Roberto Devereux - Synopsis
In order to prevent rumours from spreading at Court and to protect her reputation, Queen Elisabetta had sent her lover, Roberto Devereux, in command of a military mission to Ireland. When he negotiates a peace with the rebels there, against the Queen's orders, her advisers, jealous of Devereux' standing with the Queen, decide to make use of the situation to push through a charge of treason against him in Parliament.
Early morning. Preparations are being made for a sitting of Parliament at which the case against Devereux will be heard; the death penalty is even being considered as punishment for his treachery. There is a rumour going round that Devereux plans to appear before the members of the council to defend himself.
Sara, the Duchess of Nottingham, is also waiting anxiously for the moment when she will see Roberto again. The two of them had an affair years ago, which they managed to keep secret. Devereux' other private and professional interests and not least his frequent absences, put an end, however, to the relationship. Sara finally agreed to marry Devereux' old friend, the Duke of Nottingham, but she cannot forget Roberto.
Elisabetta is afraid that Roberto's feelings towards her have cooled and that he has not only returned to answer the charges brought against him but also because of another woman. When Devereux himself asks for an audience with the Queen, Elisabetta's hopes that he might still return her affections are rekindled. She meets him alone and tries to regain his affections by reminding him of the happy times they spent together. Roberto is surprised by her openness and her tender feelings and, in this mood of familiarity, he lets slip that his feelings of affection are no longer for her but for another woman. When Elisabetta presses him for more information, however, Roberto suddenly denies everything, assuring her that at the moment he is not in love with anyone. Elisabetta suspects that he has betrayed her and swears she will have bloody revenge for his obvious infidelity.
The only person on whom Devereux can rely for support at the forthcoming trial is the Duke of Nottingham. Roberto cannot, however, reciprocate the latter's avowals of friendship, as Sara has asked him to come and see her that very night, while her husband is in Parliament fighting for Roberto's cause.
Late at night. When they meet again, Roberto and Sara reproach each other until Sara finally admits that she still loves him. They both realize, however, that there is no way out of their situation and that their love has no future. In order to prove to her that he no longer has feelings for Elisabetta, Roberto gives Sara a ring which was a present from the Queen, a ring he is meant to send to Elisabetta if he is ever in danger. Sara gives him a blue scarf, which she has embroidered with a declaration of her love for him. They agree that this will be their last meeting.
The morning of the next day. Parliament is still debating the Devereux case; the servants suspect what the outcome will be. Lord Cecil informs the Queen of Parliament's decision: Devereux is to be sentenced to death for high treason. The Queen must, however, sign the death sentence. Elisabetta receives more information from her spies about her lover - he has not remained under house arrest as she ordered. He has been arrested in the early hours of the morning, and when he was searched, Sara's scarf was found. The scarf is given to the Queen as proof, and she discovers the declaration of love embroidered on it. She is thereupon determined to sign the death sentence.
Nottingham pleads with the Queen to spare his friend's life and is horrified when he realizes that she is condemning him to death from jealousy and not for political reasons. Devereux is brought in and Elisabetta confronts him with the evidence. Nottingham recognizes the scarf. Elisabetta tries in vain to learn the name of her rival for Devereux' affections, but both Roberto and Nottingham, who is deeply humiliated, remain silent.
The Queen finally signs the death sentence, to the great satisfaction of the Court and Parliament.
The morning of the same day. Roberto, fearing for his life, sends a message to Sara telling her to take the ring to the Queen so that he might be pardoned at the last minute. Sara is delayed by Nottingham, however. He confronts her with the truth and learns from reading Roberto's letter that the ring could, once again, bring about a change of fate for Devereux. Nottingham wants to see the death sentence carried out and therefore prevents his wife from seeking an audience with the Queen.
Midday. Full of regret about his life, which has been full of lies and indecision, Roberto allows himself to be led to his execution, while Elisabetta continues to hope that she will still receive a sign from him. Sara finally hands her the ring, but it is too late. Only now does the Queen realize who her rival was. A cannon shot is heard: the death sentence has been carried out.
Helpless and beside herself with grief, the Queen holds the two Nottinghams responsible for Roberto's death. Eventually, however, she comes to realize that she, by remaining Queen, can only bring destruction down upon her subjects. She hands the insignia of royal power over to her nephew, King James of Scotland, and collapses.
© Bavarian State Opera