Sun | Jul 22, 2018

Agony of love, duty in Roberto Devereux

Published:Friday | April 15, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca sings the role of Sara, Duchess of Nottingham, the woman who rivals Elizabeth for Deveraux’s love.
Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky plays Queen Elizabeth I, who is forced to sign the death warrant of the nobleman she loves in Donizetti ‘s ‘Roberto Devereux’.

Roberto Devereux, will be on screen tomorrow at Carib 5, beginning at 11:55 a.m.

Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky has taken on the extraordinary challenge of singing all three of Donizetti's Tudor queens in the course of a single season. It is a rare feat made famous by Beverly Sills, the celebrated American soprano whose career on the operatic stage peaked during the 1950s and 1970s. Since then, it has not been attempted on a New York stage.

In this climactic opera of the trilogy, she plays Queen Elizabeth I, forced to sign the death warrant of the nobleman she loves, Roberto Devereux. Tenor Matthew Polenzani is Devereux. Mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca and baritone Mariusz Kwiecien complete the principal quartet in the bel canto masterpiece conducted by Donizetti specialist Maurizio Benini.

As with the earlier Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda, the production is by Sir David McVicar, who, with this staging, completes an enormously ambitious directorial accomplishment.


The opera had its world premiere at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, in 1837. First performed two years after Maria Stuarda and Lucia di Lammermoor, Roberto Devereux shows Donizetti at the height of his musical and dramatic powers.

The opera's story was inspired by a historical incident: the execution for treason of Robert Devereux, the favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. However, as in many works of the time, history is used merely as a springboard from which the operatic imagination can soar.

Roberto Devereux mirrors the successful structure of the earlier Lucia di Lammermoor. A first act lays out the issues at stake and introduces the musical language; a second act is fashioned as a single dramatic arc; and three intense shorter scenes for the final act.

Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) composed about 75 operas, plus orchestral and chamber music, in a career abbreviated by mental illness and premature death. Most of his works disappeared from the public eye after his death, but critical and popular opinion of the rest of his huge opus has grown considerably over the past 50 years.


The opera is set in London, at Westminster Palace and the Tower. Historical facts place the action between 1599 and 1601 (the year of Devereux's death).

Donizetti's gift for melody and understanding of the human voice are on full display in Roberto Devereux. But the score goes beyond that, revealing the dramatic possibilities inherent in the best of the bel canto tradition. Just one remarkable example is the trio finale to Act II for Devereux, Nottingham, and Elizabeth, which contains a range of emotions and psychological states in one cohesive musical structure. The anxious lover, the betrayed husband and friend, and the scorned woman are all given full expression.

The opera's finale belongs entirely to Elizabeth, in a variation of the classic mad scene as an internal journey and spiritual crisis. A nod to British colour is found in the overture, which (anachronistically) quotes God Save the Queen.

Tickets are on sale for the Met Opera's 2015-16 season at the box offices at Palace Cineplex and via the web at with a Palace Card.