Sumptuous is the word for Maria Stuarda

Lavish Pacific Opera Victoria production opens this week

Lead hand Katri Tahvanainen works on the Armada gown for Pacific Opera Victoria’s upcoming Maria Stuarda.

Although it’s at least 7,000 sq. ft., the workshop at Pacific Opera Victoria’s Discovery Street shop is crowded.

Framing the room stuffed with moveable scenery backgrounds from the season’s productions is a line of six-metre-high walnut stained panelled walls that look like they should be part of a 15th-century timber frame manor. And they will be once on stage for Pacific Opera Victoria’s production of Maria Stuarda, opening at the Royal Theatre this week.

“This production is very different from anything else this season,” says production manager Ereca Hassell. The large set will stretch 10 metres across the stage accommodating a 22-member chorus and six supernumeraries. Hassell points out that it’s rare for a company to build its own scenery, most just rent props. “But this company is able to make that work, (it’s) an opera that’s stolen some things from theatre that work very well.”

Hassell should know. Since graduating from the University of Victoria’s theatre program in 1988 she’s worked in many production positions at theatres across the country, including the National Arts Centre, Belfry Theatre and at the Shaw and Stratford festivals.

Since joining Pacific Opera Victoria last summer she’s overseen three productions, keeping wardrobe and props departments on track.

Gaetano Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda is a tragic opera, first performed in 1834, and is a fictionalized story of the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I (Elisabetta) and her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots (Maria Stuarda).

Donizetti “takes shameless liberties with history” a Pacific Opera Victoria overview states, with a meeting between the two queens that historians agree never took place.

Timothy Vernon will direct soprano Tracy Dahl making her debut at Pacific Opera Victoria in the role of Maria Stuarda and soprano Sally Dibblee – known to opera goers from Pacific Opera Victoria’s 2007 production of Madama Butterfly – who counters as Queen Elisabetta.

Maria Stuarda includes four painted 6.5 metre by 2.5 metre tapestries designed by costume and set designer Camellia Koo and constructed over the last four-and-a-half weeks by head painter Jennifer Hedge and assistant Diana Nielsen.

The scope of the production is a challenge, Hassell says. “It’s a very heavy paint show with lots of surfaces and stained wood grain.” Painters used a variety of techniques including stenciling, freehand painting and spattering in the making of the tapestries.

Wardrobe staff have been able to indulge their skills, incorporating elaborate materials, including embroidered silk in Elisabetta’s cream Armada gown. “It’s a period they don’t normally get to do,” Hassell says. She then leaves us with a dangle of mystery, that “this production will have a contemporary element, a really intriguing interpretation.”

Maria Stuarda runs April 12 through 22 at the Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton St. Tickets, $30 to $125, are available in person at the box office, by calling 250-385-0222 or online at



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