Opéra de Montréal Roberto Devereux, by Gaetano Donizetti Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts
L'Opéra de Montréal definitely has a hit on its hands with this Minnesota Opera/Kevin Newbury production of Gaetano Donizetti's Roberto Devereux.
Above all, there's a wonderfully balanced and solid cast led by the impressive Greek soprano Dimitra Theodossiou as Elizabeth I and the remarkable Serbian tenor Alexey Dogov as the ill-fated second Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux.
The conductor Francesco Maria Colombo, who rose to fame in 2001 when Gian Carlo Menotti invited him to conduct the Spoleto Festival concert in the square for live television broadcast, obviously had the complete trust of the Orchestre Métropolitain, who were in top form.
The chorus didn't disappoint either. Then there's Newbury's masterful stage direction that is beautifully framed by Neil Patel's elegant sets and D. M. Wood's fine and inventive lighting. High marks as well to Jessican Jahn's costumes. She played with subtle colour palettes that evoked shifts in dramatic space really nicely.
Donizetti's Roberto Devereux, which premiered in 1837, doesn't get the same attention as some of his other operas, like Lucia di Lammermoor, Anna Bolena and the ever popular comic opera The Daughter of the Regiment. That may be, in part, because the two leads are very exacting roles - especially Elizabeth.
In the 1970s the great American soprano Beverly Sills was credited with the resurrection of Roberto Devereux, at least on this side of the Atlantic, by famously having the Metropolitan Opera stage "the three queens," i.e. the three Donizetti operas Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux. She is reputed to have said the difficulty of singing Elizabeth may have shortened her career by at least four years.
Theodossiou has the right dramatic intensity and range of colour to offer a very impressive Queen. Her first-act duet with her erstwhile friend, Sarah, the Duchess of Nottingham, ably sung by the American mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Batton, was proof enough that this would be a good night at the opera.
Dolgov, who is a principal artist with the Stanislavski-Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theatre (SND, for short), made his debut outside Russia a mere three years ago. He's a star on the rise.
Canadian tenor James Westman's Nottingham rounded out the leads well. While all of the cast are also fine actors, the triangle of love and despair between Devereux, the Queen and the Duchess is made utterly captivating. Donizetti was at a point in his composing where he was moving away from recitative and driving the action through song. The shifts between solo arias, duets and trios requires highly nuanced performances. This cast has got it down.
What is most impressive, for a production presented at the Opéra de Montréal, is how everything coheres. From the very opening, when a single spot is on a mournful Sarah to the last moments when a desperate Elizabeth renounces her crown (Risorigimento Italy played fast and loose with historical accuracy when it came to the theatre) surrounded by her court, everything works. Visually very elegant, dramatically and musically richly balanced; if this is what collaborations between Montreal and the Minnesota Opera can deliver, bring on more!
Robert Devereux plays at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts Nov. 17, 20, 22 and 25.