United States Donizetti, Roberto Devereux: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera/Maurizio Benini (Conductor), Broadcast live to the Komedia Cinema, Brighton, from the Metropolitan Opera, New York, 16.4.2016. (RB)
Donizetti, Roberto Devereux
Queen Elizabeth: Sondra Radvanovsky
Sarah: Elina Garanča
Robert Devereux: Matthew Polenzani
Duke of Nottingham: Mariusz Kwiecien
Production: Sir David McVicar
Set Designer: Sir David McVicar
Costume Designer: Moritz Junge
Lighting Designer: Paule Constable
Choreographer: Leah Hausman
HR Director: Gary Halvorson
HD Host: Deborah Voigt
Sandra Radvanovsky was overcome with emotion at the close of this production having successfully taken on all three of Donizetti’s Tudor queens in the course of a single season at the Met – a remarkable feat. Elina Garanča, Matthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecien formed the other three members of the principal quartet in this masterpiece of the bel canto repertoire.
The opera covers the events of 1601 when Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex was indicted for treason following a lacklustre campaign in Ireland and an abortive coup against Elizabeth 1, Queen of England. Against this political backdrop, Donizetti introduces two (fictional) interlocking love triangles. At the beginning of the opera, Sarah, Duchess of Nottingham, declares her love for Devereux but she is dismayed when the now elderly Queen Elizabeth does the same. The Royal Council proposes that Robert should be put to death for treason but Elizabeth initially refuses to sign his death warrant and pledges his safety should he return a ring to her. Donizetti introduces a series of plot devices whereby both Elizabeth and Sarah’s husband, the Duke of Nottingham, learn of the illicit affair and Elizabeth signs the death warrant in a jealous rage. Robert is unable to return the ring which will guarantee his safety and Elizabeth, on learning he has been executed, has a complete mental breakdown.
David McVicar’s production uses traditional sets and costumes and when the opera opens we saw the interior of a Tudor Palace with black and gold walls and elaborate chandeliers. A saint and a skeletal figure of the grim reaper are on either side of the doorway reminding us of the passing of time and the inevitability of death. McVicar sets the opera as a play within a play and we observe various courtiers witnessing the events unfolding from the wings of the main room of the palace or from an upstairs balcony. They comment on the action at various points and there are various nods and winks reminding us that there are no secrets in this world.
The principal cast all did a terrific job with their varied and demanding roles. Radvanoksky portrayed the elderly Elizabeth as a doddery, love-struck old woman and we see her at various points walking with difficulty across the stage with the aid of a walking stick. Ravanovsky’s has a steely, powerful voice and her handling of Donizetti’s vocal fireworks was assured throughout. The coloratura and very high vocal writing were dispatched with relish. She brought a searing passion to the wonderful Act 2 finale and the final mad scene where we witness her breakdown was a tour de force as all the pain and spilled out and we were left with a ruin of a human being. Garanča brought a wonderful vocal bloom and rich palette of colours to Sarah’s set piece numbers. She produced a gorgeous, well projected sound particularly at the bottom of the vocal register and she sustained the line well while moving seamlessly between registers. There seemed to be some background noise on set which disrupted her final Act 1 duet with Polenzani which was a great shame.
Polenzani brought enormous lyricism and flexibility to his role and his final aria in the jail cell while he awaited the executioner’s axe was poignant and moving. He collaborated well with all the other principals in the duets and ensemble set pieces and he captured perfectly the deceptions and conflicted loyalties that are so integral to his character. Kwiecien produced a dark, powerfully projected sound in his opening Cavatina although his voice initially came across as slightly dry and hard. He became increasingly more expressive as the opera progressed and he acted the part brilliantly particularly at the beginning of the third Act when he confronts Sarah in a drunken state.
Maurizio Benini brought a stately quality to the opening of the overture (which quotes the UK National Anthem) before moving to one of Donizetti’s galloping themes. The tempi was occasionally a little sluggish and the music did not quite have the sparkle that it needs but it was an accomplished performance nonetheless. He and the orchestra provided a flexible accompaniment to the singers and the various tempo changes were handled skilfully. The Met Chorus provided sterling support in the set piece numbers while providing an ongoing commentary on the action on stage.
The Komedia Cinema in Brighton is a comfortable venue although there were some glitches with the transmission. The sound quality was not as good as it should be and we lost the signal for the transmission during the first interview between Deborah Voigt and Sondra Radvanovsky.
Overall, this was a first rate production from the Met featuring great singing from all the principals. Bravo in particular to Sondra Radvanovsky for giving such superb portrayals of all three of Donizetti’s Tudor Queens in one season.