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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Roberto Devereux
Elisabetta, Queen of England – Mariella Devia (soprano)
The Duke of Nottingham – Mansoo Kim (baritone)
Sara, Duchess of Nottingham – Sonia Ganassi (mezzo-soprano)
Roberto Devereux, Earl of Essex – Stefan Pop (tenor)
Lord Cecil – Alessandro Fantoni (tenor)
Sir Gualtiero Raleigh – Claudio Ottino (bass)
A page – Matteo Armanino (baritone)
A servant of Nottingham – Loris Purpura (bass)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Carlo Felice/Francesco Lanzilotta
rec. Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa, 20 and 24 March 2016
DYNAMIC CDS7755.02 [64:27 + 66:24]

Queen Elizabeth I of England is found in three operas by Donizetti: Il castello di Kenilworth (1829), Maria Stuarda (1834) and Roberto Devereux (1837) and indirectly also in Anna Bolena (1830), since Anna was Elizabeth’s mother. Il castello di Kenilworth is rarely performed. A search on Operabase for the period 1 January 2014 – 31 December 2016 yielded no hits, but there exist a couple of recordings. The other three are quite frequently seen and Roberto Devereux was/is played during the same period in more than a dozen opera houses. Though the operas are based on historical sources the stories are even so far from in accordance with the truth. In Roberto Devereux, for instance, the Queen abdicates in favour of her cousin James. In real life he didn’t follow her on the throne until after her death.

The plot in the opera briefly:
Act I scene 1: Queen Elizabeth is in love with Robert, Earl of Essex, who has been recalled from Ireland to be brought to court for high treason. Elizabeth doubts his fidelity, since she has concluded that he has a relation with Sara, Duchess of Nottingham, and asks him to return the ring she gave him. In scene 2 Essex visits Sara in her home, jealous of her husband, throws the ring he got from Elizabeth and gets a blue scarf from Sara.

Act II: Essex is sentenced to death and his only chance to escape is that the Queen interferes, which is unlikely, since Sara’s scarf was found on him when he was arrested. Also the Duke of Nottingham recognizes the scarf.

Act III: In a letter Essex pleads to Sara to return the ring to the queen to save his life but the Duke sees the letter and prevents her from visiting the queen. When Sara finally rushes into the queen’s chambers it is too late. A cannon shot announces that Essex is already dead.

For these tidings Donizetti wrote a score filled with remarkable music. The four central characters, Elizabeth, Roberto and the Duke and Duchess of Nottingham, all have arias and ensembles of the highest order. Even though the opera is named after the leading male character it is the Queen who has the lion’s share of the music, and it is indeed a gigantic role which requires high-octane singing and a tessitura that is dangerously high-lying. Beverly Sills stated that the role took ten years off her career. The phenomenal Mariella Devia on the present recording has all the high notes and all the required power to manage the role, but after a career of more than forty years her voice has adopted a vibrato and a shrillness that becomes unattractive to listen to. She improves but the basic characteristics remain and she sings most of the time at forte. Still I can’t help admiring her stamina.

Also Sonia Ganassi as Sara, the Duchess of Nottingham, is on this occasion rather shaky and shrill, although she has her good moments and interpretative insights. The men fare a little better and Stefan Pop turns in a rather brilliant reading of the title role, though I would have liked some more lyrical singing in his beautiful aria Come uno spirto angelico in the third act. Mansoo Kim is a worthy Duke of Nottingham. The choral and orchestral forces of Teatro Carlo Felice do a good job under Francesco Lanzillotta, who opens the proceedings with the overture that Donizetti wrote in 1838 for a production in Paris. There he paraphrases God Save the Queen. Recorded live there are generous helpings of applause and ovations. Honestly those audience responses don’t correspond to my experience of the performance, as mediated through my loudspeakers. I much prefer the ten-year-old Naxos recording from Bergamo, also live, where Dimitra Theodossiu and Massimiliano Pisapia as Elizabeth and Roberto Devereux are in a different league from the singers here. I can admire Mariella Devia for her wholehearted intensity, but for a more solid performance go for the Naxos.

Göran Forsling

Previous review (DVD): Raymond Walker



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