Roberto Devereux - Further information
World Première 1837, Neapel
British history, especially the intrigues and love affairs of the Royal Family, provided Italian bel canto composers, particularly Donizetti, with an inexhaustible supply of operatic themes. Queen Elizabeth I features no less than three times in his operas. In 1837, after the Queen had already proved her dramatic worth in Elisabetta al Castello di Kenilworth and Maria Stuarda, Donizetti composed Roberto Devereux for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples.
Donizetti’s librettist, Salvatore Cammarano, who had already written the text for Lucia di Lammermoor, elaborates the story of the death of Elizabeth ’s favourite, Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, and fashions it into an operatic melodrama. We see Devereux at the end of his career accused of high treason by his political opponents and only preserved from the gallows because of his relationship with the Queen. He imprudently begins to pay more attention to his former beloved, Sara, whom the Queen has forced to marry the Duke of Nottingham, Roberto’s friend. The tensions arising have fatal consequences for the favourite in the opera much as they did in history. Essex’s death is evoked by the betrayed Queen in a touching vision, giving us another moving example of the psychology of love’s anguish as operatic convention.
The composer wrote the role of Elizabeth for the great prima donna Ronzi-De
Begnis who must have been familiar with the opera’s subject as she was the
mistress of the Neapolitan King, Ferdinando II. Although this work, Donizetti’s fifty-second opera, was a great success particularly in Italy and France, it disappeared completely from the repertoire at the end of the 19th century and was not rediscovered until 1964 by virtue of the advocacy of the Turkish diva Leyla Gencer.
Edita Gruberova, the current bel canto prima donna assoluta has, over the past few years, graced the Bavarian State Opera with such roles as Lucia di Lammermoor, Anna Bolena (Elizabeth’s mother), and Elvira in I puritani. She will now play an emotional Elisabeth I torn between love and duty as a monarch. She will be supported by Zoran Todorovich, as her unfaithful lover; Jeanne Piland as his secret love, Sara, and Paolo Gavanelli as the latter’s vengeful husband. The young German director Christof Loy and his set designer Herbert Murauer, who made their debuts at the Bavarian State Opera in the 2002/2003 season with Händel’s Saul, will stage this “trageda lirica” by Donizetti. Friedrich Haider will conduct and the premiere will take place on January 19th, 2004.
Sir Peter Jonas