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The drama and the violence behind Donizetti's Mary Stuart

ClassicTalk with George Hamilton

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Gaetano Donizetti made his mark with a musical based on Anne Boleyn before taking on Mary, Queen of Scots

Gaetano Donizetti made his mark with a musical based on Anne Boleyn before taking on Mary, Queen of Scots

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Gaetano Donizetti made his mark with a musical based on Anne Boleyn before taking on Mary, Queen of Scots

The grisly end of Mary Stuart - Mary, Queen of Scots - held a particular fascination for the 19th-century Italian public. Executed for treason over 200 years before, the Roman Catholic monarch had become a potent symbol to radicals there, personifying the persecution they saw Scotland endure at the hands of the Protestant English crown, a parallel with their own situation as part of the Austrian empire.

This found its expression in popular entertainment. Gaetano Donizetti's opera, Maria Stuarda, based on the play by the German dramatist Friedrich Schiller, was by no means the only version. Saverio Mercadante, less well-known now, but at the time as highly regarded as Donizetti, and Rossini too, premiered a version ten years before Donizetti's made it to the stage. Its journey there is worthy of an opera in itself.

Donizetti was working for the San Carlo opera house in Naples, Europe's oldest, a thriving centre of excellence.