Rival Divas Hit the High Notes

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François Clouet's painting of Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87).

Opera fans will be delighted to learn that Bay Street Theater is poised to present the virtual

Anna Tonna. Courtesy Divaria Productions.

world premiere of the original biopic opera “Rival Queens” on Thursday, November 12, at 8 p.m. The one-hour performance, presented by Divaria Productions, tells the story of Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I, and features music from Donizetti’s opera “Maria Stuarda” with English subtitles. Originally scheduled to be performed in-person at Bay Street Theater, the virtual presentation was instead created and prepared on an intercontinental basis featuring a director, pianist and actors located in Spain; a writer, soprano, mezzo-soprano and film crew in New York; a narrator from San Francisco; and a tenor in Chicago.

Ashley Bell. Courtesy Divaria Productions.

In contrast to the opera upon which it is based, “Rival Queens” adds the dimension of the relationship of these two queens throughout their entire life and not just the months immediately preceding Mary’s execution. This biopic represents a new form of art that melds documentary film with the music of opera, which serves as the driving force of the story. The tale draws on primary sources of the letters between these two women — who never actually met in person — and historical research, culminating in original narration that connects the opera and the letters.

“Rival Queens” is described by Divaria Productions as “a historic metaphor for the tragedy of judgment and choosing fear over trust, painting a powerful picture of the destruction that the naked push for power leaves in its wake. The opera’s themes of power and femininity — and whether these two dynamics can be reconciled — are topics we continue to explore today, and which merit re-examination through the lens of time.

Anton Armendariz Diaz. Courtesy Divaria Productions.

“Tudor England is in many ways reminiscent of all the strife in our own society and the struggle for differing voices to be heard. We hope that learning about this story can inspire members of the community to learn more about and understand each other in order to prevent future conflict and encourage cooperation.”

With the virtual, Divaria Productions makes a welcomed return to the Bay Street stage, where for the past six years it has presented sell-out shows with productions of “La Traviata,” “Don Giovanni in New York” and “Othello,” to name a few.

Andrew Owens. Courtesy Divaria Productions.

Rival Queens” features mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna as Queen Elizabeth I, Ashley Galvani Bell as Mary Queen of Scots, Michal Gizinski as narrator, and tenor Andrew Owens as Leicester. The film is directed by Anton Armedariz Diaz and musically directed by Sergio Martinez Zangroniz.

Tickets are $20 and can be purchased via baystreet.org.

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