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BWW Review: Radvanovsky Completes Donizetti Hat Trick with Potent DEVEREUX at the Met

Right to left: Sondra Radvanovsky as Elisabetta
and Elina Garanca as Sara.
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
Right to left: Matthew Polenzani as Roberto Devereux
and Mariusz Kwiecie? as the Duke of Nottingham.
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

"The Tudor Trilogy" --putting together Donizetti's ANNA BOLENA, MARIA STUARDA and ROBERTO DEVEREUX--was fabricated to light Beverly Sills' fire as "America's Queen of Opera" at the old New York City Opera (according to Time Magazine, at least) but it ruined her voice in the process. This season, soprano Sondra Radvanovsky was charged with bringing the trio of operas to the Met for the first time and, in completing this hat trick with DEVEREUX, she proved herself opera royalty indeed, a fearless singer and an outstanding actress. Her majestic turn as Elizabeth may not cement her glory as it did for Bubbles (this is 2016, after all, not 1971), but it is certainly unlikely to be matched again in these parts anytime soon. And she didn't appear to make any vocal sacrifices to do it.

Elizabeth I of England--Elisabetta in Donizetti-speak--didn't make it into the title of any of these operas (there is, however, Donizetti's ELISABETTA AL CASTELLO DI KENILWORTH) though she's the one constant in the trio of works: first as the toddler daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, then as Elizabeth's rival, Mary Queen of Scots and, finally as Elizabeth herself. But she's only the center of attention in DEVEREUX and Radvanovsky knew how to keeps all eyes on her, despite being surrounded by a distinguished cast.

It's amazing that Radvanovsky has been so clearly able to differentiate the three queens--the softer side in BOLENA, the ruthless side in STUARDA and the weary side of DEVEREUX. It's no doubt that she worked hard in this killer of a role as the Virgin Queen in DEVEREUX--Mariella Devia, in her 60s and almost as old as the historic Elizabeth, somehow made it look easy two years ago at Carnegie Hall--but she showed herself incapable of doing anything halfway, with steely determination. Radvanovsky used her powerful vocal resources, including dead-on coloratura, to run the gamut from haughty monarch to frail human being, tired and ready to retire. Aided and abetted by the sterling forces of the Met orchestra, under Maurizio Benini, Radvanovsky's Elizabeth reigned supreme.

The title role of the work--the Earl of Essex and once Elizabeth's favorite, until he bungled a military and political contretemps in Ireland--fell to tenor Matthew Polenzani. Once, Devereux was Elizabeth's favorite; he dreamed that she might marry him and make him king. Here, he's a broken man and, in some ways, the villain of the piece, accused of treason for signing a peace treaty in Ireland and, worse, being in love with his best friend's wife, Sara, Duchess of Nottingham--and who could blame him, in the absolutely wonderful performance by mezzo Elina Garanca. (In this production, at least, there may even have been something between him and the Duke, ably sung by baritone Mariusz Kwiecien.) Devereux's big aria didn't come until Act III, but Polenzani made it worth waiting for, with plangent tone and subtle acting. While Polenzani may not have sounded as suave and comfortable as he did earlier in the season in LES PECHEURS DE PERLES or in the title role of LES CONTES D'HOFFMAN, he made you care about a character who was not all that sympathetic.

The other major players did well, considering that the librettist short-changed them in character details. I admit to being late to the Garanca rodeo, now I'm totally smitten. Her rich, velvety voice managed to make Sara, ostensibly a secondary character, essential listening--and her natural magnetism was something to be experienced, particularly in the wonderful costumes of Moritz Junge. Kwiecien was in good voice, his lyric baritone soaring as he went from stalwart adviser to the queen and BFF of Devereux to being "solo, perduto, abbandonato" by Devereux and Sara. In smaller roles, bass-baritone Christopher Job did well as Sir Walter Raleigh and tenor Brian Downen was properly conniving as Lord Cecil. As usual, the Met chorus, under Donald Palumbo, was a pleasure, bringing life to the courtside players.

I'm not sure I understood why the production by Sir David McVicar, who also designed the unit set with lighting by Paule Constable, was done as a play within a play, or why the action was moved from one Tudor palace to another. Nevertheless, it moved smoothly and did not impede the machinations of the plot. Along with the earlier McVicar productions of BOLENA and STUARDA, this DEVEREUX reminds us that Donizetti is more than LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR and the comedies--with operas stage-worthy and welcome (re)additions to the current repertoire.

But it was Radvanovsky's night to howl, metaphorically that is. And howl she did.


ROBERTO DEVEREUX will be broadcast as part of the Met's LIVE IN HD series on Saturday April 16 at 12:55 pm EDT. The same performance will be heard on the Toll Brothers-Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network. Additional performances: April 4, 8, 11, 19. Curtain times vary: complete schedule here.

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From This Author Richard Sasanow