MetOpera HD Cinema broadcast of Roberto Devereux finally comes to Australia. This matinee was performed on Saturday 16th April and beamed live to America and Europe. Australasian audiences had to wait until the first weekend in July. DVD not released yet.
Sondra Radvanovsky is incomparable as Queen Elizabeth in Roberto Devereux. This is her third Donizetti English ‘queen’ after Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda. American tenor Matthew Polenzani sang the title role stylishly. He cuts a dashing figure and emotes the conflicting feelings of love to anger and regret, facing death at the end with resolution - and another glorious aria. Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien is at the peak of his vocal and dramatic powers as the Duke of Nottingham. As Sarah, his duchess, we heard Latvian mezzo Elina Garanca. All were top class in this enormous bel canto drama directed by Sir David McVicar.
The open stage was a formal setting with sliding façade on two levels with courtiers watching all the proceedings from the sides on two levels. Between the Tower of London and Henry VIII’s country palace “Nonesuch” (now long levelled), scene changes were seamless.
In the cinema one has the opportunity to see much closer than in the theatre. This obvious observation makes for a very different experience with more details of faces, costumes, wigs, etc than even front row seats. This benefit may also be a draw-back in some cases, showing up imperfections, most notably sweating and beard/wig lines. It was indeed a privilege for me to be able to experience the same performance in the theatre and then in the cinema for comparison.
Another benefit of the cinema version is that we can meet the cast in the intermission. Deborah Voigt interviewed Ms Radvanovsky about her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth who was 69 years of age at the time of the opera. She was known to have skin problems and a limp from hip trouble, each of which featured in a distinct tremor, thinned hair and thick white make-up. Each of the other main 3 principals also gave some interesting commentary (and each had a few words for the ‘folks back home’ in their native tongues).
After a full blooded overture including ‘God save the Queen’ the drama opens with a sad and reflective duchess pondering her loveless marriage and illicit longings for Devereux. Elina Garanca has some ravishing music to sing both alone and in numerous duets. The range required is extraordinary from high coloratura down to low chest voice. She is very beautiful and acts with a natural conviction using every aspect of facial expression, body language and more.
The story revolves around the queen refusing to charge Devereux with treason for lack of hard evidence despite parliament demanding his execution. The queen demands he reveal any other love but hers which he denies. Otello has its handkerchief, Tosca the fan, but this opera has a blue scarf with gold thread embroidered by the duchess for Devereux and with which he is caught when arrested on order of the parliament. It is this scarf which also reveals her extra-marital affections to her husband who then prevents his wife delivering Devereux’s reprieve. As with Wagner, there is a ring which causes a whole lot of trouble. Its late delivery causes the untimely beheading of Devereux, revealed by a cannon blast, introducing the queen’s denouement in Ms Radvanovsky’s spectacular final scene.
The other three singers all have major vocal parts as well but it is Ms Radvanovsky who has the most taxing and extensive role. Her finales of both ‘halves’ (acts 1 and 2 were merged together) are staggering displays equal to any mad scene or other soprano endurance feat in all opera to my experience. And she acquits them with superb aplomb - high notes, low notes, legato and ornamented vocal lines.
There were at least three numbers which were reminiscent of Lucrezia Borgia which Donizetti wrote 5 years earlier. He wrote (or re-wrote) almost 100 operas between 1816 and 1844. For people who like to know about high notes, Ms Radvanovsky hit a D natural for her final note of the opera. Ms Garanca used three octaves with phenomenal effortlessness from near baritone to high soprano. Mr Polenzani sang a sustained high D flat in his final aria. Mr Kwiecien just sang brilliantly all night and did not have to prove himself with any A naturals, trills, etcetera.
The huge Met orchestra was exemplary under Maestro Maurizio Benini. And as usual the Met chorus was splendid, most of them playing the onlookers in the "play within the play" (as the commentator called it).
This was one of the best opera performances I have seen and I consider myself lucky to have seen it twice in New York and then again here in Sydney on the big silver screen. Indeed, there was palpable excitement in the cinema - the Sydney audience spontaneously applauded at numerous high points as well as at the end. The curtain calls were also most moving (see below for YouTube clip of same).
Excerpts of the opera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_P0JY-So5YE
Notes by Andrew Byrne .. http://andrewsopera.blogspot.com/
The next HD Live Met Opera in the series is Elektra with Nina Stemme and not to be missed by Richard Strauss fans.
Pearlfishers duet with Polenzani and Kwiecien: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9v-tml0dis8&list=RD_KnO1voeWeQ&index=27
Curtain calls: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJ9CsPXUD2Q
The penultimate duet is on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leJwthy0xEM