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Metropolitan Opera Broadcast: Roberto Devereux 

Radio Broadcast and Live in HD Transmission of Saturday, April 16, 2016, 12:55 P.M. (ET) (HD) 1:00 P.M. (ET) (Radio)

Broadcasts Devereux hdl 416
A set by David McVicar for his new Met staging of Roberto Devereux
Courtesy Metropolitan Opera
 

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Roberto Devereux  
 
Music by GAETANO DONIZETTI
Libretto by SALVADORE CAMMARANO,
based on the play Élisabeth d’Angleterre, by François Ancelot 
THE CAST    
(in order of vocal appearance)
Sara  mezzo, ELĪNA GARANČA 
Elisabetta  soprano, SONDRA RADVANOVSKY 
Lord Cecil  tenor, BRIAN DOWNEN 
Page  tenor, YOHAN YI 
Sir Walter Raleigh  tenor, CHRISTOPHER JOB 
Roberto Devereux  tenor, MATTHEW POLENZANI 
Duke of Nottingham  baritone, MARIUSZ KWIECIEN 
Servant of Nottingham  bass, PAUL CORONA 

Conducted by MAURIZIO BENINI

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus

Production: David McVicar
Set designer: David McVicar
Costume designer: Moritz Junge
Lighting designer: Paule Constable
Choreographer: Leah Hausman
Chorus master: Donald Palumbo
Musical preparation: Denise Massé,
Dan Saunders, Vlad Iftinca,
Jonathan C. Kelly, Sesto Quatrini

Assistant stage directors: Gina Lapinski,
Jonathon Loy, Sarah Ina Meyers

Prompter: Vlad Iftinca
Italian coach: Loretta Di Franco
Production a gift of
The Sybil B. Harrington Endowment Fund

The presentation of Donizetti’s three
Tudor queen operas this season
is made possible through a generous
grant from Daisy Soros, in memory
of Paul Soros and Beverly Sills. 
 
 
THE SCENES    
Timings (ET)  
(London, 1601)
ACT I  1:00–
Sc. 1Palace of Westminster 
Sc. 2Nottingham’s apartments 
ACT II Westminster–2:40
ACT III  3:15–4:10
Sc. 1Dutchess of Nottingham’s apartment 
Sc. 2A cell in the Tower of London 
Sc. 3The great hall at Westminster 
 
Host: Mary Jo Heath 
Commentator: Ira Siff 
Music producer: Jay David Saks 
Producers: Ellen Keel, William Berger 
Executive producers: Mia Bongiovanni, 
Elena Park 
Directed for live cinema by Gary Halvorson 
HD host: Deborah Voigt 
 
This performance is also being broadcast
on Metropolitan Opera Radio on SiriusXM 
channel 74. 
 
Send quiz questions to Metropolitan Opera Quiz, 
Metropolitan Opera, 30 Lincoln Center, 
New York, NY 10023,
 

THE STORY 

England, 1599. Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, is sent to Ireland with an army to defeat the rebellious Irish chieftains. After an unsuccessful campaign, and against the queen’s orders, he returns to England, where his actions are deemed a desertion of duty. The story of the opera takes its inspiration from the events of the following two years, which are condensed into a few days. 

ACT I. London, 1601. At the Palace of Westminster, Sara, Duchess of Nottingham, is in tears while reading a book. Unknown to the other ladies of the court, she is distressed not about the story she’s reading but about her own situation—she is in love with Robert Devereux. Queen Elizabeth enters and tells Sara that she has decided to follow her husband Nottingham’s advice and receive Devereux, although she is worried that his affections have turned to another woman. Robert has returned from Ireland accused of treason, but Elizabeth is prepared to pardon him as long as he still loves her. Lord Cecil demands that the queen sign Robert’s death warrant, but she tells him she is not convinced of his disloyalty. Robert enters and Elizabeth dismisses the courtiers. She tells him she is ready to pardon him and reminds him of a ring she gave him as a pledge of his safety. But his cool reaction to her talk of their past love increases her suspicions. When she asks directly for the name of her rival, Robert denies that he is in love with anyone else. Now furious, Elizabeth is convinced he has betrayed her. She resolves that he must die and leaves. The Duke of Nottingham arrives to greet Robert, who shrinks from his embrace. Nottingham is worried about his friend’s safety but also concerned about his unhappy wife, whom he lately found crying over a blue scarf she was working on. Cecil returns to summon Nottingham to the council meeting that will decide Robert’s fate. Before he leaves, Nottingham assures Robert he will do what he can to defend him.

In Nottingham’s apartments, Sara thinks of Robert and the danger he is in. He suddenly appears and reproaches her for marrying Nottingham while he was away in Ireland, but she replies that she did so on Elizabeth’s orders. Sara in turn reminds Robert that he is wearing the queen’s ring. He tears it off and assures her of his love. Sara implores him to flee and gives him the blue scarf as a pledge of her affections. After a painful goodbye, Robert departs.

ACT II. At Westminster, the court awaits news of Robert’s fate. Elizabeth enters, then Cecil, who announces that in spite of Nottingham’s defense the council has decided on the death sentence. Sir Walter Raleigh reports that he has arrested Robert according to the queen’s orders. When searched, Raleigh says, Robert was found to have concealed in his clothes a blue scarf, which Elizabeth now angrily examines. Nottingham brings the death warrant for the queen to sign but again pleads for his friend and dismisses all accusations as slander. Elizabeth refuses to relent. When Robert is led in, she turns on him furiously and shows him the scarf. Both Robert and Nottingham are shocked. His astonishment quickly turning into a jealous fury, Nottingham calls for his sword. Elizabeth once again demands to know the name of her rival, but Robert won’t reveal it. Now blind with rage, Elizabeth signs the death warrant.

ACT III. Alone in her apartment, Sara receives a letter from Robert in which he asks her to take the ring to Elizabeth and hope for her mercy. Before she can do so, Nottingham appears. He reads the letter, ignores Sara’s protestations of innocence, and orders her confined.

In his cell in the Tower, Robert hopes that he will be able to clear Sara’s name before his death. When Raleigh appears to take him to his execution, he realizes that all that’s left to him is to pray for her in heaven.

The queen, surrounded by her silent ladies, waits in the great hall at Westminster wondering why Sara is not there to comfort her. In spite of everything, she wants Robert to live and hopes that he will send her the ring, but instead Cecil appears to tell her that Robert is on the way to the block. When Sara runs in with the ring and confesses that she is Elizabeth’s rival, the queen orders the execution stopped, but it is too late: a cannon shot announces Robert’s death. Nottingham arrives and Elizabeth turns on him and Sara, demanding to know why they didn’t bring her the ring sooner. Nottingham proudly replies her that all he wanted was revenge. Elizabeth orders them both taken away. Haunted by a vision of the beheaded Robert, she now only longs to be free of her role as queen. —Reprinted courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera 

THE BACKGROUND 

Roberto Devereux, ossia Il conte di Essex had its world premiere in Naples, at the Teatro San Carlo, in October 1837. Donizetti’s first Elisabetta was Giuseppina Ronzi de Begnis (1800–53), a Milanese soprano sfogato admired by Rossini, Bellini and Paër, among other composers. Donizetti wrote five roles for her, including Elisabetta in Maria Stuarda, the title role in Gemma di Vergy and Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux. Celebrated for her temper as well as her temperament, Ronzi de Begnis is perhaps best remembered for her altercation with soprano Anna Del Serre during Maria Stuarda rehearsals in 1834; Ronzi de Begnis was so insulted by the vehemence with which Del Serre sang Maria Stuarda’s “Vil bastarda” to Elisabetta that she struck her colleague, leading to a bout of fisticuffs and hair-pulling from which de Begnis emerged the clear victor.

Based on Elisabeth d’Angleterre, an 1829 play by Jacques–François Ancelot (1794–1854), Roberto Devereux was one of several Donizetti operas based on an English historical subject. Devereux was a success for its composer during a particularly unhappy period in his life: Donizetti’s wife, Virginia Vaselli, died on July 30, less than two months before the opera’s first night. Devereux was performed with regularity for some fifty years after its composition, with productions in Paris (1838) and London (1841) during Donizetti’s lifetime and stagings in Rome (1849) and New York (1849) within a few years of his death in April 1848, from the effects of cerebro-spinal syphilis.

Roberto Devereux’s first important twentieth-century revival was in 1964, when Leyla Gencer sang Elisabetta at the San Carlo, in Naples. The twentieth-century soprano most associated with Elisabetta was Beverly Sills, who sang Roberto Devereux at New York City Opera in 1970, as the first installment of a multi-season, three-opera project staged for Sills by Tito Capobianco. The two other titles in Sills’s “Three Queens” were Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda; all three operas were recorded and released on LP before Sills introduced them to her stage repertoire, albeit for a relatively short time: Sills sang thirty-eight Elisabettas between 1970 and 1975, but Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda remained in her active repertory for just two years. Sills was not the only soprano of her era to sing Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and the Devereux Elisabetta—Gencer and Montserrat Caballé also essayed all three roles—but it was Sills’s triple success in New York that created the impression that Donizetti had written the operas as a trilogy, which is not true. 

Sondra Radvanovsky, who has taken on all three of the queens in productions in Europe and North America, will be the first soprano to sing all three operas at the Met. The Met premiere of Roberto Devereux is scheduled for March 24, 2016.

WHAT TO READ AND HEAR 

The standard reference work on the composer is William Ashbrook’s 1982 Donizetti and His Operas, now available in a paperback edition by Cambridge (2004) or through Cambridge Books online. The central figure in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux, Queen Elizabeth I, has never lacked for biographers. Alison Weir’s The Life of Elizabeth I (1999)is useful and readily available in paperback or electronic edition, as is Anne Somerset’s Elizabeth I (2003). Elizabeth and Essex: A Tragic History (1928), Lytton Strachey’s witty, waspish treatment of the relationship between Robert Devereux and the Queen who loved him, is available in paperback and is worth seeking out. Robert Lacey’s Robert, Earl of Essex: An Elizabethan Icarus, is a more scholarly but much less entertaining look at the life of Robert Devereux.

On CD, the 1969 studio performance led by Charles Mackerras remains hors concours: it captures Beverly Sills, then in prime vocal condition, in her first performance of one of her signature roles (issued on several labels over the years, the performance was most recently on DG). Opera Rara’s Roberto Devereux captured Nelly Miricioiu in crackling form as the Virgin Queen in 2002, with the orchestra and chorus of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden paced by Maurizio Benini. 

Sills’s first onstage Elisabetta was in 1970, at New York City Opera; several live audio recordings of the Sills Elizabeth in New York and on tour exist, but the only video capture is a telecast of the New York City Opera production of Devereux at Wolf Trap in July 1975, when the soprano had decided to retire the role from her repertoire. Sills Better DVD options are Naxos’s Roberto Devereux from Bergamo in 2006, with Dimitra Theodossiou and Massimiliano Pisapia an accomplished pair of principals under the baton of Marcello Rota, and Christoph Loy’s production from Munich, recorded in 2005 with Edita Gruberová in rare form as Elisabetta (2005). spacer 

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