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Seattle Opera.

Mary Stuart

Feb. 27-Mar. 12, 2016


The April 3, 2021 broadcast of this production on 98.1 KING FM was originally recorded on March 5, 2016. It features Joyce El-Khoury as Mary Stuart and Mary Elizabeth Williams as Elizabeth. Full cast list is available below.

By Gaetano Donizetti

HISTORIC CONFRONTATION WITH SEARING EMOTIONS. Two icons of British 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!

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.

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England, 1587


Westminster Palace.
Queen Elizabeth I is toying with a marriage proposal from a French prince when her court asks what she intends to do about her cousin Mary Stuart, former Queen of France and then of Scotland, who has been condemned to death for conspiring against Elizabeth. Talbot, who hosted Mary Stuart during the first part of her long house arrest in England, encourages Elizabeth to be lenient, but Elizabeth’s trusted advisor Cecil fears that Mary is a threat to Elizabeth’s throne. Talbot then asks Leicester, Elizabeth’s favorite, to intercede on behalf of Mary, whom Talbot and Leicester both love. In the duet “Era d’amor l’immagine,” Leicester begs Elizabeth to meet Mary face to face. Reluctantly, she agrees.

Fotheringhay Castle.
Accompanied by her attendant, Hannah, Mary enjoys the park of the castle where she is imprisoned and recalls her happy childhood in France (aria: “O nube che lieve”). Leicester informs Mary that Queen Elizabeth has agreed to visit her, and warns her to be humble and submissive before her cousin. Using the royal hunt as an excuse, Elizabeth appears; all are nervous (sextet: “È sempre la stessa”). Although Mary begs Elizabeth to have mercy on her, Elizabeth goads and provokes Mary, who eventually explodes, calling Elizabeth illegitimate to her face.


Cecil urges Elizabeth to sign Mary’s death sentence, claiming that so long as Mary lives, Elizabeth will never be safe from attempted coups. But Elizabeth is not ready to shed royal blood. Leicester’s support for Mary tips the scales: Elizabeth signs Mary’s death sentence and commands Leicester to prove his loyalty by seeing that the execution is carried out.

Fotheringhay Castle.
Cecil informs Mary that she will be executed the next day; she refuses his offer of a Protestant minister. But she opens her heart to Talbot in the duet “Quando di luce rosea,” confessing her sins and preparing to meet her maker.

The next morning, in the great hall of Fotheringhay, Mary’s friends pray with her. She forgives Elizabeth, encourages Leicester not to shed further blood by attempting to avenge her, and goes in strength to a martyr’s death.

The following historical figures are prominently mentioned in the opera:
Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth’s mother. In order to wed her, Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church and established the Church of England. Later, he claimed she was a witch, had her beheaded, and proclaimed Elizabeth illegitimate.

David Rizzio. An Italian musician and courtier to Mary Stuart in Scotland, assassinated by rivals including Mary’s second husband.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Mary Stuart’s second husband died in mysterious circumstances. Mary was accused of taking a lover who then assassinated Darnley.

Anthony Babington. A young Catholic Englishman who attempted to rescue Mary Stuart from house arrest and set her on Elizabeth’s throne. He failed; was hanged, drawn, and quartered; and Mary, who knew of his plot, was convicted of treason.

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Joyce El-Khoury

Mary Stuart

At Seattle Opera in 2020/21: Nedda (Pag.), Pagliacci & Cavalleria rusticana

Hometown: Toronto
Seattle Opera Debut: Mary Stuart, Mary Stuart (’16)
Recently: Liù, Turandot (COC Toronto); Elisabetta, Roberto Devereux (Welsh National Opera / Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe); Mimì, La bohème (Australian Opera)
Upcoming: Anna, Le villi (Opéra