoglu conducts with an idiomatic lightness of touch rarely heard in this house, supports the singers’ every breath and strips the score of all excess, lending it gripping velocity.

The rivals don matching wedding dresses for the final showdown, and Elisabetta slits Maria Stuarda’s throat with her crucifix. It is high-camp tragedy, so meticulously thought through and convincingly played that you believe every second. ★★★★★

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