CAST: Roberto Devereux: Gregory Kunde, Elisabetta: Mariella Devia, Sara: Silvia Tro Santafé, Duca di Nottingham: Marco Caria, Guglielmo Cecil: Juan Antonio Sanabria, Gualtiero Raleigh: Andrea Mastroni
Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Real de Madrid
Bruno Campanella, conductor
A production by Welsh National Opera of Cardiff
Stage director: Alessandro Talevi
BelAir Classiques, 2016
I have to start this post expressing my perplexity about the strange coincidence that two recording of the same opera (Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux) with the same Elisabetta (Mariella Devia) have been released in a week, one of them both in CD and DVD. I do not know why this happened, but I guess that the main reason is exactly Devia’s presence. The event is nonetheless unusual, especially when you consider that Roberto Devereux is an opera which has found its place in the repertoire only in recent times.
The two operas were recorded in Teatro Carlo Felice of Genoa and in Teatro Real of Madrid; I chose the Madrid Roberto for this post.
This production is beautiful from the musical point of view, but has a regrettable stage direction. There are comparatively few ideas for two hours and a half of music and the opera is gloomy and static for the most part of the time and, when finally something happens, it is absurdly exaggerated. In the second act, for example, Elisabetta accuses Devereux from the top of an enormous and stylized arachnid made in metal (prefigured by the shadow of a great tarantula or black widow in a sort of aquarium in the first act), while I wonder why it was necessary to show some impaled bodies in the last scene of the third act – apart from a doubtful theatrical effect – since the historical Robert Devereux was beheaded (he lived in England and not in Transylvania, but who cares about that?). It seems to me the only intention of the stage director was to stress the cruelty of the queen, but, if this is right, he has deliberately ignored many sides of her character, which fortunately does not escape the singer’s attention.
Mariella Devia is of course the most interesting singer of this production for temperament and acting. She portrays in a complementary way the dreadful queen (you have the impression to be in front of a royal person from the moment she appears on stage) and the woman in love. Her Elisabetta is a full round character, who can express the most powerful feelings and show her still impressive, perfect technique. I do not see many signs of deterioration in the voice of this remarkable soprano: sometimes she attacks her high notes with impetus rather than the elegance of some years ago, and the result is not always impeccable, but she has the full command of coloratura and her phrasing is superb. Her last, long scene is enthralling.
Gregory Kunde too is not as impressive as he was ten years ago, but is still an excellent and refined singer. His long experience in the belcanto repertoire connotes his Devereux with technical rigour and with the greatness and the variety of feelings which makes him a true human being. His last scene in the third act allows Kunde to show his skills extensively, but he has the occasion to show them before, both in long passages as his duets with the two women and in shorter ones (single phrases or even words).
Silvia Tro Santafé is a defenceless and disconsolate Sara and her sweetness and grace make a perfect contrast with the majestic Elisabetta, while Marco Caria portrays Nottingham relying on his dark and warm voice rather than to a deep characterization.
Bruno Campanella confirms his reputation as a distinguished specialist of the belcanto repertoire with a tense and sombre interpretation of Donizetti’s music, but does not forgot the typical brilliance and energy in the most animated passages, as cabalette and finali. I hinted before to his delicacy in the most intimate scenes, but now I would like to add that this feature is evident also in the scrupulous portray of the character of Elisabetta in her sentimental arias (L’amor suo mi fè beata and, at the other end of the opera, Vivi, ingrato, a lei d’accanto). Campanella’s Roberto Devereux is an opera where many dynamics are at work.