Review: Roberto Devereux- Welsh National Opera

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Royals reign supreme in Welsh National Opera’s concluding production of a regal season at the Millennium Centre.

The last venture here is a left field staging from the WNO vaults, that of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux. The Tudor season that this opera has been plucked from caused some of the most divided and vitriolic opinions the Cardiff audience held for many years. Can this revival redeem itself?

Maybe, its the fact that this drab production by Alessandro Talevi is not surrounded by the other debatable and morbid stagings which made up the trio Tudor season back in Autumn 2013 (Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda). There are odd choices here, the symbolic use of spiders and their prey, the black leather meet Vivian Westwood fashion stylings or even the shocking finale of piked heads, by order of Queen Elizabeth I. Never in one’s life can you ever expect the sight of a screaming Queen Liz, on top a giant metal spider barking death threats at her supposed lover Robert, or here Roberto. It remains a moment so lost in postmodern opera ideals that all you can do is laugh and marvel at the sight of it. 

Even starting with the overture, we get a brilliant display of artistry from the orchestra and fierce conducting from Carlo Rizzi. There are some joys here, the horns and timpani pounding away and the variation on God Save the Queen is witty and inspired. Not many composers could get away with doing what Donizetti does here and in the soaring arias and duets that make up this wonderful, if flawed opera. The story tries to push down a narrative of misunderstandings concerning the queen, Roberto and those closest to them, leading to tragic consequences. Metal spiders aside, the most historically outrageous moment comes at the end. After giving Roberto the axe, Queen Elizabeth is so moved…she abdicates, giving the throne to James. It’s hard not to scoff in this moment, even if we are in the absurd world of opera and not in the “truths” of established Tudor lore. 

The singers make this opera sparkle. The role of Sara, Duchess of Nottingham is played by Justina Gringytė, with moments of pity and intrigue. It’s a strange role who appears to have caused all the wrong doing that takes place, yet we somehow feel for her. Some lush arias, prove Justina’s vocal glories and her acting is also on point. The eternal tenor Barry Banks is the title character, richly sung and filled with heartache and bravado, a treat for those who relish bel canto roles. Saying this, the opera belongs very much to Queen Liz here performed by Joyce El-Khoury. Donizetti is very generous with the role, with a multitude of arias and some halting high notes, leading to theatrical fireworks from Joyce. This is one queen you don’t mess with…

Those after a twisted look at the Tudor court would consider this production that appears to get better with age.    

Heartbreak, betrayal & a giant metallic spider!

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Roberto Devereux continues on tour with performances of Mozart’s The Magic Flute & Verdi’s Un ball in maschera.  

Photo Credit: Bill Cooper


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