|Sondra Radvanovsky in "Roberto Devereux"|
(photo: Met Opera)
Opera buffs are often a tough audience to please, but an opportunity to appreciate all three of composer Donizetti's “Triple Crown” operas in a single season with a supremely talented soprano is enough to send the most demanding fan into paroxysms of delight. Such was the case as the Metropolitan Opera's HD broadcast of Donizetti's Roberto Devereux featured operas by the composer about fabled English queens, begun in September with Anna Bolena and continued in January with Maria Stuarda. All of them starred the wondrous Sondra Radnvanovsky. This last opera in the trio, Roberto Devereux, also brought us a whole team of singing actors to die for. But since this is not a frequently performed work, a synopsis might first be in order.
In 1601 in London, Sarah, Duchess of Nottingham (mezzo Elina Garanca), is crying about the fact that she is in love with Roberto Devereux (tenor Matthew Polenzani). Queen Elizabeth (Radvanovsky) enters and tells her she is going to receive Devereux, who has returned from Ireland accused of treason, but she plans to pardon him if he still loves her, though Lord Cecil (tenor Brian Downen) wants her to sign his death warrant. When Roberto enters, she becomes suspicious at his remoteness, though he denies love for another. Furious, Elizabeth is convinced of his betrayal. Sarah's husband, the Duke of Nottingham (baritone Mariusz Kwiecien) arrives to greet him (they are the closest of friends), worried about his safety. Cecil convenes a council meeting to decide Robert’s fate, and Nottingham vows to defend him. Meanwhile Robert reproaches Sarah for marrying while he was away; she replies that she was ordered to do so by Elizabeth. She begs him to escape, giving him a scarf she has made. He departs. Later, Cecil tells Elizabeth that Roberto was given a death sentence. She orders Sir Walter Raleigh (tenor Christopher Job) to arrest Roberto, who is found to have the scarf given him by Sarah. Nottingham defends his beloved friend but she won't relent, and confronts Roberto with the scarf. Nottingham is first shocked, then furious. Roberto refuses to reveal who gave it to him, so Elizabeth signs his death warrant. Sarah receives a letter from Roberto asking her to take the ring to Elizabeth and plead for mercy, but Nottingham arrives, reads it and orders her confined. In the Tower, Roberto hopes to clear her name, but soldiers come to take him to his execution. Meanwhile the queen notices the absence of Sarah, who runs in with her ring confessing she was her rival. The queen orders the execution stopped, but it is too late, as a cannon shot announces Roberto’s death. Elizabeth turns on Nottingham and Sarah, demanding to know why they didn’t bring her the ring sooner. He proudly replies her that all he had wanted was revenge. Ordering them both taken away, she is haunted by a vision of Roberto, and now only longs to be free of her role as queen.
The Production and Set Design by David McVicar was stunning (though it grew wearisome after three hours), as was the regal Costume Design by Moritz Junge, effective Lighting Design by Paule Constable and exciting chorale work under Chorus Master Donald Palumbo. The HD Broadcast Director was Mark Halvorson and the charming HD Host was Deborah Voight. But it was the terrifically acted singing that made the most indelible impression, beginning with Radvanovsky herself, in perhaps the most suitable role for her among the three queens, matched by the lyricism of both Polenzani and Kwiecien (both so memorable in this season's Pearl Fishers) and by the beauty of Garanca's vocalizing. It was truly an embarrassment of riches, rather like a display of aural crown jewels.
Fittingly, this enthralling performance of the most royal queen of all was broadcast locally (and will encore next Wednesday April 20 at 6:30pm) at Regal Cinemas.