Roberto Devereux in Madrid: A New Opera Season Begins

SpainSpain Donizetti: Roberto Devereux: Teatro Real Orchestra and Chorus, Bruno Campanella and Andriy Yurkevych (conductors), Teatro Real, Madrid, 30.9 & 1.10.2015 (JMI)

The Queen
Roberto Devereux – The Queen on the spider throne
(c) Javier del Real

Production: Welsh National Opera

Direction: Alessandro Talevi
Sets and Costumes: Madeleine Boyd
Lighting: Matthew Haskins


Elisabetta: Mariella Devia/Maria Pia Piscitelli
Roberto Devereux: Gregory Kunde/Ismael Jordi
Sara: Silvia Tro Santafé/Veronica Simeoni
Nottingham: Marco Caria/Ángel Ódena
Lord Cecil: Juan Antonio Sanabria
Gualtiero: Andrea Mastroni

The new season at Teatro Real opened a few days ago with a surprising choice for the occasion. This Roberto Devereux had already been done here, in concert form, during the tenure of Gerard Mortier. Alessandro Talevi’s production was premiered in Cardiff two years ago, and I wonder what Joan Matabosch saw in this rather dull staging. The sets are minimalist, and the costumes are mostly unattractive, with all the characters in black except for Queen Elizabeth, who wears a horrible red gown. The atmosphere is always gloomy, but the lighting does not make the most of it.

Mr. Talevi’s main contribution is to present Elisabetta as a kind of Queen of Spiders. In the first, act she seems dedicated to raising them; later she appears on a throne which is a giant metal spider. It would have been helpful if Mr. Talevi had written something in the program about the meaning of his spiders, but he didn’t, and I give up on trying to figure it out. The stage direction is adequate, but the characters are too hysterical in general.

Teatro Real programmed two different casts with two different conductors. In the first cast we had the veteran Bruno Campanella, whose career has often focused on the belcanto repertoire. I found his conducting very correct when accompanying the singers, but less interesting than Andriy Yurkevych’s in the purely musical and dramatic aspects. Mr. Campanella’s tempos were at the service of the diva and were more languid than Mr. Yurkevych’s; in fact, Campanella’s purely musical version lasted about five minutes longer than with the second cast. The Teatro Real Chorus was excellent, but I found the Orchestra better under Mr. Yurkevych’s baton.

Elisabetta was played by Italian soprano Mariella Devia, who, if I’m not mistaken, sang the role for the first time in a stage performance (she had previously sung it a few times in concert). Mariella Devia at 67 still has an unusual freshness in her voice; she is a magnificent soprano, and few can compare to her in bel canto. That said, the character of Elisabetta requires a different type of soprano: dramatica d’agilità. Queen Elizabeth, like Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda, has to be thrilling and show true feeling. The final scene, one of the best ever written in the history of opera, needs power and emotion from the protagonist. Today, I think only Sondra Radvanovsky and Anna Netrebko are able to do justice to this character and this wonderful scene; Mariella Devia’s voice is not comparable, although she sings beautifully. It’s also true that the presence of Gregory Kunde in the character of Roberto Devereux didn’t help her: the difference in volume between the two made her voice suffer in duets and ensembles.

In the second cast, Italian soprano Maria Pia Piscitelli was a very reliable performer. There was nothing truly exceptional about her singing, but she was convincing throughout. The final scene requires greater brilliance, but she did well.

Gregory Kunde gave life to Count Essex and was more dramatic than usual in the character. Can one sing Verdi’s Otello and Roberto Devereux? Possibly, but I think this is far from desirable. Apart from the rather unfortunate pairing of a spinto tenor and a light-lyric soprano, I found Mr. Kunde less brilliant than on other recent occasions. Ismael Jordi in the second cast was more interesting, though he was ill-suited to the demands of Roberto Devereux. In the key prison scene, Mr. Kunde was disappointing in his aria, more verismo than is desirable, but he shined in the cabaletta, where he introduced excellent variations in the second verse. It’s not the first time that Mr. Kunde has introduced variations in cabalettas, and we should thank him: that’s the reason a cabaletta has a second verse. But, overall, I prefer Gregory Kunde in a heavier repertoire.

I think this is the occasion when I have most enjoyed Ismael Jordi’s singing. His interpretation was pure bel canto from start to finish, taking care of details and offering perfect breath control and beautiful pianissimos. In the prison scene, he was excellent in his aria but fell short in the cabaletta  ̶  his voice is too light for the more dramatic moments. The B flat closing the cabaletta was rather uncomfortable.

Mezzo soprano Silvia Tro Santafé was a convincing interpreter of Sara. Her voice and singing line are well-suited to this repertoire. Veronica Simeoni in the second cast was excellent. She’s one of the most interesting mezzos of today, and I found her much better here than in Verdi roles.

Marco Caria replaced Mariusz Kwiecien in the character of the Duke of Nottingham, and we lost something with the change. Mr. Caria has a good voice but it’s somewhat monotonous. Angel Ódena offered his usual strengths and weaknesses: he has a wide, attractive voice, but he also has a tendency to open sounds unnecessarily.

In the secondary characters, Juan Antonio Sanabria was a correct Lord Cecil, while Andrea Mastroni was a very promising Gualtiero.

Jose M. Irurzun

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