Donizetti’s Mary Stuart at the Seattle Opera


By Gaetano Donizetti

HISTORIC CONFRONTATION WITH SEARING EMOTIONS. Two icons of English royalty, Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, clash in a powerful story of jealousy, pity, doubt, menace, exaltation, and remorse. Extravagant period costumes and virtuosic bel canto singing heighten the many moods of this haunting, unforgettable battle of wills. Does Elizabeth retain her nobility and show clemency to her rival? Or will spite and ambition drive her to seal Mary’s grisly fate? Join us at the palace and see!


Joyce El Khoury makes her Seattle Opera debut as Maria Stuarda.

In Italian with English subtitles | at McCaw Hall
Approximate Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Evenings at 7:30 PM. Sunday matinee at 2:00 PM.

– See more at:


England, 1587

What Has Come Before: Henry VIII of England broke with the Catholic Church and founded the Church of England, in part so he could divorce his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn. His daughter by Anne eventually became Elizabeth I. Henry’s older sister Margaret married the King of Scotland; their granddaughter, Mary Stuart (also known as Mary, Queen of Scots), became Elizabeth’s rival for the throne of England. When our opera begins, Elizabeth has had Mary imprisoned…


Act 1
Westminster palace, where Queen Elizabeth I is holding court. Elizabeth toys with the idea of marrying the King of France, although she is in love with someone else. She discusses the fate of Mary Stuart with two advisors, Talbot and Cecil. Talbot urges Elizabeth to show clemency, whereas Cecil warns her that Mary is a dangerous rival.

Elizabeth appoints her favorite, the Earl of Leicester, ambassador to France, and is annoyed when he shows no indication of regret that he must leave her. Talbot gives Leicester a letter from Mary asking him to arrange a meeting between her and Elizabeth. Leicester, who loves Mary, shows her message to Elizabeth. Elizabeth, jealous of Leicester’s fondness for Mary, agrees to the meeting.


Act 2
Mary Stuart is under house arrest at Fotheringay Castle, where she tells her attendant, Anna, about her happy childhood in France. Leicester appears and tells Mary that the Queen will visit her very soon. He encourages her to be humble and submissive. The Queen arrives with her entourage. Mary kneels before the Queen, but Elizabeth accuses Mary of having violated her first marriage and participated in the murder of her second husband. Goaded to fury, Mary publicly  insults Elizabeth, denouncing her as the illegitimate bastard of a whore—and sealing her own doom.


Act 3
At Westminster, Cecil shows Elizabeth evidence implicating Mary in a treasonous plot, and Elizabeth signs Mary’s death warrant. When Leicester begs her to spare Mary’s life, Elizabeth tells him he must witness the execution.


Mary, still a devout Catholic, refuses Cecil’s offer of a meeting with an Anglican minister. Talbot, secretly a Catholic priest, hears her final confession and comforts her. She tells her supporters that she is happy to return to God’s embrace. Three cannon shots signal her execution; Mary Stuart forgives Elizabeth, bids farewell to those she loves and calmly ascends the scaffold.


Photos copyright Michal Daniel

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