It’s not easy, being queen. Not when your secret lover keeps running off to pursue his own village-girl piece on the side, who happens to be not only the long-lost orphan heiress to a late earl, but also betrothed to another who, in revenge, falsely accuses his rival of inciting himself to murderous treason against your life so they’ll both need to be executed. Not when your Lord Chancellor is hellbent to expose this inconvenient love quadrangle and excise your recently ennobled lover from realms of both influence and living, no matter what bribery, whisper campaigns, popular protests, hidden tunnels, or disguises it takes. (For the greater good, of course, he mansplains.) And surely not when your regal responsibilities include sudden mood swings between rage, tenderness, and desperate hope, or brooding anguish and bright jubilation, all with amplitudes of extended coloratura as you bear the weight of justifying this entire exercise in absurdity. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, indeed.
Opera abounds in convoluted plots. Giovanni Pacini’s “Maria, Regina d’Inghilterra,” which the ever-adventurous Odyssey Opera revived Friday night at Huntington Avenue Theatre, takes the (let-them-eat-)cake. Leopoldo Tarantini’s libretto, based on Victor Hugo’s play “Marie Tudor,” contains as much connection to history of the eponymous Queen Mary of England as you would have entrails after being drawn and quartered. If you thought Donizetti’s Tudor queens were a stretch, fling your farthingales and discard your doublets at the door for the acrobatics of inexplicability here. I won’t try your patience with a blow-by-blow catalog of implausible plot twists, gaps, and discrepancies. Suffice it to say that the audience snickered through many unintentionally hilarious passages, and I careened between chortle, gleeful Cheshire grin, and full-face furrow of befuddlement the entire way home.
All that hurly-burly aside, those who enjoy bel canto will find amusing resonances with Bellini’s lyrical pathos, Donizetti’s buoyancy, and Rossini’s bursts of bombast. Conductor Gil Rose led at a brisk bounce that never sagged or overindulged in melodrama. Amy Shoremount-Obra reigned supreme as the titular queen in plush majesty over all the silliness, with her fellow soprano Alisa Jordheim capably standing her own ground as Clotilde, the unknowing ingénue rival turned confidante turned redemptive foil. Kameron Lopreore’s bright tenor struck a sinister note between false ardor and true indignation, but began to betray fatigue under the strain of two-timing Fenimoore’s dastardly deeds in the second and third acts. Leroy Davis’s warm, affable, sun-washed baritone earned the loving Ernesto his name, though he appeared to struggle with some minor snags in Italian enunciation. Odyssey frequent-flyer James Demler (also a baritone) struck a stern, stentorian Lord Chancellor Gualtiero.
The orchestra played with robust yet supportive restraint, a bit more matter-of-fact than poetic. The chorus, especially when involving larger forces further upstage, needs to sharpen its articulation, trim some shagginess, and keep closer pace with the orchestra as well as each other.
Jeffrey Allen Petersen’s spare set design employed hanging fence-walls of wood splats, evocatively lit by Jorge Arroyo to morph from woodland to gilded palace to ominous prison. Would that it stopped there — the Act II centerpiece backdrop to the throne looked like it could have been retired from the lobby of a four-star hotel in Dubai.
Costumes by Brooke Stanton confused me with a mélange of historical style references among contemporary wardrobe, none of them with thematic conviction — here a gaudily lace-bedecked mid-century mother-of-the-bride and a red leather jacket worthy of Sarah Palin, there a line of silver-striped waistcoats, a vaguely Renaissance neckline and silhouette, some vaguely teenage-Goth boots, and tunics ranging from vaguely medieval to vaguely “Star Wars” desert rebel. If only stage director Steve Maler had leaned into the ludicrous, I wonder if both the original opera and this production could have gained a certain “Barbarella”-in-retrospect coherence, reveling in a ridiculosity that would enhance rather than encumber the unabashed indulgences of the music.
“Maria, Regina d’Inghilterra”
At Huntington Avenue Theatre, Nov. 1. Program repeats Sunday. 617-826-1626, odysseyopera.org
CJ Ru is on Twitter at @cjruse.