Elisabeth and Roberto Devereux (centre) - Photo: Michael Cooper
Reviewed by James Karas
Roberto Devereux was Gaetano Donizetti’s 57th opera and by no means his best. The Canadian Opera Company has staged it for the first time albeit in a production that it has borrowed from Dallas Opera. Opera lovers have no reason to delay seeing it.
Roberto Devereux is the Earl of Essex and Queen Elizabeth I and the Duchess of Nottingham are in love with him to the point of distraction. Well beyond distraction, I should say, because these women are prepared to do anything for this flamboyant hero and we are left to guess as to why in the world they would do that.
Director Stephen Lawless’s conception of Queen Elizabeth and Sondra Radvanovsky’s execution of the role define the production and save it from the risk of becoming mawkishly comic. Radvanovsky has an impressive, expressive and powerful voice and she exudes a commanding presence and authoritative personality even when she says that she will forgive the treacherous Essex and equates her throne with a tomb when he is executed. Her anger, jealousy and rage are spewed out with fierce energy and are a marvel to see and hear. She does have segments of “woe is me without Robert” but they are subsumed by her strong personality.
I would have preferred a lighter voice for Roberto Devereux than tenor Leonardo Capalbo’s. He sang mostly well but there were times when he sounded more declamatory than lyrical. With Queen Elizabeth he seems like a gold digger going for the throne, with the Duchess of Nottingham he appears like a rake and no matter what he says he does not garner any sympathy.
Baritone Russell Braun gave a consistently fine performance as the Duke of Nottingham. His fine resonant voice and acting delivered a Duke who was humane and noble towards his friend and properly outraged at his wife’s behaviour.
Roberto Devereux and the Duchess of Nottingham - Photo: Michael Cooper
The Duchess of Nottingham, (mezzo soprano Allyson McHardy), was forced to marry the Duke when her true love, Essex, was away and we have some sympathy for her. McHardy earns that sympathy for the Duchess through her luscious singing and convincing protestations of innocence – in fact she does not do anything improper with Essex except give him a scarf. Well, yes, it is a token of love.
Lawless and Set Designer Benoit Dugardyn place the action in an “Elizabethan” setting with tangents of their own. The set bears some resemblance to an Elizabethan theatre (it’s supposed to be The Globe) with two staircases on each side of the stage. There is a landing and a balcony across the back of the stage where spectators sit. The set is fine for the scenes in the palace but becomes a bit awkward when we go the residence of the Duke of Nottingham and a bed is introduced under the staircases.
Costume Designer Ingeborg Bernerth has the main characters wear casual clothes which did not betray any time period or social class. The lords are more formally attired. We are saved the ruffles, capes and fluffy donuts around the midriff that the Elizabethan upper crust men wore. Elizabeth and the Duchess wear sensible gowns but the ladies of the chorus do have those hoops around their hips that make them look like round coffee tables with bodies on top.
Corrado Rovaris conducted the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and struck the right note of romantic intensity and heroism that the lovers’ trio treads in a production that does credit to the opera and whets your appetite for more. As I said, this was Donizetti’s 57th opera and he had thirteen more under his belt, therefore wanting to see “more” is no small ambition.
Roberto Devereux by Gaetano Donizetti (music), Salvadore Cammarano after Francoise Ancelot’s tragedy, Elisabeth d’Angleterre (libretto) opened on April 25 and will be performed a total of seven times until May 21, 2014 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. West, Toronto, Ontario. www.coc.ca.