Queen of dissent: Mary Stuart
and the opera in her honour by Carlo Coccia
by Alexander Weatherson
The mystery of the sudden banning of Donizetti's Maria
The article below was presented in 2001 at the request of
the Teatro Donizetti of
That the sprightly Neapolitan, Carlo Coccia, came to see
Mary Stuart through English eyes goes without saying. A highly professional
operatic refugee from the Rossinian torrent in his beloved native city of
Naples, he had first paused in Lisbon (writing four operas and a National
Anthem) before coming on to London in 1823;
here as musical director of the largest and most glamorous opera house
in the city, the King's Theatre in the Haymarket (Covent Garden at that time
was merely a teatro di prosa), he
became a sort-of figurehead endearing himself as no visiting Italian had ever
done before, not even the brilliant succession of Italian composers in the
eighteenth century. Urbane, imperturbable and greeting the great pesarese
himself with admirable sangfroid when he too arrived in London (later
conducting Zelmira between
clenched-teeth) as he alighted from his coach with Isabella Colbran on one arm
and a large green parrot on the other, all three white-faced after a frightful
channel crossing. Soon this pupil of
Paisiello was professor of singing at the brand-new Royal Academy of Music in
As a kind-of bonus, Mary Stuart came out of the woodwork into which she had been confined ever since her decapitation in 1587. Poetically-inclined melancholy ladies sighed over her sad fate, a veil was drawn over many of the details of her vexatious career. As a result, and in 1827, Carlo Coccia wrote the one opera of his four-year stay in England, the opera seria in tre atti Maria Stuart, regina di Scozia for the great soprano Giuditta Pasta, a work that would represent a complete change of style.
No one could complain that
All these ephemeral plays had something in common, and were favoured by a dissident public. Needless to say, it was not long before this “Jacobin” Queen of Scotland was given a musical setting: Pietro Casella’s Maria Stuarda (Firenze 4.1812) was prudent enough, but Pasquale Sogner’s Maria Stuarda ossia I carbonari di Scozia (Venezia 26.12.1814) - omitting to name the poet - sparked-off a political row, which was soon stamped-out by the newly-installed Austrians in Venice who put a stop to all such provocation, as they saw it to be. When the Neapolitan Michele Carafa staged his Elisabetta in Derbyshire ossia Il castello di Fotheringhay with a libretto by Antonio Peracchi at La Fenice on 26.12.1818 (based upon Schiller), the maestro took care not to upset anyone with either its title or its text (only with some of its spelling), while Saverio Mercadante, whose Maria Stuarda, regina di Scozia with a text by the Venice-based Gaetano Rossi (Bologna 29.5.1821), though not more than obliquely dependent upon these sources, took care accordingly to stage it as far away from Naples as possible.
There was a good reason. A far more testing opera had preceded both, and this was to play havoc with the reputation of the incautious former monarch as viewed by the Bourbon dynasty of Naples
Luigi Carlini’s sadly foolhardy Maria Stuarda,
This was a shame. Though
Carlini’s dramma serio was certainly
viewed with dismay by the Royal Palace in Naples (and by its dedicatee,
naturally) it was in fact a fairly innocuous effort with some attempts at
historical accuracy; the villain “Ormondo”
may have been nothing but a bland personification of Mary’s hooligan of
a third husband, Bothwell, and the Congiurati, who figure
prominently, merely release the Queen
from the durance vile of the “Castello di Dombar”. But the theme had
become political dynamite, of course. 1818, in its own way, was a watershed for
dissent. Naturally the dangerous political acquaintances of the incautious
Queen of Scots had not escaped eagle eyes in
The Romantic Era was always ready to adopt extravagant metaphors for its most serious projects. Dreams, visions and technicoloured improbabilities were the currency of the day. But none of this was good news for Mary Stuart, and certainly not in 1818. She, like Carlini’s opera, was fatally compromised by association. As far as the Bourbons were concerned she went back into the woodwork for good. That the Neapolitan branch was descended from Mary Stuart was no excuse (they were equally descended from the Tudors), nor was her decapitation any kind of mitigation (there were far more bloody examples in recent times), it was conspiracy that undid her. Even 30 years later Verdi could write (to Piave): “They allowed Ernani, so they might allow this too, as there is no conspiracy". Conspiracy was the ultimate unforgivable sin, indeed pathologically-so as far as the Bourbons of Naples were concerned. A TRIUMPH OF THE CARBONARI was not to be contemplated, not even in the cause of any martyred Catholic queen - ancestral or otherwise. It needed no spelling-out ...“ sarebbe inutile un più minuto dettaglio” as it says so cogently in the libretto.
REGINA DI SCOZIA,
In Tre Atti.
POESIA DEL SIGNOR GIANNONE,
MUSICA DEL SIGNOR COCCIA.
RAPPRESENTATA PER LA PRIMA VOLTA
NEL TEATRO DEL RE
For Coccia, the project was full of
novelty. In a
That discretion was paramount is obvious by the text. Giannone bends over nearly backwards to do some kind of factual justice to his heroine and her all-powerful rival. Indeed, comparing Giannone’s Maria Stuart with the Maria Stuarda of Bardari for Donizetti reveals the latter to be not just concise but a miracle of temerity. Coccia’s opera was one of the most wordy ever performed it would seem, there are sub-plots galore. His cast is much longer and differs significantly: Maria, Elisabetta, Leicester, Cecil (called Burleigh here - his real-life title) and Anna, are more or less the same in both operas but the role of Talbot (arch-loyal to Elizabeth in history, and whose noble descendents would certainly have gone to law had he been portrayed otherwise) is split between Melvil, a Scottish rather than English sympathiser, who takes on some of Talbot’s role as well as part of that of Leicester, while new is Paoletto (i.e. Sir Amyas Paulet - Mary Stuart’s chilling jailor at Fotheringhay Castle) and a certain Mortimero  , or Sir Mortimero - his nephew (or son-in-law, it is not clear at all) - a stripling at once in love with the Scottish Queen, a romantic bungler and a Babington figure of sorts as well as an outright amorous rival to the two-timing Leicester.
Giannone’s lack of focus is
disconcerting. Three scenes only can be
found in exact parallel with that of
Donizetti: Maria’s outdoor excursion
into the park of the castle (Act 1 Sc.10);
the infamous “dialogo delle due regine” as Donizetti wryly calls
it (Act I Sc.12); and the final scene of the scaffold (Act 3 Sc.4), all the rest differ greatly. In no case are the verses quite the same, but
they are similar. Elisabetta is
as antagonistic in Coccia as in Donizetti but less ironic and has more
scruples; Maria is more arrogant (which
makes her execution more logical), indeed she is superbly boastful but less
vulgar; Leicester’s double-dealing is
more overt (but this may have been nothing but the truth); important differences include an unconcealed
duplicity on the part of every character on the stage - which may
have been a current view of the Tudors in London in 1827, plus one major and significant
difference: an assassination attempt
upon Elisabetta during the angry squall between the two queens, which is the
actual trigger for the execution of the
hated rival. It was not a gratuitous insult addressed to Anne Boleyn (who too had been given a recent
whitewashing) which led her distant cousin to the axe - the “fishwife”
slanging-match of Donizetti’s libretto would never have been permitted in
The most obvious difference of all,
however, especially to Italian eyes, is the absence of religion: Maria is not a Catholic heroine in
Coccia’s opera. No one (and certainly not
the English Catholics) took her religious credentials very seriously -
after all she had married two protestants -
except in that they precluded her from claiming to be heir to the
throne. The conflict is one of
statecraft, not of reformed religion. There is no confession scene, no absolution, no concealed vestments, no
crucifix (in its place is a love scene
between Maria and Leicester!). The irony
of course, is that the King of
Coccia’s roster of singers was not
the least interesting aspect of his staging. Apart from Giuditta Pasta in the
title-role there was an unconventional Elisabetta - a role scarcely less
important. This was a newcomer, a
soprano who would later assume the same role at La Scala at the official prima
of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda in
1835. As such, she too would be a potent link between the two maestri. Giacinta
Toso, the piemontese wife of the celebrated horn player Giovanni Puzzi, was
something of an enigma  , she had been taking lessons from Coccia
The subsequent equation Coccia + Giacinta Puzzi-Toso + Malibran = Donizetti throws some light upon the otherwise rather puzzling choice of Elisabetta to sing in the true prima of Donizetti’s opera in 1835. She was not an inconsiderable actress according to the reviews but being scarcely twenty-years-old, and very tall, she had difficulty in portraying the middle-aged Virgin Queen who, in real life was not much taller than her modern counterpart. This notwithstanding, she had a mini-triumph and sang with distinction. The tenor Alberico Curioni sang the role of Roberto Dudley; the profondo Filippo Galli that of Cecil; another tenor Giuseppe Torri that of Mortimero and the basso Arturo Giubilei that of Melvil, with the small roles of Paoletto, Seymour and Anna sung by De Angeli, Deville and Nina Cornega respectively. All these artists (with the exception of the three last) had substantial music to sing, Coccia was as generous with his music as Giannone with his text. Each had a show-piece of sorts - that is, before everything began to slip away over the four eventful days at the King’s Theatre.
In the Maria Stuarda of Donizetti, a fictional confrontation of the two queens - Schiller’s brainchild- is made theatrically irresistible by their invective, thus elevating popular romanticism to an artform vividly dependant upon a feeling for historical justice, however nonsensical. In Coccia’s Maria Stuart there is nothing of the kind, despite a vicious encounter worthy of the German fantasist. This was not only through an immediate threat of indignant departure of the audience - vulgarity was scorned in the royal theatres - but because both queens were embedded in an immutable charisma they had acquired over the years: Queen Elizabeth I was an icon, “Gloriana”, impassive, high-nosed bejewelled and superb; Mary Queen of Scots (as she was always called) was douce, “unfortunate”, perpetually young, a domestic print of sweet sentiment in adversity. Both queens indeed (probably justifiably) would have been thought incapable of such behaviour, indeed Donizetti’s opinion that “those two queens were whores” (“ma p... erano quelle due”) would not have gone down well at all. The two operas took their point of departure from differing stage conventions: Coccia’s opera was a (moderately) decorous historical tapestry; Donizetti’s opera was a love-story in which neither woman wins (despite a veneer of religiosity): “ due illustri rivali” in fact - an important libretto theme of the day. It was a case of two operas with a common recipe, but a different audience in mind.
The music, however, of Maria Stuart,
Nine pieces were published in vocal score in
In quella torre infausta cavatina (Leicester) Act 1 Sc.2
Quale audacia! in te credei duetto (Maria/Mortimero) Act 1 Sc.7
Scende al core cavatina (Maria) Act 1 Sc.10
Ecco l’indegna (finale primo) Act 1 Sc.12
Come mi palpita duetto (Maria/Leicester con pertichini) Act II Sc.4
Tremante atterito quartettino (Burleigh/Mortimero/Maria/Leicester) do.
A que’ detti, a qual sembiante duetto(Elisabetta/Leicester) Act II Sc.5
Tu, cui fanno al ciel diletto duetto (Maria/Melvil) Act III Sc.3
Sposo! ah teco or tu mi vuoi aria finale (Maria) Act III Sc.4
these were the most immediately attractive pieces in the score will be clear,
but nearly half of them were brutally dropped during the bloodbath of
Coccia Act 1 Sc.10 Parco del Castello di Fotheringay
D’un momento di gioia-Oh mira! dove’
Sorgon que’bigi monti, ivi è la dolce
Mia Scozia; è queste nubi
Che discendon di là, fors’han veduta
De’ miei padri la reggia!
E ver la Francia or vanno!-Oh, salutate
Quelle al mio cor sì grate
Soavi sponde, o nuvole leggiere!
Siate voi di Maria la messaggiere.
Donizetti Act 1 Sc.4 Parco di Forteringa
Su’ prati appare
Odorosetta e bella
La famiglia de’fiori...e a me sorride,
E il zeffiro che torna
Da’bei lidi di Francia,
Ch’io gioisca mi dice
Come alla prima gioventù felice.
Oh, nube! che lieve per l’aria t‘aggiri,
Tu reca il mio affetto, to reca i sospiri
Al suolo beato che un dì mi nudri,
Deh, scendi cortese, mi accogli sui vanni,
Mi rendi alla Francia
There are many striking similarities above of course. Coccia’s aria for Maria “Scende al core, inebbria l’alma” follows the same ecstatic vein as the above, but his cabaletta has a totally different mood:
O suon, che ricordi
I giorni ridenti
Di puri contenti,
Tu scacci dal petto
Le cure segrete,
Tu m’empj il pensier
Sung by Pasta con coro upon hearing the hunting horns, which announce the imminent arrival of Elisabetta, it could scarcely be in greater contrast with Donizetti’s violent equivalent:
Nella pace del mesto riposo
Vuol colpirmi di nuovo spavento
Io la chiesi..e vederla non oso...
Tal coraggio nell’alma mi sento!
From the outset the later composer has elected to stress a far more telling portrayal of the two queens, Maria’s ‘innocui piacer’ is never in evidence. Their actual confrontation in the finale primo of Maria Stuart, regina di Scozia - which ends Act 1 (as is the case with the modern (critical edition) of Maria Stuarda) - contains many further moments in common. Coccia’s “Dialogo delle due regine” is a very much more protracted affair, some thirty minutes of music in all and is divided into marked blocks of concertati. It lacks the focus as well as the vehemence of the later version, but its pacing, pregnant pauses and menace are anything but ineffective. Here again the sequence of events is closely parallelled in Maria Stuarda. The ladies view each other from afar with disdain opening with their mutual -
Maria, in due course, conceals her repugnance and kneels
before her rival; her humiliation is not received gracefully:
O Sorella! Il ciel
A mio danno, a tuo favore;
Or pietà ti schiuda il core
Per chi tanto, oh dio! soffri....
Questo loco a te
1 finale primo
Ah! Sorella ormai
quanto oltraggio a me recasti
Deh! Solleva un’infelice
che riposa sul tuo cor.
No, quel loco a
te si addice
Her crucial response, however, is less pungent, if equally forthright:
Retaggio hai tu d’onore:
Si sa per quale errore
La madre tua perì.
No. Figlia impura
Parli tu di disonore?
Meretrice indegna oscena,
in te cada il mio rossore.
Profanato è il suolo Inglese:
vil bastarda dal tuo piè.
At this precise
point in Coccia’s score Maria claims to be Queen of England:
Oh! nella polvere
Discendi omai dal
La tue regina io
Tu dei cadermì
which bold assertion is immediately followed by the assassination attempt upon the furious monarch in question, and as a result of which Maria is led back to her prison in a flurry of quasi-canonic choral imprecations. There is no sense of triumph for Mary Stuart in Coccia’s opera.
Musically, this finale primo of
Coccia is fascinating and its not-at-all coincidental relationship with that of
Donizetti distinctly tantalising. The
whole encounter pulsates, from the
cheerful hunting horns of the opening to the fighting-cock glares and postures of the rivals which are set-off
by a gaily tripping figure, curling and twisting like a sardonic commentary; the actual insult to the angry Tudor having a
prefatory ostinato that goes even further - a figuration that resembles nothing
so much as a bouncing rubber ball happily pointing her wounding remarks. In general, this tripping arabesque is set for strings - in Coccia sometimes
underpinned by woodwind - as is
Donizetti’s mocking equivalent with precisely the same lightness and in
precisely the same malicious context. If
Coccia takes more time than Donizetti to come to the point, he is at once more
faithful to Schiller’s original (where an assassination attempt also features)
and supplies an admirable model.
Donizetti’s Act II too could find
earlier parallels in Coccia (his ‘Quella vita a me funesta’ for
Elisabetta, for instance, is parallelled by Coccia’s ‘Pretesto agl’infidi!’ 
with the same bitter accusations and at which time too she signs Maria’s
Sentence of death). The scene at the
scaffold, above all, contains many moments which have become familiar in the
later opera: Burleigh announces
Elisabetta’s willingness to accede to Maria’s final wishes; as
Coccia Act III
Tardi ahi troppo!
a un infelice
promessa, o conte, attieni!
a reggermi tu vieni
mio carcere ad uscir!
II cabaletta ultima
Ah! Se un giorno
da queste ritorte
Il tuo braccio
or mi guidi a morire
per estremo conforto
The apocalyptic canon shot which announces the end of Maria
Stuarda, and the ‘flagello punitor’ supplied so movingly by the great
Bergamesc, have no equivalent, alas, in
the opera of his predecessor.
It will be asked: what music from
Coccia’s Maria Stuart,
however, I would respectfully suggest, was fully aware that the
ill-treated Jane Grey was not under unsolicited escort from a coven of
carbonari! Ferdinando II was not to be
trifled-with, she was brushed aside and the Queen of Dissent had to wait for
her nemesis at La Scala the following year.
Donizetti’s deportment, in this
respect, I dare say, could be described as
artless. His art, however
- as we all know - is all in
 At the Teatro Comunitativo in Ravenna, for example, the Comica Compagnia Alessandro Riva and others succeeded in performing most of these plays between 1804 and 1810.
 Also set to music by Carlo Coccia: Edoardo in Iscozia (lib.Gilardoni), Naples S.Carlo 8.5.1831
 It features neither in Schmidl, Caselli, Sesini, Melisi, Dassori, Regli or Stieger. Ottavio Tiby Il Real Teatro Carolino e L’Ottocento musicale palermitano (Firenze 1957), 384) names the opera, but “Maria Stuarda...L.Carlini” is the sum total of his entry and it can only be concluded that he saw neither a note of the music nor a word of the text. A manuscript full score is preserved, however, in the Biblioteca del Infante Don Francisco de Paula of Madrid.
 Letter of 28 April 1850, upon Rigoletto (cf Budden Le Opere di Verdi, Vol.1 (Torino 1985), 521
 The autograph score of Coccia’s Maria Stuart, regina di Scozia is preserved in the Istituto Civico Musicale Brera di Novara; its text has the appearance of being an earlier version of that which was performed in London in 1827.
 This name, Mortimer or Mortimero, is a standby of the opera of the day, sometimes spelled “Wortimer”. It has never been quite clear which nobleman precisely is intended by generations of librettists.
 But the King of Naples in 1827 was Francesco I - SUA ALTEZZA REALE IL DUCA DI CALABRIA - of the Carlini débâcle of 1818.
 Giacinta Puzzi-Toso (1807-1889). Curiously enough, among the handful of roles she sang in London, was Matilde in Rossini’s Elisabetta,regina d’Inghilterra, with Adelaide Tosi in the title-role, which she sang at the King’s Theatre the following year. The “modest vocal means” thus attributed to her recently in the “Edizione Critica” of Maria Stuarda are quite unfounded.
 Clotilde melodramma semiserio in due atti, libretto by Gaetano Rossi (Venice 1815), had been an enduring popular success and was performed into the sixth decade of the nineteenth century.
 Puzzi-Toso was very highly praised for her singing of this bipartite aria even if it was heavily cut.
 These can be ascribed to 1831.