When an announcement is made that a singer is sick but will perform anyway, listener sympathy is sought for any potential flaws. But there was no evidence that Sondra Radvanovsky had a cold, as had been indicated, during her magnificent rendering of the title role of Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda” on Friday evening, when David McVicar’s production returned to the Metropolitan Opera.
Ms. Radvanovsky will perform the bravura feat of singing Donizetti’s three Tudor queens in one season, mirroring Beverly Sills’s achievement at New York City Opera in the 1970s. Ms. Radvanovsky already made a strong impression as the title character in “Anna Bolena” and made an equally vivid impact in “Maria Stuarda,” based on a Friedrich Schiller play that explores the rivalry between Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. The opera includes a few fictitious elements, like a historically inaccurate love triangle and a dramatically juicy confrontation in which Mary calls Elizabeth a “vile bastard.”
Ms. Radvanovksy’s voice sounded huge and radiant in the tender “O nube! Che lieve per l’aria,” her reminiscence about France and freedom. She navigated the coloratura hurdles with ease throughout, her shading, dynamic control and expressive nuance rendering the confession scene particularly potent. Her graceful femininity was in stark contrast to the ungainly movements of Elza van den Heever’s Elisabetta, a character portrayed in this production as an awkwardly masculine figure and whose emotive, jealous manipulations were brilliantly rendered by Ms. van den Heever.
The male roles were also convincingly portrayed, with Celso Albelo a passionate Leicester, Patrick Carfizzi a sonorous-voiced Cecil and the booming bass of Kwangchul Youn as Talbot, particularly alluring in the confession scene.
The chorus sang beautifully in the gorgeous Act III prayer. The deceptively simple om-pah-pah orchestration needs a buoyancy that Riccardo Frizza mostly provided, momentum only occasionally flagging.
The sets are simple, traditional and effective. The blood-red wall of Queen Elizabeth’s court is a stark contrast with the white-costumed courtiers and creepy, cavorting jesters; the martyr’s red of Mary’s dress as she ascends to her death is a splash of color in the suitably gloomy sets of the final scene. When Ms. Radvanovsky sings Elizabeth I in “Roberto Devereux” (the final opera of the trilogy) later this season, at least the heads rolling won’t be hers.