Roberto Devereux first time at the Met

Roberto Devereux is a must-see at the Met

There are six good reasons to run (not walk) to the Met to catch the new production of Donizetti’s infrequently performed drama Roberto Devereux.

First of all, it represents the Met at its best, which in my mind is always a good thing. Sir David McVicar’s direction is taut and engaged; his setting is elegant but at the same time to a degree foreboding. Though dark, the sets nicely frame the royals and courtiers, all regally costumed by Moritz Junge and tastefully accented by lighting designer Paule Constable. The musical and dramatic contributions by the principals are often spectacular, never the least bit routine, while the courtiers are interestingly, sometimes casually omnipresent throughout, coming together as needed for their choral contributions as the events unfold.

Elegant sets for new  Roberto Devereux

Elegant sets for new Roberto Devereux

Then second, from the opening curtain mezzo Elīna Garanča (as Sara, Duchess of Nottingham) is vocally on fire. Always a fan, I find her voice here to have a new richness and freedom, added to which she is convincingly torn in several directions as the plot twists and turns. Her duet with Matthew Polenzani at the end of Act I (as written) is exquisite. Brava! Don’t miss Garanča.

Sara, rival of Queen Elizabeth in  Roberto Devereux

Sara, rival of Queen Elizabeth in Roberto Devereux

Third: Garanča is matched dramatically by Sondra Radvanovsky (as Elisabetta, Queen of England), who, this season, a first for the Met, completed Donizetti’s ‘Tudor Trilogy’ (the other operas are Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda). In Devereux one is struck by the totality of Radvanovsky’s commitment to creating a believable aged monarch who foolishly dotes on a younger man, yet who becomes vengeful when the most probable outcome of this relationship, namely that he loves another woman much younger than she, is revealed. Elisabetta’s gradual mental and physical collapse is well portrayed: I found Radvanovsky often gripping to watch on stage, especially at the opera’s conclusion. And she is able to span the significant vocal range of her role with relative ease. Don’t miss Radvanovsky.

Elizabeth and Roberto

Elizabeth and Roberto

Fourth, always important, the guys are great too: Matthew Polenzani is the unfortunate Roberto, unfortunate because by the end of the opera he has compromised his former love (Sara), betrayed his friend (Nottingham), and more than disappointed his Queen (Elisabetta). He probably also has credit card debt. So for all this he is beheaded (happily not shown here). Polenzani’s essay of the Tower of London Scene is eloquent and a lesson in bel canto. It’s the long solo in the second part of the evening, though not indicated by any big change of sets. Likewise Marius Kwiecien, as Nottingham, Sara’s husband, veers from being Roberto’s true friend to his worst enemy. Kwiecien’s transformation is effective: he is truly menacing in the second part.

Elizabeth awaits death as Roberto is executed

Elizabeth awaits death as Roberto is executed

Others in the cast include Brian Downen as Cecil, Yohan Yi as a Page, and Paul Corona as Nottingham’s servant.

The fifth reason is that the new Roberto Devereux is under the masterful musical direction of Maurizio Benini. Yes it’s Donizetti, not Verdi, but by this point in his career, 1837, two years after Lucia, but before La favorite and his other Paris operas, he was composing with a sure hand. Kudos to the Met for bringing the Tudor trilogy back to New York.

The sixth reason? Well, as my dear friend Dick often remarks, “You never know when you’ll see this one again!” On that note, seize the moment! T'is the season!

Review performance date: March 28, 2016, the second performance in the Met’s history.

Photos: Ken Howard

Roberto Devereux is performed here in two parts: Act I and Act II together, then Act III follows a single intermission.Enjoy! April showers bring May flowers!