01/02/2013 07:58 am ET Updated Mar 04, 2013

'Maria Stuarda' At The Metropolitan, With Joyce DiDonato

Not that long ago the Metropolitan Opera's default idea for a New Year's Eve gala was to dust off its production of Johann Strauss's frothy "Fledermaus," with guest stars singing a favorite Puccini aria or Cole Porter song during the party scene, and free Champagne for the audience in the lobby after the show.

But on Monday night the Met and its general manager, Peter Gelb, came up with a far more serious way to ring in the new year: a company premiere production of Donizetti's "Maria Stuarda," the challenging bel canto tragedy that recounts the clash between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart (Mary, Queen of Scots) and ends with the anguished Mary heading to the executioner's block. Yet if you think of a gala as a meaningful celebration, then it was hard to imagine a better New Year's Eve gift to opera lovers than this musically splendid and intensely dramatic performance of "Maria Stuarda."