WNO - Roberto Devereux - Milton Keynes Theatre (atgtickets.com)
In his
pomp, Gaetano Donizetti went on a rampage through British history producing an
opera about Anne Boleyn (Anna Bolena, natch), one about Mary, Queen of Scots
(Maria Stuarda) and, finally Roberto Devereux, which tells the love story of
Queen Elizabeth and the Earl of Essex, which is vividly brought to life by
Welsh National Opera.  Any resemblance to
actual historical veracity is occasional and, more frequently, coincidental.  All you need you know is that It Will Not End

Set in England in 1601, Elisabetta, Queen of England has sent her
young lover Roberto Devereux, the Earl of Essex, to conduct a military campaign
in Ireland. This she has done to cut court gossip and to maintain her
reputation. In Ireland he disobeys the Queen’s orders by signing a peace treaty
with the Irish rebels. Her advisers, jealous that he is the queen’s favourite, charge
him with treason and have him arrested.

To skip the charge all he has to do is present a ring given to him by the
queen. Elisabetta haughtily demands that his heat belong to her. His reluctance
makes the jealous monarch suspect she has a rival. Hmmmmmm.

Unknown to the Queen, Roberto is still infatuated with Sara,
Duchess of Nottingham, an ex-lover who was compelled to marry his friend the
duke. Sara and Devereux know their love is doomed but he entrusts her with the
Queen’s ring and in return she gives him a scarf she has embroidered.

Elizabeth resists signing Roberto’s death sentence until she is shown the
scarf. Nottingham also recognises the scarf and erupts with jealous rage.
Equally distraught at Roberto’s infidelity, Elizabeth signs the death sentence.
Sara rushes
to see the Queen. She presents her with the ring and begs for mercy on
Roberto’s behalf. Elizabeth, deranged by jealousy, tries to stop the

If you’ve never seen an opera before this is a great one to start with. The
historical context is clear; the characters are strongly drawn and have clear
motivation and the music is emotional and inspiring in the bel canto tradition.
And surprisingly jaunty considering that Donizetti places each of his principal
characters on the horns of a dilemma: Elisabetta is conflicted between her duties
as ruler, which she handles with practiced ease, and her feelings as a woman,
which are a toxic storm of the insecurity the older woman has for the much
younger man; Devereux is torn between living a lie as Elisabetta’s lover and dying
in peace content in a love with Sara that can go nowhere; Sara herself is
tormented that her mad love for Devereux  has poisoned the marriage she worked hard to
hold together and her friendship with Elisabetta; and the duke has to reconcile
his strong friendship with Devereux with knowing that the man whose life he’s
trying to save has cuckolded him.

The bare bones of the story make for a fine piece of theatre, but Madeleine
Boyd’s austerely stylish design of this production take it to an even higher
level of intensity. Black, funereal and forbidding Elisabetta’s court is a web
of deceit, a web of intrigue, a web of lies, and at the heart of it all is the
queen. Arachnid references abound, from her giant metal spider throne, to her
shadow cast on a wall, to the cords that bind Devereux.

Joyce El-Khoury is spectacular as Elisabetta, displaying supreme
musicality and emotion from the start but no more so than in the final scene in
which grief and derangement consume her haughtiness. Justine Gringyte makes for
a superb Sara; effortlessly articulating a doomed, doomed love.Barry Banks’s
Devereux has a Napoleonic swagger about him but who reveals tenderness and
melancholy beneath his tough carapace, and Roland Wood as Nottingham the displays
the power and range of emotion that made him such an excellent Renato in this
company’s production of Un Ballo In Maschera.

An emotion-shredding evening of unrequited love, forbidden
happiness, jealousy, betrayal and revenge. Perfect.

Review by Quentin Fox