Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda: Historical Fact or Dramatic Fiction?
What happens during the creation of a work of art that is inspired by an actual event or period of history? How are facts changed to support themes and create drama? We will address these questions as they relate to the story of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, in film, theater, history, and opera.
In the opera’s story, regal cousins, Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I, are rivals for the crown and the same nobleman’s love, delivering fascinating historical drama. Elizabeth has imprisoned Mary, suspecting her of treason, but Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Elizabeth’s lover, convinces the queen to meet with her cousin. Tempers soon explode and rage out of control. Mary, condemned to death, faces her demise with great dignity.
Spectacular vocal fireworks and bel canto singing are hallmarks of Donizetti’s tragedy. The Times of London praised mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who will perform the title role, saying “DiDonato’s voice is at present nothing less than 24-carat gold.”
March 27: Dennis Huston, professor of English at Rice University, will present the 1971 film, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, starring Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson. He will address the changes made to history to heighten the drama of the film.
April 3: Robert Shimko, assistant professor of theater history and dramaturgy at the University of Houston, will focus on the history of Mary Stuart and her time. He will also discuss Friedrich Schiller’s adaptation of history in his play, Maria Stuart, which was the basis of Donizetti’s opera.
April 11: Mena M. Hanna, dramaturg of the Houston Grand Opera, will discuss the creation of Maria Stuarda and the historic and dramatic sources used by its creators, especially the work of the playwright Friedrich Schiller. He will also examine how other composers have employed Schiller’s dramatic material.
April 18: For our final session, we will be the guests of Houston Grand Opera for the dress rehearsal of Maria Stuarda. During intermission, participants will gather for a reception.
Dennis Huston is professor of English at Rice University, where he has taught since 1969. He has won a number of George R. Brown teaching awards, the Nicholas Salgo Teaching Prize, and received the 1990 Professor of the Year award from the council for the Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation. Over the past ten years at Rice, he has taught humanities, drama, public speaking, and Shakespeare on film. Huston holds a PhD from Yale University.
Robert Shimko is assistant professor of theater history and dramaturgy at the University of Houston, where he heads the M.A. program in theatre studies as well as the B.F.A. degree track in playwrighting/dramaturgy. Professor Shimko’s scholarly writing has been widely published in numerous journals and magazines. In 2008, he received the Robert A. Schanke Theatre Research Award from the Mid-America Theatre Conference. As a professional dramaturg, his credits include productions at the Alley Theatre, the Guthrie Theater, Harlem Stage, Stages Repertory Theatre, and the Catastrophic Theatre. He has recently been named Senior Dramaturg of the Houston Shakespeare Festival.
Mena Mark Hanna is dramaturg at Houston Grand Opera and visiting scholar at the Shepherd School of Music, Rice University. As a composer, he has had premieres at such venues as Institute for Contemporary Art, London; Festival Acanthes, Metz, France; the 92nd Street Y, New York; and the Festival degli due mondi, Spoleto. He is the recipient of the Marshall Scholarship, the John Lowell Osgood Dissertation Prize, and Merton College’s Prize Scholarship. Hanna holds a DPhil from Oxford University.