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Donizetti – Roberto Devereux

Roberto Devereux – Leonardo Capalbo

Elisabetta – Majella Cullagh

Sara, Duchess of Nottingham – Yvonne Howard

Duca di Nottingham – Julian Hubbard

Sir Gualtiero Raliegh – Graeme Broadbent

Lord Cecil – Aled Hall


Conductor – Richard Bonynge

Director – Lindsay Posner

Designer – Peter McIntosh

Choreographer – Adam Cooper

Lighting – Peter Mumford


Opera Holland Park 18 June 2009


For this evening the Holland Park Theatre has been transformed into an Elizabethan palace – flickering candles creating menacing shadows on the ancient stones.  This is the court of Queen Elizabeth I in the autumn of her reign; her favourite, Roberto Devereux, Earl of Essex, has recently failed in an attempted rebellion.  The Queen is reluctant to condemn him but suspects he is being unfaithful.  He is, in fact, smitten with Sarah, soon to become wife of the Duke of Nottingham. 


When this is revealed a furious Queen signs Roberto’s death warrant, while still hoping that he will ask her for a pardon at the last moment.  The fateful cannon from the Tower signals his death and the Queen collapses in deep despair.  The opera ends, not with a conventional florid mad scene but with her mental disintegration and abandoning of the Crown.


This tragedy of treason and intrigue at Court deals with real people and not cardboard figures; Majella Cullagh is the very likeness of the Queen in all her finery, but also conveys her insecurity and loneliness.  As Roberto, Leonardo Capalbo displays a fine tenor voice and a fiery temperament, while his one-time friend, Nottingham, sung by Julian Hubbard, becomes his implacable enemy on hearing that Sarah (Yvonne Howard) was involved with Roberto.  Graeme Broadbent as Roberto’s rival Raleigh swaggers with some effect.  The eminent conductor, Richard Bonynge, presides with unique authority and musicianship over both singers and orchestra.


Great credit is due to the director, Lindsay Posner, and choreographer, Adam Cooper, for so effectively staging this stately saraband, managing the ebb and flow of dignitaries in a world of frills and farthingales.  


At a 1964 production in Naples the Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer caused such a sensation that it was rumoured that pious opera-goers now included Gencer’s performance in “Devereux” along with the new Beaujolais wine as demonstrations of the existence of the Deity!  It was not obvious whether or not this notion had occurred to the Holland Park audience, but they all clearly enjoyed an enthralling evening of music drama. 


There must surely be an appetite for revivals of this quality and it is not too unrealistic to hope for the other parts of Donizetti’s tudor trilogy, Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda to follow.


Stuart Jenkins