After coming home late last night from the Canadian Opera Company’s premiere of Donazetti’s Roberto Devereux and feeling regal about the whole thing, I was tempted to jump right into writing a review, but my judgement got the better of me and I decided to wait until this morning. A good night’s sleep always brings new light on the previous day’s events; in this case, Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux, presented by the COC with stage direction by Stephen Lawless.
Let’s face it – Donezetti wrote a soap opera here. It’s like a Tudor-style Coronation Street, with a whole lot of interpersonal strife, and an endlessly scorned “love affair.” It never gets old, and always ends with someone dead.
No martyrs here; just old-fashioned romantic disillusionment. Existentialists rejoice!
Roberto Devereux – featuring Queen Elizabeth I of England – is the final chapter of Donezetti’s English Tudor-trilogy, which includes Anna Bolena (named for Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn) and Maria Stuarda (named for Mary, Queen of Scots). Together they make the “Three Donizetti Queens”.
The production featured a number of wonderfully performed roles, namely Sondra Radvanovsky, playing Elisabetta, and relatively unknown Leonardo Capalbo, playing Roberto Devereux. Both were exceptional throughout, and oozed with talent. Radvanovsky’s voice really does go straight up through the roof like a starling ascending a forest canopy. Capalbo’s COC debut was very successful, and I sensed a fair amount of swooning amongst the audience.
The world of Donizetti’s bel canto opera presents a contrast between forcefully dramatic narratives, and a singing style that waves between flowery decoration, and flamboyant beauty. Sondra Radvanovsky teetered between the two, and she certainly gave her all in a terribly dramatic and difficult bel canto role. Elisabetta, who goes mad following the death of her lover in Quel sangue versato (“That spilled blood / rises to heaven”), pushes romantic opera to the limits of melodic expression.
One of the pitfalls of this opera is that the power of the drama and the showiness of the singing can mix like oil and water. It was to the credit of this production that its musical spirit and dramatic temperament were always in tight sync.
The set featured a wood-lined Globe Theatre concept, which was transformed between scenes under the cloak of a grand English tapestry. The costumes were magnificent, and featured the female principles in brightly coloured period gowns. The male cast members were also garbed in convincing Elizabethan-era panache.
In the first and last acts, the monarchs were wheeled on stage in display cases. It was a smart acknowledgement of the history’s antiquity, as seen behind glass, exhibiting the luminously grand opulence that these queens presented.
The orchestra was led by Italian conductor Corrado Rovaris without any noticeable hitches. However, I felt his tempo was a bit too brisk during the dance-like sections, throughout the second act.
In general the music is simply a backdrop to some of Donizetti’s best vocal writing. There isn’t a lot of colour in his bag of tricks, when compared to a 20th-century Benjamin Britten.
Despite my pleasant appreciation for the incredible performances, and a production to match, the opera concluded with an ovation to end all ovations. This had to be one of the longest ovations I’ve have seen in a long time. The endless bowing was cut short when the curtain came down on the bowing cast, quelling the hoots and hollers like a dinner bell. We all left the Four Seasons Centre with a pair of sore clapping hands, which is a mark of a successful show.
If you are interested in entertaining operas long on love, but short on brainpower, come see for yourself. But if you are more interested in operas with complex twists and turns, this might not be your cup of English tea.
The COC’s Roberto Devereux runs until Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at the Four Seasons Centre. Tickets and info here.