Friday, March 25, 2016

I have seen the Queen of England weep!

Sondra Radvanovsky
Photo:  Ken Howard, Metropolitan Opera
I attended Thursday night's premiere of Roberto Devereux at the Metropolitan Opera. The house was nearly full, and the air was electric with excitement. Not only is this new David McVicar production the first time the Donizetti/Cammarano masterpiece has ever been staged at the Met, but also we were to hear Sondra Radvanovsky sing her third Donizetti Tudor queen of the season. The evening didn't disappoint in any way.

I wrote recently that the typical Donizetti soprano heroine requires range, power, agility, and expression. Quite true in the case of Elisabetta, and with Ms. Radvanovsky we had all those attributes in abundance. Beautiful, steely but warm sound, agility, range, and acting. I've really become a fan since she started singing the bel canto roles--the three Donizetti queens, Norma, and let's hope for more in the future--and she thrills me every time I see her live. Her Act I aria "L'amor suo mi fe' beata" was magic, and her final "Quel sangue versato" nearly brought the house down. There was a moment after the cannon shot that announced Roberto's death when one could hear weeping throughout the audience and nothing else, so powerful was Ms. Radvanovsky's performance.

Production photos of Ms. Garanča
as Sara are rare
Photo: Karina Schwarz,
Deutsche Grammophon
Elina Garanča came very close to stealing the show as Sara, Duchess of Nottingham.  Her powerful acting and her rock-solid yet tender singing delivered a vulnerable, heartbroken Sara. (We suspect Sara welcomes the death that is promised to her at the end, if for no other reason than being closer to Roberto.) Sara's Act I aria "All'afflitto è dolce il pianto" was heart-rending in its beauty, and her Act III duet with Nottingham was an amazing show of power, range, and passion.

And her Nottingham? The very accomplished Mariusz Kwiecen, whom we have seen and quite liked as Don Giovanni. His own Act I cavatina "Forse in quel cor sensible... Qui ribelle ognum ti chiama" was beautiful in its sound and lyricism. As the husband who believes himself wronged, he was quite a powerful actor. He and Ms. Garanča had a fiery chemistry together on stage.

Screen capture of Ms. Garanča and Mr. Kwiecen
Metropolitan Opera video from Facebook
Matthew Polenzani is another singer who has grown since he started singing bel canto roles and grew into beefier roles. (One reads he recently sang Idomeneo at Covent Garden.) Although completely connected to the role and character, he did sound a little tired, I regret to report. This hampered his inherently pleasing sound, and was a handicap in his final scene. I've heard Mr. Polenzani sound tired one night and recover for a stunning performance on subsequent nights, so I hope I will be able to see at least one more performance to report on it.

David McVicar's production gets a thumbs-up from me. Some features of the design drew attention to the fact there was no such thing as privacy as we know it in the Tudor period. The principals always seemed to be observed by courtiers and were rarely, if ever, alone. The remainder of the production team--Costume Designer Moritz Junge, Lighting Designer Paule Constable, Set Designer Mr. McVicar--all get high marks from me as well.

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra under Maruizio Benini played at its usual level of excellence, and Maestro Benini drove the drama and the musical arc quite skillfully. The Metropolitan Opera Chorus seemed quite flawless, as usual.

Highly recommended. I intend to see it again.

Photo:  Ken Howard, Metropolitan Opera
*The title refers to a line in the libretto:  Ah! Let no mortal say, The Queen of England, I have seen the Queen of England weep!

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