DONIZETTI Roberto Devereux • Marcello Rota, cond; Dimitra Theodossiou (Elizabeth, Queen of England); Federica Bragaglia (Sara, Duchess of Nottingham); Massimiliano Pisapia (Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex); Luigi Albani (
class='ARIAL12i'>Lord Cecil); Andrew Schroeder (The Duke of Nottingham); Giorgio Valerio (Sir Walter Raleigh); Bergamo Musica Festival O & Ch • NAXOS 2.110232 (DVD: 134:14) Live: Bergamo 9/2006
Roberto Devereux is one of Donizetti’s most accomplished and engaging scores. A great success at its Naples premiere in 1837, it soon spread throughout Italy and Europe. Although the story has almost no connection with actual historical events, the libretto presented Donizetti with an uncomplicated story of well-developed scenes that obviously inspired the composer.
This DVD preserves a very good performance from the 2006 Bergamo Musica Festival. Dimitra Theodossiou portrays Elizabeth as the aged and imperious queen she was. She has the power to make the character believable and the softness for the lover who fears she has been rejected for a rival. She copes easily with the florid music in a range extending over two octaves; I was particularly impressed that the lowest notes in her role are sung as well as those above the staff.
Massimiliano Pisapia has a strong, ringing tenor voice that matches well the ardent lover he is portraying. As his secret love interest, Federica Bragaglia displays a soft-grained voice that sometimes is in danger of being overwhelmed by the chorus or orchestra, but she manages to hold her own and otherwise sings quiet well. She is also lovely to look at and does the best acting of the cast. Andrew Schroeder’s solid baritone is just what is needed for Nottingham. The minor roles are adequately cast or better.
The Chorus and Orchestra were specially formed in 2006 to participate in the Bergamo Festival. There was a time, not so many years ago, when Italian orchestras were known for sloppy technique, but this is no longer true. Despite their ad hoc nature, both chorus and orchestra perform as if they are well-established, strongly disciplined ensembles. Much of the credit for this must go to the chorus master, Corrado Casati, and especially to conductor Marcello Rota. Rota provides excellent support to the singers, keeping the performance moving while allowing the singers to linger over a note or phrase when appropriate.
There is, however, one practice, which I wish Rota had not allowed. All four principals engage in an annoying practice in which they stop singing toward the end of a set piece so that they can prepare to belt out an unwritten high note or hold the last note of an aria or duet long past its written value in an obvious attempt to milk applause. This vanity at the expense of the music should be discouraged, but unfortunately it disfigures far too many live performances.
Rota does not perform the Overture, which was not written for the original Naples production but was added by Donizetti for the opera’s first performance in Paris in 1838. Otherwise, the opera appears to be performed complete. I qualify this statement because there are small differences between the Kalmas vocal score and the opera as performed; however, other performances I have heard contain similar differences, so I assume that the score as performed here is the result of modern scholarship.
The production is quite attractive and is, wonder of wonders, set in the correct historical context. There are a couple of miscalculations, however. The camera allows us to see what looks like a terrible makeup job on Andrew Schroeder. Stranger still is the portrayal of Elizabeth in the final scene of the opera. Previously, she had been shown as the familiar aged, bald Elizabeth with a flaming red wig, which nevertheless leaves the front of her scalp bald. In the final scene, in which Elizabeth is portrayed in a less-formal setting, she is shown without a wig but has suddenly developed a full head of grey hair where there was baldness before. Otherwise, David Walker, who was responsible for the sets and costumes, is to be commended for an excellent job. The performance is well miked, with the singers being easily audible from every part of the stage. Subtitles are available only in English and Italian.