Glorious bel canto singing marks Donizetti’s “Roberto Devereux” from Met Opera Live in HD

The final opera in Donizetti’s “Tudor trilogy” focuses on the older Queen Elizabeth I, who is forced to sign the death warrant of the nobleman she loves. Sir David McVicar, who directed the Met premieres of Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda, returns to stage the final installment in the series. Acclaimed bel canto soprano Sondra Radvanovsky will sing Elizabeth I in Roberto Devereux as well as the title roles in Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda over the course of the season, a famous feat performed by Beverly Sills at New York City Opera in the 1970s and not repeated in New York since. Roberto Devereux also stars Matthew Polenzani as the title character; Elīna Garanča as Sara, the Duchess of Nottingham and the queen’s secret rival; and Mariusz Kwiecien as the Duke of Nottingham. Maurizio Benini conducts the first-ever Met performances of this work.

With a running time of approximately 3 hours, 30 minutes that passes in a flash, this Live in HD transmission will be seen in the Berkshires at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington and the Beacon Cinemas in Pittsfield on Saturday, April 16, 2016 at 12:55pm. Additional encore performances may also be scheduled.

Radvanovsky’s powerful voice can climb to vocal heights unheard since Sutherland, then drop to a hushed pianissimo with such ease that it can make one gasp.” – Huffington Post


“The applause and bravos for the soprano Sondra Radvanovsky were so frenzied… The audience members knew, it seemed, that they had just witnessed an emotionally vulnerable and vocally daring performance, a milestone in the career of an essential artist… Ms. Radvanovsky sings with searing power, flinty attack and incisive coloratura passagework. The company has assembled an ideal cast and an insightful conductor, Maurizio Benini. The superb tenor Matthew Polenzani excels in the title role, his lyrical elegance matched by youthful ardor… The baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, singing with virile sound and soaring lyricism, captures the confusions of the Duke, shattered by personal betrayal. And it is true luxury casting to have the great mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča bring her sumptuous voice and charisma to the role of the retiring, love-struck Sara…” –The New York Times

“An energized cast, supercharged by Maurizio Benini’s high-voltage conducting, makes mortality seem like an adventure, and pain a worthwhile trade off for so much pleasurable music… With his honey-coated, spring-loaded tenor, his pliant phrasing and confident pianissimos, Matthew Polenzani turns a doomed man’s musings into an ecstatic journey… Opera audiences crave glamour, and director David McVicar doesn’t stint… [Elīna Garanča] sings the somewhat inert role of Sarah, Dutchess of Nottingham, so ravishingly that she makes self-pity seem like an almost attractive quality… [Sondra Radvanovsky] achieves with her voice all the wild freedom that her character is denied, and makes something splendid even of her ruthlessness and regret. Her soprano is all velvet and steel, and as she pushes up into the role’s high-altitude acrobatics, she acquires ever more infallible poise.” –New York Magazine

World premiere: Naples, Teatro San Carlo, October 28, 1837

First performed two years after Maria Stuarda and Lucia di Lammermoor, Roberto Devereux shows Donizetti at the height of his musical and dramatic powers. The opera’s story was inspired by a historical incident—the execution for treason of Robert Devereux, the favorite of Queen Elizabeth I—but, as in many works of the time, history is used merely as a springboard from which the operatic imagination can soar. Roberto Devereux mirrors the successful structure of the earlier Lucia di Lammermoor: a first act that lays out the issues at stake and introduces the musical language; a second act fashioned as a single dramatic arc; and three intense shorter scenes for the final act.

England, 1599. Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, is sent to Ireland with an army to defeat the rebellious Irish chieftains. After an unsuccessful campaign, and against the queen’s orders, he returns to England, where his actions are deemed a desertion of duty. The story of the opera takes its inspiration from the events of the following two years, which are condensed into a few days.



London, 1601. At the Palace of Nonsuch, Sara, Duchess of Nottingham, is in tears while reading a book. Unknown to the other ladies of the court, she is distressed not about the story she’s reading but about her own situation—she is in love with Robert Devereux. Queen Elizabeth enters and tells Sara that she has decided to follow her husband Nottingham’s advice and receive Devereux, although she is worried that his affections have turned to another woman. Robert has returned from Ireland accused of treason, but Elizabeth is prepared to pardon him as long as he still loves her. Lord Cecil demands that the queen sign Robert’s death warrant, but she tells him she is not convinced of his disloyalty. Robert enters and Elizabeth dismisses the courtiers. She tells him she is ready to pardon him and reminds him of a ring she gave him as a pledge of his safety. But his cool reaction to her talk of their past love increases her suspicions. When she asks directly for the name of her rival, Robert denies that he is in love with anyone else. Now furious, Elizabeth is convinced he has betrayed her. The Duke of Nottingham arrives to greet Robert, who shrinks from his embrace. Nottingham is worried about his friend’s safety but also concerned about his unhappy wife, whom he lately found crying over a blue scarf she was working on. Cecil returns to summon Nottingham to the council meeting that will decide Robert’s fate. Before he leaves, Nottingham assures Robert he will do what he can to defend him.

In Nottingham’s apartments, Sara thinks of Robert and the danger he is in. He suddenly appears and reproaches her for marrying Nottingham while he was away in Ireland, but she replies that she did so on Elizabeth’s orders. Sara in turn reminds Robert that he is wearing the queen’s ring. He tears it off and assures her of his love. Sara implores him to flee and gives him the blue scarf as a pledge of her affections. After a painful goodbye, Robert departs.


At Nonsuch, the court awaits news of Robert’s fate. Elizabeth enters, then Cecil, who announces that in spite of Nottingham’s defense the council has decided on the death sentence. Sir Walter Raleigh reports that he has arrested Robert according to the queen’s orders. When searched, Raleigh says, Robert was found to have concealed in his clothes a blue scarf, which Elizabeth now angrily examines. Nottingham brings the death warrant for the queen to sign but again pleads for his friend and dismisses all accusations as slander. Elizabeth refuses to relent. When Robert is led in, she turns on him furiously and shows him the scarf. Both Robert and Nottingham are shocked. His astonishment quickly turning into a jealous fury, Nottingham calls for his sword. Elizabeth once again demands to know the name of her rival, but Robert won’t reveal it. Now blind with rage, Elizabeth signs the death warrant.


Alone in her apartment, Sara receives a letter from Robert in which he asks her to take the ring to Elizabeth and hope for her mercy. Before she can do so, Nottingham appears. He reads the letter, ignores Sara’s protestations of innocence, and orders her to be confined.

In his cell in the Tower, Robert hopes that he will be able to clear Sara’s name before his death. When soldiers appear to take him to his execution, he realizes that all that’s left to him is to pray for her in heaven.

The queen, surrounded by her silent ladies, waits in her rooms, wondering why Sara is not there to comfort her. In spite of everything, she wants Robert to live and hopes that he will send her the ring, but instead Cecil appears to tell her that Robert is on the way to the block. When Sara runs in with the ring and confesses that she is Elizabeth’s rival, the queen orders the execution stopped, but it is too late: a cannon shot announces Robert’s death. Nottingham arrives and Elizabeth turns on him and Sara, demanding to know why they didn’t bring her the ring sooner. Nottingham proudly replies her that all he wanted was revenge. Elizabeth orders them both taken away. Haunted by a vision of the beheaded Robert, she now only longs to be free of her role as queen.

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