Author Archive for: ‘CarolBenet’

“Roberto Devereux” at SF Opera

“Roberto Devereux” at the SF Opera

Carol Benet

19th century opera is filled with historical accounts of events, some more accurate than others, but you don’t go to the opera or to Shakespeare’s plays to learn history. And so it is with Donizetti’s “Roberto Devereux”, now at the SF Opera, with its semi-historical telling of Elizabeth I and her love for Robert Devereux, the stepson of her former lover Dudley.

The set and musical overture create a brilliant blending of storytelling and history as the supertitles place the events in order while on the stage below are large model war ships go back and forth to illustrate England’s rise to power through battle and exploration of the world as they knew it then.  A large antique  map becomes the background.  Three glass sided cubicles contain figures of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and their daughter a young Elizabeth who is writhing in discomfort in-between the two arguing parents.  Then the cubicles disappear. The direction by Stephen Lawless and the set by Benoît Dugardyn, who recently died, is gorgeous as it uses the Globe Theatre as a background where the singers are placed as spectators above the action.

When the action starts, a limping old gray haired lady looks through two large wicker baskets until she finds a royal pendant that she then puts on. She then becomes Queen Elizabeth and this is the beginning of the tale to be told through music and magical vocal interpretation.

In the first act, the splendid mezzo-soprano Sara (Jamie Barton), who is the confidant of the queen, has a  romantic moment with the Earl of Essex,  Roberto Devereux played by a powerful singer Russell Thomas.  There is a love connection there.  Then enters a very made-up Elizabeth, wearing strings of necklaces and a regal bejeweled gown as often seen in portraits.  She sings about memories of happy times with r Devereux.

Sondra Radvanovsky’s Elizabeth is one of the wonders of the contemporary opera world as she not only is a convincing actress playing the role of an aging Elizabeth, even with small palsied gestures, as well as portraying great emotional scenes, but her voice is extraordinary in it’s strength and sensitivity in being able to convey the strong emotions that the bel canto role requires.  She, Barton and Thomas are a powerhouse trio of singers not to miss.

Elizabeth becomes suspicious of Roberto for she thinks he has a lover.  She demands his complete loyalty and honesty and as the story progresses he cannot deliver these demands.  Sara gives him a blue scarf as a memento and this is added to another gift, the ring that Elizabeth once gave him.  These will be his undoing later on.

More fiery scene occur. One is  between Sara and his husband, the Duke of Nottingham (Andrew Manea) who suspects that she is unfaithful. Another shows the members of the Council of State including Lord Cecil (Amitai Pati) and Sir Walter Raleigh (Christian Pursell) when they elect to cut off Devereux’s head for treason.  These singers, along with the voices  of the fine SF Opera Chorus, provide the background to the story.  The Chorus is  conducted by Ian Robertson, a treasured member of the SF Opera.

One goes to a Donizetti opera for the bel canto arias that the principals sing here with such gorgeous voices and dramatic interpretation.  Bel canto is a mixture of a cappella as well as singing with the excellent  SF Opera Orchestra, so ably connected by Riccardo  Frizza.  Both Radvanovsky and Barton’s bel canto performances emphasize the dramatic quality of the romantic story as well as life or death situations.

The director Lawlelss brings the story full circle by ending with the the same aged, white haired Elizabeth appearing after the beheading of Roberto.  The last words announce the ascension of James I to the throne as time and history will go on.

The audience went crazy for Radvanovsky who has defined this role of Elizabeth.  She has already performed in all three of Donizetti’s Tudor operas (“ Anna Bolena”, “Maria Stuardo” and “Roberto Devereux”)  at the Metropolitan Opera.

Don’t miss “Roberto Devereux”.  It runs through September 27, 2018.  sfopera.com or 415 864 3330.