Roberto Devereux, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, October 2013Posted on 3 October 2013
Roberto Devereux formed a stirring finale to WNO’s three Donizetti operas about queens from the Tudor period. The strong cast included Leonardo Capalbo as Devereux, who sang the same role when Holland Park performed this opera in summer 2009, and his Act I duets with Elizabeth, the Duke of Nottingham, and Nottingham’s wife Sarah were superb. He and Leah-Marian Jones as a beautifully voiced Sarah showed excellent chemistry, and she was as convincing a lover as one could wish, trapped between her respect for the queen, and the husband she married when Devereux was away fighting rebels in Ireland.
David Kempster was a strongly voiced Nottingham whose engaging stage presence portrayed him as a good friend of Devereux, until that fatal moment when the queen, in a fine coup de theâtre, produces the scarf that Sarah gave her lover.
After this turning point, Nottingham’s confinement of his wife to the house, making it impossible for her to return to the queen with Devereux’s ring, seals his fate. Not the result the queen intended, and though the libretto by Salvatore Cammarano, based on Elisabeth d’Angleterre by François Ancelot and freely using parts of Romani’s libretto Il Conte d’Essex written for another composer, makes its own drama, the fact is that the queen was not happy with Devereux’s execution and died two years later. At the end of this opera, Alexandra Deshorties gave a glorious rendering of the queen’s despair, asking how Sarah could abandon her at this terrible time, and what if Devereux chooses death to stay close to his lover, whose identity is still unknown to the queen.
Finally Sarah brings the ring, and the queen goes mad. A huge cannon blast and flash of light reveals the victims of an execution, Nottingham admits his guilt at wishing for Devereux’s death, and the queen turns very Italian, singing of blood rising to heaven. Justice demands revenge, and as she moves on a turning centre stage she sings of unimaginable suffering awaiting the guilty parties, who should turn to God in their final hours, and pray for his forgiveness.
Terrific stuff, and the orchestra under the baton of Daniele Rustioni gave a marvellous rendering of Donizetti’s music, with the overture so strongly played that it elicited spontaneous cheers. Designs by Madeleine Boyd were mostly similar to the other operas in this WNO trio, and I loved the mechanical spider that represented the queen’s power in Act III and formed a resting place for her last moments. Fine singing from the chorus, and stage direction by Alessandro Talevi. To experience three days of Donizetti with this as the finale will be a treat for future audiences, not to be missed.
Performances continue at: Cardiff, Oct 6 (4:00); then on Fridays, following Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda on Wednesdays and Thursdays, at Swansea, Oct 11 (7:00); Oxford, Oct 18 (7:15); Liverpool, Oct 25 (7:15); Bristol, Nov 8 (7:15); Birmingham, Nov 15 (7:15); Llandudno, Nov 22 (7:15); Southampton, Nov 30 (7:15).