• Gaetano Donizetti
  • June 2022
  • Nationwide

Maria Stuarda

Two Queens. One Catholic and Scottish, one Protestant and English. One in prison at the other’s behest.

A man between them balancing loyalty and love. And an impassioned insult — “Vile bastard” — that leads to the scaffold. The insult was so potent that the first performance of Donizetti’s lyrical tragedy was cancelled at the last minute in Naples through royal intervention. A toned-down revision went awry in Milan the following year when the great Maria Malibran chose to sing the original words. More than a century would pass before the work would finally make its way into the operatic mainstream.

Sung in Italian with English surtitles.

Duration is approximately 3 hours including an interval.

Available to stream from 8 July on OperaVision.


“a perfect example of bel canto style, telling a vivid dramatic story through music that glories in the possibilities of the human voice” - David McVicar
“Her soprano was full, rounded and sumptuous and she met the most soaring lines and difficult phrases with a sound that felt as smooth as it was accurate” - musicOMH on Anna Devin
“Erraught has a bright mezzo with an appealing gleam in her upper registers, where her dynamic control is also exceptional . . . She’s also a fine vocal actor, nicely alert to mood and psychology” - The Guardian on Tara Erraught

Cast and Creative Team


Maria Stuarda Tara Erraught
Elisabetta Anna Devin 5, 9, 11, 15, 19 JUNE
Elisabetta Amy Ní Fhearraigh 7, 16 JUNE
Anna Gemma Ní Bhriain
Leicester Arthur Espiritu
Cecil Giorgio Caoduro
Talbot Callum Thorpe

Creative Team

Conductor Fergus Sheil
Director Tom Creed
Set & Costume Designer Katie Davenport
Lighting Designer Sinéad McKenna
Chorus Director Elaine Kelly
Assistant Director John King
Répétiteur Aoife O'Sullivan
Studio Conductor Molly de Búrca
Offstage Conductor Medb Brereton Hurley
Irish National Opera Orchestra
Irish National Opera Chorus


Act I

Everyone waits at the court of Queen Elizabeth I for a big decision. It is rumoured that she will agree to marry the heir to the throne of France and unite the two nations, which would create a major political and economic power. She is still doubtful about this, though she says she is willing for the sake of her people and country. But in reality she harbours feelings for Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, and their ambiguous relationship has been the talk of the court for many years. Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, is under a kind of house arrest in England, suspected of conspiring to murder her late husband and plotting to assassinate Elizabeth. George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who has been charged with guarding Mary, pleads for mercy, while William Cecil, her chief adviser, recommends her execution without delay.

Leicester is not at court for Elizabeth’s announcement, and she wonders why he is not there. When he appears, she gives him a ring to take to France as a token of her provisional willingness to marry, but with the caveat that she can change her mind at any time. Talbot has sent for Leicester, and when they are alone, he passes on a portrait of Mary in her captivity along with a message in which she seeks a meeting with Elizabeth, after which Leicester resolves to set Mary free. When Elizabeth returns, she senses his agitation and demands to see Mary’s message. In spite of her jealousy of Mary and Leicester’s seeming affection for each other, she agrees to visit Mary.

Mary and her companion Anna have been allowed to enjoy the freedom of the open air at Fotheringhay Castle, where she has been imprisoned. She is reminded of happier times during her childhood and teenage years in France. Distant hunting horns and the voices of men in the distance announce the approach of Elizabeth, and now Mary is having second thoughts. Leicester arrives and explains that the hunting party is a pretext for the meeting, and advises Mary to be submissive towards Elizabeth. When the queens meet for the first time, Elizabeth is instantly enraged by Mary’s haughtiness, and Mary can read that fury clearly on Elizabeth’s face. Mary swallows her pride and behaves deferentially towards Elizabeth, who responds by humilating her in front of her advisors and especially Leicester. Mary can only keep silent and withstand this offence for a while, before insulting Elizabeth and sealing her fate.

Act II

Elizabeth struggles with the idea of signing Mary’s death sentence, but Cecil convinces her. Leicester arrives just as she signs, and continues to plead for Mary’s life, but in vain, and Elizabeth orders him to be there to witness the execution. Mary bemoans her misfortune and fears for Leicester. Talbot enters with Cecil, who presents the death warrant and insensitively offers the services of a Protestant minister to the Catholic Mary. Talbot tells her about Elizabeth’s decree that Leicester will have to watch her execution. Haunted by ghosts of her past, she is assailed with memories of violence and deaths from her turbulent life. Talbot urges her to clear her conscience and admit her crimes, and she unloads her burden of guilt as she prepares to die.

Mary’s supporters wait to see her one last time at the place of execution, bemoaning the shame that the death of a queen will bring down on England. Mary greets them, presents Anna with a handkerchief to blindfold her before her execution, and invites the assembled crowd to join her in prayer. When offered her last requests by Cecil, Mary asks that Anna can join her on the scaffold, and offers her forgiveness to the one who insulted and condemned her. Leicester arrives and Mary tries to calm him, but he can do nothing to prevent her fate. Mary goes to her death as her supporters continue to proclaim her innocence.

Discover More

Maria Stuarda Programme

Maria Stuarda | The Animated Story

Discover the story of Maria Stuarda in this animation by Holly Keating with words by Jody O'Neill.