This opera is not meant to be a history lesson, so don't go changing your mind about Elizabeth I and her reign. Gaetano Donizetti adds his own embellishments to the life of Roberto Devereux, but it makes for a great story. It is tragic, dramatic, passionate, and soap operaish. All the requisite elements to make a riveting and moving story.
It is the year 1601 in London and there is a quadrangle going on in the court of Elizabeth I (Dimitra Theodossiou). None of the participants really knows about the others and that is what makes it so tense and ultimately tragic. The four are the Queen, the Earl of Sussex and the Duke and Duchess of Nottingham.
Elizabeth I adores Roberto Devereux (Alexey Dolgov), the Earl of Sussex, and has sent him off to Ireland on a military assignment. While he is away she arranges a marriage for her number one lady in waiting, Sara (Elizabeth Batton), to the Duke of Nottingham (James Westman). Roberto is sent back from Ireland after having been accused of betraying his country by supporting the rebellion. Elizabeth I cannot bring herself to believe that Roberto betrayed his country, despite what the members of Parliament think, but she does suspect him of being unfaithful to her. The thing is that she does not know with who.
And remember folks, Elizabeth is the queen who said that she too commanded the wind and had a hurricane in her. I'd be nervous if I was Devereux as this is not a lady to be trifled with.
Elizabeth is dead right about the infidelity. Roberto has fallen in love with Sara and she with him. Seeing him one last time Sara begs Roberto to run away. He does not get away and Parliament sentences him to death. Elizabeth still offers to pardon him he just has to send the ring she gave him back to her.
Roberto sends a message to Sara, who he had just recently given the ring to in order to show his devotion, asking her to bring the ring to Elizabeth. Sara is not able to get the ring there on time because she is delayed by her apoplectic husband, who has found out about her and Roberto. In the end Roberto is beheaded and Elizabeth is devastated; longs for her own death and renounces the throne.
Though Elizabeth I is not the title role it is definitely the focal point of Donizetti's opera. It allows the soprano who sings the part to shine and Dimitra Theodossiou grabs the opportunity and makes the most of it. In the Act 1 scene (Nascondi, frena i palpiti) between Elizabeth and Roberto she was marvellous. And the final scene where Elizabeth is going mad with her grief over her dead lover she once again shone. Projecting emotion during her scenes is no sweat for this lady. Also, delivering her arias at full volume is not a problem. Theodossiou is a true diva.
Though Theodossiou is the stand out, the entire cast is filled with good singers. Alexey Dolgov demonstrates why he is widely thought of as one of the top up and coming tenors. The principal singers all pulled their weight and demonstrated flexibility by shifting effortlessly between solos, duets and trios.
This love story is tragic and as a result is very raw and emotional. The despair felt by Sara and Elizabeth is rendered palpable. You have no choice but to join in their suffering. While watching and listening it struck me as odd that this opera is not often performed. Though this is not one of Donzinetti's best known operas it is still above average due to the intricate musical passages and the dramatic, high calibre bel canto.
The only downsides of the opera were the set and lighting. I found the set (from the Minnesota Opera) a little disappointing. The large pieces that are moved on and off the stage are bulky and honestly unrealistic. The dark lighting does not do anything except cast a pall over everything, which is not necessary as the story itself is dark and tragic enough. Thankfully the great costumes made up for any of the deficiencies. Other than one red dress worn by Elizabeth in the Act I all of the other costumes were muted colours, but it worked within the context of the story.