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Melbourne Opera to Stage New Production of MARY STUART

This spring, Melbourne Opera will stage a new production of Gaetano Donizetti's gripping historical drama, Mary Stuart (Maria Stuarda); starring international opera stars Elena Xanthoudakis and Rosamund Illing as the two rival feuding queens.

Elena Xanthoudakis is returning from a prolific career in Europe to take on the title role of Mary, Queen of Scots, in a dramatic story of her imprisonment and execution by her jealous cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, played by the legendary Rosamund Illing.

Mary Stuart is directed by leading Australian Director Suzanne Chaundy (Opera Australia, Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Strange Fruit) and will be sung in English and set in period.

"Donizetti's Mary Stuart does more than just expose the fighting cousins. It examines the fundamental differences between these two queens. Married to her country and to no man, Elizabeth went to her grave as one of England's greatest rulers but known forever as the Virgin Queen. Her younger cousin Mary was thrice married and threw away her kingdom for an illicit love affair. Her execution, the extraordinary act of regicide that ended her life in history and in this opera, opens a pathway to redemption and she dies a Catholic martyr," says Suzanne.

"So much of the drama of this piece lies in the opposition of their natures. Elizabeth sets out prove herself as equal to any man. Mary, on the other hand, was seen as recklessly emotional. Both were ambitious and single minded."

Not performed in Melbourne for over 20 years, Mary Stuart was originally a contentious opera, banned by the authorities in Milan after its 1835 premiere, due to the volatile insults hurled from one monarch to another.

Mary Stuart was largely neglected for over a century until 1958, when it was reintroduced to the repertory after a performance in Donizetti's hometown. Melbourne Opera Founding Patron Richard Bonynge was instrumental in consolidating this resurgence of Bel Canto operas.

Internationally acclaimed soprano, Elena Xanthoudakis, was given her first starring roles by Melbourne Opera in 2003 when she performed in The Pearl Fishers and The Magic Flute.

She has since gone on to perform leading roles with world stage opera houses such as the English National Opera, the Scottish Opera and at the Royal Opera House (Covent Garden). Her illustrious career has awarded her international prizes including the multi-laureate at the Jeunesse Muscales - Voix and Placido Domigo's Operalia in London. She also recently released her debut solo CD, titled 'Jewels of the Bel Canto' conducted by Richard Bonynge.

"Mary Stuart is one of those rare operas with demanding roles for two leading ladies. I am particularly looking forward to working with the great star Rosamund Illing, and presenting the famous confrontation scene between the two queens," says Elena.

"It's exciting to return to Melbourne Opera again in such a marvellous work and with such a first class cast."

Rosamund Illing is one of Australia's most renowned sopranos. She has an enviably large repertoire of opera engagements with performances in England, France, Germany, Japan, the United States, Canada and Australia. Her recordings have also received many accolades including an Aria nomination.

Mary Stuart is recognised as containing some of Donizetti's most moving music, such as Mary's confession duet with Talbot and her poignant aria in the final scene as she calmly faces her approaching death.

The opera will be conducted by pre-eminent maestro Richard Divall.

A high calibre and well-suited cast will support the 'duelling queens', with one of Australia's finest lyric coloratura tenors, Henry Choo as Robert, Earl of Leicester; Caroline Vercoe as Anna, Mary's companion; Phillip Calcagno as Lord Cecil; while Eddie Muliaumaseali'i will start as Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.

Suzanne Chaundy is supported by a team of creative women to stage the story of two of history's most powerful opposing women. Set designer Christina Logan-Bell will use symbols of the Tudor rule, which deconstruct to create a new setting for each scene. An enormous crown symbolising both the power and the constricting imprisonment leadership brings will draw into sharp and poignant focus the fundamental similarities and differences between these Queens. Lighting designer Lucy Birkinshaw will help to create the mood and atmosphere for the production.

Mary Stuart follows Melbourne Opera's acclaimed premiere production of the rare German opera Der Freischütz in March, and the sold out season of The Barber Of Seville in June-July. Mary Stuart continues Melbourne Opera's commitment to performing less frequently seen European masterpieces.

This production of Mary Stuart is made possible by the generous support of Production Sponsor Dr Alastair Jackson and Opera Australia.

Tickets to The Athenaeum season are on sale now via (03) 9650 1500 or Ticketek.

Tickets to the Monash University performance are available via (03) 9905 1111 or

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