Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848) Roberto Devereux, Lyric tragedy in Three Acts (1837)
Elisabetta, Queen of England - Mariella Devia (sop); Roberto Devereux, Earl of Essex – Stefan Pop (ten); Sara, Duchess of Nottingham – Sonia Ganassi (mezzo soprano); Duke of Nottingham, Mansoo Kim (bar); Lord Cecil, Alessandro Fantoni (ten); Sir Walter Raleigh, Claudio Ottino (bass)
Orchestra and Chorus of The Teatro Carlo Felice/Francesco Lanzillotta
Rec live, Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa, Italy, March 20th and 24th 2016
Recorded aspect 16:9. Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Dolby Surround 5.0.
Directed by Alfonso Antoniozzi
Set Designer, Monica Manganelli. Costume Designer, Gianluca Falaschi. Lighting by Luciano Novelli
Video director, Mateo Richetti
Sung in Italian with subtitles in Italian, English, German, French, Japanese and Korean
Booklet notes and synopsis in Italian and English
Presented in PCM Stereo. Dts-HD Master Audio 5.1. Vision 16:9 Colour. 1080i60. BD 50 DYNAMIC Blu-ray 57755 [138 min]
Roberto Devereux was Donizetti’s fifty-third opera. It was the last of three loosely based on the life of Elizabeth the first of England, that he composed, each with much licence in respect of historical fact. It was premiered in Naples in 1837 two years after his highly successful Lucia di Lammermoor at the same theatre and was written in the most fraught period of the composer’s life. These involved the stillbirth of a son, the third consecutive post partum death his wife had suffered. Her own demise followed a few weeks later from the complications of measles in her weakened condition. Both deaths were possibly connected to the syphilis that Donizetti carried, and doubtless transmitted to his wife. The tertiary stage of this infection was the cause of Donizetti’s own mental deterioration and institutionalisation less than ten years later, and led directly to his early death aged 51. With the benefit of hindsight many commentators have ascribed the undoubted intensity of musical power and compositional complexity, not found in his earlier works, to these personal tragedies endured during the composition. Others, of a more cynical bent, have described the work as Lucia without the tunes! Whilst not denying Lucia’s popularity, it has not the musical cohesiveness or complexity found in Roberto Devereux that in some ways relates to the earlier Anna Bolena (1830). Certainly by the mid 1830s, and in full command of his dramatic gifts, Donizetti had begun to subordinate mere vocal display to the needs of the drama. Cohesiveness and dramatic intensity can be seen to be the strengths of the qualities of Roberto Devereux.
The libretto of Roberto Devereux was by Salvatore Cammarano, who provided the librettos for Lucia and five other operatic works composed by Donizetti between 1836 and 1838. The story pampers to the 19th century Italian romantic taste for tales of Tudor England, which allowed for period costumes, Kings, Queens, dungeons and great romantic passions. In reality, the plot was taken from a French tragedy written by Jacques Ancelot whose story had also been set earlier by Mercadante to a libretto by Felice Romani (1833). Cammarano’s libretto for Donizetti is clear in action and characterisation. Roberto Devereux was a resounding success at its premiere and quickly spread round Italy as well as being performed in Paris (1838), London, Brussels and Amsterdam (all in 1840), and New York (1863). For the Paris and subsequent performances Donizetti added a lengthy prelude, which contains refrains from the English national Anthem and is played in this performance.
In simple form the plot concerns variations on a normal operatic love triangle. The ageing Queen Elizabeth loves Roberto, who in turn loves Sara. Whilst Roberto was away fighting in Ireland the Queen forced Sara to marry Nottingham, Roberto’s close friend. On his return, Roberto is accused of treachery and threatened with death by order of Parliament. The queen assures him that if ever his life is in danger he has only to return a ring she gives him so as to ensure his safety. Roberto subsequently gives the ring to Sara in an exchange of tokens. However, her husband who mistakenly believes her guilty of infidelity with his erstwhile friend, prevents Sara from delivering it to the queen to secure Devereux’s safety. Meanwhile in a powerful prison scene Roberto awaits his release on delivery of the ring (CHs.23-25). By the time the queen discovers the reason for the ring’s non-arrival he has been executed.
The staging in this production is simple, the action-taking place on a stepped polygon fronted raised dais. The Queen is wheeled on sat on her throne in acts one and three, whilst a cage is lowered to represent Roberto’s prison cell in act three. The principals are costumed in period, the Queen whose tightly coiffured hair in act one is unkempt, dishevelled and old looking in act three, as she desperately awaits the means to release Roberto from the threat of the scaffold via receipt of the token she had given him earlier. Excessively sized ruffs dominate the costumes of the chorus. Both male and female members seem to be dressed in flowing black skirts and wearing masks (CH.13). Both are somewhat idiosyncratic, but do not distract the drama. What is distracting, and unnecessary, is the presence of a jester in crimson costume complete with tricorn headgear.
This staging at the Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa, Italy on March 20th and 24th 2016 was intended to showcase the sixty eight year old Mariella Devia as the queen. It paralleled the performances in New York of the three Donizetti Tudor operas in productions by Sir David McVicar and all featuring the soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, a distinctly bigger voiced and younger singer whose normal fach includes the likes of Bellini’s Norma and Verdi’s Leonora the Il Trovatore. Mariella Devia built her international reputation at all the major operatic addresses in the lyric and coloratura repertoire and at this later age I would have doubted her capacity in the role she sings here, albeit she has sung the eponymous Norma in recent years. Contrary to my expectations she is outstanding in her interpretation both as actress and singer. Yes, I sense some limitation in the lower voice in some vehement declamatory passages, however these are more than compensated for by her acted and overall vocal assumption, which concludes with a searing high C in Elisabetta’s despairing Quel sangue verstao at the end of the opera (CH. 26). As Sara, Sonia Ganassi (b 1966) made her debut Rosina in Il Barbiere at Covent Garden in 1997 and has since built an enviable reputation in the bel canto and Verdi repertoire. In this performance she gives a committed, well-sung and acted portrayal expressing both the agonies of her lover’s situation and also her genuine love for him as they exchange tokens (CHs.11-12).
Neither man lets the acted or sung performance down. Whilst I thought the acted portrayal of Mansoo Kim, as the Duke of Nottingham, a little stiff at times, his mellifluous light toned lyric baritone is ideal for Donizetti. As Roberto Devereux, Romanian Stefan Pop, a big man with a big lyric toned voice, which he occasionally over uses with his tone becoming a little raw, gives a convincing performance overall. On the rostrum Francesco Lanzillotta leads a musically satisfying performance that does full justice to the composer’s creation and is well caught by the microphone.
It says something about Mariella Devia’s acted performance that I did not notice her diminutive stature, compared to the other principals, until the ecstatic curtain calls when the audience rewarded the histrionic performance a standing ovation. Whist justified at the conclusion, their frequent applause, even between aria and cabaletta, was a disturbance to the dramatic continuity at times.