San Francisco Opera goes back to the Tudor period with Gaetano Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux – the final free stream of the Company’s Opera is ON series. In this production, soprano Sondra Radvanovsky sings the role of Elisabetta, Queen of England, tenor Russell Thomas takes the title role, and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton is Sara, Duchess of Nottingham.
Roberto Devereux is the third in what’s known as Donizetti’s ‘Tudor Trilogy’ – the other two being Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda – although the operas were apparently not designed as such. The libretto for Roberto Devereux is by Salvatore Cammarano, and is thought to have been based largely on Felice Romani’s Il Comte d’Essex – but he is also said to have drawn for his material on the work of two French authors, Pierre Corneille and Francois Ancelot. Whatever the truth, Donizetti and Cammarano’s interpretation of the story of the romantic association between Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, Earl of Essex, might not be historically accurate, but it certainly makes a dramatic plot for an opera.
In Donizetti’s opera, Elisabetta is in love with Roberto Devereux, the Earl of Essex, whom she has sent to Ireland to lead a military expedition. Against her orders, he has signed a peace treaty with the Irish rebels, and her advisors, fueled by jealousy of his favored position at Court, use this opportunity to issue a charge of treason against him. Elisabetta faces the terrible choice of acknowledging where her loyalty lies – with her country or the man she loves. She then discovers that he has betrayed her – as well as his friend and ally, the Duke of Nottingham – by conducting an illicit affair with Nottingham’s wife, Sara. When Lord Cecil informs Elisabetta that Parliament has reached a decision and that Devereux faces the death penalty, she knows she has to make a difficult decision.
The 1837 premiere of Roberto Devereux, at the Teatro San Carlo, was only moderately successful, and the work lay largely unperformed from about 1850 until the renewed interest in music of the bel canto in the latter part of the 20th century.
During the 2015-16 season Sondra Radvanovsky became the first singer in the history of the Metropolitan Opera to sing the soprano leads of Donizetti’s ‘three queens’ in his Tudor dramas – Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux. She made her San Francisco Opera debut in 2009 as Leonora in Il Trovatore, and returned in 2014 in the title role in Bellini’s Norma – her debut performance in the role.
Russell Thomas – known for his vivid character portrayals – made his San Francisco Opera debut as Pollione in Norma in 2014, and returned to the Company in a role debut of Roberto Devereux in this 2018 production.
Multi-award-winning Jamie Barton debuted at San Francisco Opera in 2014 as Adalgisa in Norma, and recently appeared, with banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck, in the premiere of San Francisco Opera’s new short-form song and storytelling video portrait series, In Song. The forthcoming season will see her perform in The Homecoming, a concert led by San Francisco Opera’s new Music Director Eun Sun Kim, and simulcast live to audiences at Oracle Park.
The role of the Duke of Nottingham is sung by Romanian-American baritone and Adler Fellow Andrew Manea, New Zealand tenor Amitai Pati appears as Lord Cecil, and base-baritone Christian Pursell sings the role of Walter Raleigh.
This Canadian Opera Company production – new to San Francisco Opera in 2018 when it was recorded – is directed by Stephen Lawless whose highly successful production of Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice for Glyndebourne Touring Opera was recorded by the BBC for television and video release. He also produced the first ever live telecast of an opera from the Soviet Union to the UK, with his debut production of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov for the Kirov Opera in Leningrad.
Italian conductor Riccardo Frizza leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director Ian Robertson, having made his debut with the company when he led performances of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia in 2011, returning in 2012 with Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi, and again in 2014 with Puccini’s Tosca. Maestro Frizza is artistic director of the 2021 Donizetti Opera Festival in November, in which he will conduct L’elisir d’amore with Javier Camarena in the lead role.
Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux – sung in Italian with English supertitles – can be viewed online from 10.00 am (PT) on Saturday, August 14th, until 11.59 pm (PT) the following day. Further information and registration details can be found on the San Francisco Opera website.
Information sourced from:
San Francisco Opera program notes