Opera Australia is presenting the final part to the trilogy of the three Tudor Queen operas by Donizetti at the Sydney Opera House. First was Anna Bolena based around Henry VIII’s second wife; then Maria Stuarda, Mary Queen of Scots and her imprisonment by cousin Elizabeth I and finally Roberto Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex and his relationship to Elizabeth I. (Written in Italian, their English names are changed for the Italian audience.) All the opera storylines are roughly based on history but not dependent on each other so, you can happily watch Roberto Devereux with its story complete.
The composer Gaetano Donizetti was born at the tail end of the 1700s and flourished as a celebrity composer of operas through the early to mid 1800s. In his 50 years of life he completed and premiered at least 75 operas including favourites still regularly played in opera houses today such as Lucia de Lammermoor, Don Pasquale, La Fille du Régiment and L’elisir d’amore. His music is packed with beautiful tunes literally described in the music style “Bel Canto”. The storylines are high drama giving the audience fast moving action and giving the characters a glorious range of emotions through which to progress.
Opera Australia staged the trilogy chronologically with Anna Bolena in 2019 and Maria Stuarda last year. Featuring mostly Italian talent in the leading roles, the articulation and interpretation are likely close to what the audience might have expected during an Italian premiere. Mumbles in the foyer once again point out only one Australian artist in the four leading roles.
Performing the opera “in Concert” means the singers appear on stage without costumes or sets. Simply dressed in evening wear with libretto on music stands and a plain backdrop with occasional lighting changes makes for a very different experience. Although many enjoy the visual richness of great sets and costumes, a concert performance allows you to truly focus on the music. The artists continue to act out the roles with subtitles appearing above and around the edges of the stage so you will easily be able to follow the story. Whilst past productions by the company have sometimes overwhelmed the audience with visual special effects, this simpler concert format makes a nice contrast.
Leading soprano Roberta Mantegna makes her debut with Opera Australia as the Queen, Elisabetta, though she is no stranger to the role having performed it in Venice and, more recently, Washington. Starting her performance very simply was like a poker player playing cards close to her chest. As the evening progressed she expanded her power and technique, enough to be heard over the full chorus and orchestra all working to full volume. The final crescendo was the infamous aria “Qual sangue versato” (That spilled blood) which virtually blew the roof off, the crowd roaring their approval. Great entertainment. This method of unfolding meant she would not tire too quickly and the audience always had something new to discover about her. Being well familiar with the role allowed her to play out the intricacies of emotion and where to emphasise the most beautiful phrases. The role requires connection to the other players and to the audience directly which she achieved with aplomb.
Opposite her was up and coming Italian tenor Valerio Borgioni. Still only in his 20s, Borgioni shows a natural talent for marvellous, open articulation of each syllable reminiscent of Pavarotti’s technique. His light and lyrical style perfectly matched the Bel Canto genre.
Australian soprano Jane Ede played the second female lead Sara, Duchess of Nottingham. The role might have been made for her, Ede opened the opera with superb acting skills, exactly what was needed for a performance devoid of sets and costumes which might otherwise have given context. Her natural talent for comedy was inevitable as well. Even amid a “deadly” serious storyline she managed to raise a giggle from the audience. Her voice matched the role beautifully, allowing her more scope than many other roles she has played to express and communicate what is happening in the character’s world. The audience gave her huge applause at the close and well deserved too, not just for being a local but because her performance was outstanding.
Second male lead playing her husband the vengeful Duke of Nottingham was well travelled Italian Baritone Giorgio Caoduro. Much of the role appears to be in the lower register for a baritone, making intricate passages a challenge to keep crisp and clear. The strength in this role lies in its critical importance to progressing the storyline. The drama is intense, just singing the notes is not enough and Caoduro’s strong acting skills, along with his vocal work, carried the plot forward with the appropriate passion required. The audience loved all four of these leads showing much enthusiasm throughout the performance.
Leading from the pit was Italian conductor Andrea Sanguineti making his debut with Opera Australia,. His choices in tempi seemed a little rushed at times but, overall, the audience very much appreciated his work with our orchestra. We look forward to seeing him back again in the future.
Only one more performance available for Roberto Devereux! This is an opera rarely played in these parts of the world written by a magnificent composer and performed by outstanding artists. Get along to the final performance tonight so you can float home on a myriad of truly beautiful tunes.
Conductor – Andrea Sanguineti
Elisabetta – Roberta Mantegna (pronounced mahn-TEH-nyah)
Sara – Jane Ede
Roberto Devereux – Valerio Borgioni (pronounced borr-JEEOR-nee)
Duke of Nottingham – Giorgio Caoduro (pronounced kah-or-DOO-ror)
Lord Cecil – Iain Henderson
Sir Walter Raleigh – Richard Anderson
Opera Australia Chorus and Orchestra
Quick synopsis of Robert Devereux storyline: https://opernfuehrer.info/en/operas/roberto+devereux/synopsis/en/
Soprano Roberta Mantegna https://opera.org.au/artist/roberta-mantegna/
Baritone Georgio Caoduro https://opera.org.au/artist/giorgio-caoduro/
What’s on in Sydney for Opera Australia? : https://opera.org.au/whats-on/sydney