Great Performances at the Met | Roberto Devereux
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Watch Sunday, September 25, 2016 at noon on WMHT-TV
The final opera in Donizetti's "Tudor trilogy" focuses on the older Queen Elizabeth I, who is forced to sign the death warrant of the nobleman she loves. Sir David McVicar, who directed the Met premieres of Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda, returned to stage the final installment in the series. Acclaimed bel canto soprano Sondra Radvanovsky sings Elizabeth I. (During the same season, she took on the title roles in Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda, a famous feat performed by Beverly Sills at New York City Opera in the 1970s and not repeated in New York since.)
Roberto Devereux also stars Matthew Polenzani as the title character; Elīna Garanča as Sara, the Duchess of Nottingham and the queen's secret rival; and Mariusz Kwiecien as the Duke of Nottingham. Maurizio Benini conducts the first-ever Met performances of this work.
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 favorite of Queen Elizabeth I—but, 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 that lays out the issues at stake and introduces the musical language; a second act fashioned as a single dramatic arc; and three intense shorter scenes for the final act.
Reviewing the present production, The New York Times observed, "The applause and bravos for the soprano Sondra Radvanovsky were so frenzied... The audience members knew, it seemed, that they had just witnessed an emotionally vulnerable and vocally daring performance, a milestone in the career of an essential artist... Ms. Radvanovsky sings with searing power, flinty attack and incisive coloratura passagework. The company has assembled an ideal cast and an insightful conductor, Maurizio Benini. The superb tenor Matthew Polenzani excels in the title role, his lyrical elegance matched by youthful ardor… The baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, singing with virile sound and soaring lyricism, captures the confusions of the Duke, shattered by personal betrayal. And it is true luxury casting to have the great mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča bring her sumptuous voice and charisma to the role of the retiring, love-struck Sara…"
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 Neapolitan librettist Salvadore Cammarano (1801–1852) worked with Donizetti on a number of operas, including Lucia di Lammermoor, and also collaborated with Verdi.
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 local color is found in the overture, which (anachronistically) quotes “God Save the Queen.”
Soprano Deborah Voigt hosts the broadcast.