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Maria Stuarda Synopsis

Donizetti's Tragic Opera


Gaetano Donizetti
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Composer: Gaetano Donizetti

Premiered: December 30, 1835 - La Scala, Milan

Other Popular Opera Synopses:
Mozart's The Magic Flute, Mozart's Don Giovanni, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, Verdi's Rigoletto, & Puccini's Madama Butterfly

Setting of Maria Stuarda:
Donizetti's Maria Stuarda takes place in London during the 16th century.

The Story of Maria Stuarda

Maria Stuarda, ACT 1

Within the walls of Westminster Palace, Elisabetta, Queen of England, contemplates a marriage proposal from the King of France. Politically, this is a perfect match and would be best for her subjects. Howerver, her heart longs for Roberto, the Earl of Leicester. Talbot arrives on behalf of her imprisoned cousin, Maria, Queen of Scotland, seeking mercy from Elisabetta. However, Maria once before tried to claim the English throne, and to make matters worse, Elisabetta is concerned that Roberto loves Maria. To learn his true feelings, Elisabetta calls upon Roberto and tests him by asking him to deliver a ring to the King of France signifying her acceptance of his proposal. Roberto responds indifferently and obeys her orders. This confirms her suspicions that he loves Maria.

Roberto takes leave and is approached by Talbot. Talbot hands him a picture of Maria along with a letter beseeching a meeting with Elisabetta. Swearing to do anything for his love, he agrees to talk with Elisabetta on behalf of Maria. When Roberto returns, he speaks with Elisabetta. With hesitation, she finally agrees to meet with Maria.

Maria Stuarda, ACT 2

Accompanied by her nurse, Anna, Maria wanders through the park outside of Fotheringay Castle, and reminisces about her youth and the few joys of her limited freedom after her imprisonment. In the distance, horns are sounded to announce the arrival of the Queen. Maria, suddenly anxious, has second thoughts about her upcoming meeting with the Queen and begins to depart. Before she can make her exit, Roberto arrives and encourages her to stay.

When the two queens finally confront one another, it is clear they both hold reservations and resentment. Prior to the meeting, Elisabetta was encouraged by her councilors to execute Maria, but she rejected the thought of it. At the same time, Elisabetta is furious that Roberto is defending Maria with such devotion. Maria tries to remain calm, but becomes enraged when Elisabetta makes references to her previous husbands along with multiple insults. Maria calls Elisabetta some choice names and makes the accusation that Elisabetta is an illegitimate child with no right to the throne. Fuming, Elisabetta tells Maria to prepare for death.

Maria Stuarda, ACT 3

Within her palace apartment, Elisabetta hesitates to sign Maria's death warrant, fearing her reputation and the public's reaction. Her councilors try to convince her that it is for the good of the kingdom as well as her own safety, but she still hesitates. It isn't until Roberto arrives pleading for Maria that her jealousy returns in full force. She quickly signs the death warrant and orders Roberto to act as witness of her death.

When Maria is brought the execution warrant by Talbot and Elisabetta's councilor, Cecil, they offer her a visit with a priest, but she refuses. After coming down from her high of "besting" the queen and suddenly realizing the end of her days are at hand, Maria confesses her sins to Talbot. These include the murder of her husband and her plot to kill the queen and take the English throne. She approaches the gallows proudly. Before she is put to death, she prays to God over Roberto, England, and even Queen Elisabetta.

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