The tragic opera Maria Stuarda, part of Donizetti's “Tudor Trilogy” of operas, reveals the deadly rivalry between two monarchs: Mary, Queen of Scots, and her cousin, Elizabeth I, Queen of England. Elizabeth has imprisoned Mary for treason, but agrees to meet with her at the urging of the Earl of Leicester—Elizabeth's advisor and Mary's lover. Tempers flare, insults are hurled, and Mary's fate is sealed. She contemplates her death with great dignity and virtuosic bel canto singing in the final scene.
It's true — opera is totally over the top. Plots can strain even the barest semblance of credulity (too many cases of ghosts and mistaken identities to count), with characters that could get you thrown out of an introductory writing course, down to the blushing ingenues and the evil connivers who might as well be twirling waxed mustaches.