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BACK IN 2013, the Met produced a Live in HD presentation of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, the bel canto opera based on Friedrich Schiller’s 1800 play Maria Stuart. This Met production starred Joyce DiDonato as Mary, Queen of Scots, Elza van de Heever as Queen Elizabeth, and Matthew Polenzani as Leicester, caught between these two rival queens. Quite the principals!
Recently, I read a snippet concerning the Schiller play that led to one thing and another. Hence, today’s theatrical spin.
Historical Prelude to Drama. Here’s an immensely complex tale in 67 Words: Mary had been tossed in jail on a bad rap of murdering her husband. In fact, it was because she had claimed Elizabeth’s throne. Elizabeth was Protestant (daughter of Anne Boleyn and serial nuptialist/monastery confiscator Henry VIII). Her cousin Mary was Catholic (daughter of James V of Scotland and Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII). Each knew God was on her side. Divine Right, don’tcha know.
And you thought Britain’s current royals are fodder for gossip.
Friedrich Schiller. Friedrich Schiller is sorta the German Shakespeare. (No extra points for contesting this. In 2008, the audience of the TV channel Arte voted Schiller as the second most important playwright in Europe after the Bard of Avon.)
Maria Stuart was one of Schiller’s later plays; another was William Tell (the one with the apple shootout; also, later via Rossini, the Lone Ranger’s theme). Wikipedia lists a total of ten Schiller plays: Don Carlos inspired a passel of operatic adaptions, among them, Giuseppe Verdi’s. Other Verdi Schiller spinoffs include La Forza del Destino and Luisa Miller, these days part of the familiar repertoire; Giovanna d’Arco and I Masnadieri, less so.
Another familiar musical inspiration came from Schiller’s An die Freude (Ode to Joy), which Beethoven incorporated into the fourth movement of his Ninth Symphony.
A Brief Diversion. Gee, how can I can pass up an artist named Simanowiz. A distant kin??
Ludovike, Louisa, if you like, was a German portrait painter in the Classic style. Her father had been a military feldsher (sorta an army medic); her mother, the daughter of a pharmacist. Ludovike was born in an army barracks, though she grew up with the Schiller family. In 1789, she married Lieutenant Franz Simanowiz, an old classmate of Schiller’s.
Studying art in Paris during the French Revolution, Ludovike led an adventurous life, at one point escaping to Normandy and subsequently returning to Germany. There, she began painting portraits of the Schiller family.
She was also a dish, and the only real Kunigunde I’ve ever heard of (like the girlfriend in Voltaire’s Candide). That her maiden name has a Sherlockian nexus only places Ludovike higher in my eyes.
Now Who to Play Queen Elizabeth? Who to Play Mary, Queen of Scots? You may recall what got me into this was monarchal instability of the Tudor family in sixteenth-century Britain and today’s theatrical productions thereon.
Robert Icke, English-born 1986, is best known for his modern adaptations of classic texts, including versions of Oresteia, Mary Stuart, Uncle Vanya, and 1984, devised with Duncan Macmillan. Indeed, Wikipedia says, “He has been referred to as the ‘great hope of British theatre.’ ”
In Robert Icke’s production of Schiller’s political tragedy, the dual roles of Queen Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots, were decided at each performance—by the spin of a coin.
How well did this work theatrically? Just fine, thank you. Read the reviews. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022