Maria di Rohan Review
The Guardian by Tim Ashley
Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan is, in part, about the inexorable nature of time. A tragedy of marital chaos at the court of Louis XIII, it plays itself out during the course of a single night, and towards its close mutates into a kind of operatic High Noon. The last two of its three acts cover just over two hours; we are as close to drama in real time as opera can ever get, a fact that director Stephen Medcalf never allows us to forget. His new Buxton festival production encloses the action in the mechanism of an enormous clock, its cogs spinning away as the hands relentlessly count down the minutes to the final catastrophe.
It’s a powerful conceit that keeps us hooked during a work that has its problematic side. The exposition is too diffuse, and situation rather than psychology forms the dramatic centre. The complex narrative finds Maria enlisting the help of her former lover Chalais to save the life of the Duke of Chevreuse, to whom she is secretly married. Chalais, as we and Chevreuse eventually discover, is the man she has always really loved. Donizetti, however, gives us too few clues as to the motives for her behaviour.
Mary Plazas captures the private hell beneath the self-assured facade, but can’t quite flesh out a character who remains something of a cipher. It’s ultimately the men, more sharply drawn, who give the work its force. John Bellemer is the easy-voiced, charismatic Chalais, though it’s William Dazeley’s elegant, violent Chevreuse who steals the show. In the pit, Andrew Greenwood never lets the tension drop. Gripping stuff despite its flaws.