Elektra

Elektra

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Roberto Devereux at San Francisco Opera


Russell Thomas in the title role of Roberto Devereux
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera


San Francisco Opera is currently presenting Donizetti's Roberto Devereux, for the first time since 1979. It's one of the so-called Tudor Queen Trilogy operas, although the three operas were not written as a group and were not connected in Donizetti's mind. (The others? Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda.)

I am not a big Donizetti fan, and in fact I've walked out of more of his operas - two - than those of any other composer: La Favorite, which got an ugly production and mediocre singing, and L'Elisir d'Amore, because I was there mostly for Ramon Vargas and he didn't sing that night. In retrospect, perhaps I should I have stayed for Alek Shrader, who is a good singer whom I have enjoyed a lot since then, in Partenope, Alcina, and Albert Herring.

In any event, while I'm not much of Donizetti fan, I am a fan of good singing, and the casting for Roberto Devereux could hardly be better, with tenor Russell Thomas in the title role, Sondra Radvanovsky as Elizabeth I, and Jamie Barton as Sara, Duchess of Nottingham. If that trio sounds familiar, they made a splendid team four years ago in Norma, which had the drama of Thomas joining the cast after the run had already started. Artur Rucinsky, who made his SFO debut last year as Giorgio Germont in La Traviata, was to have sung the Duke of Nottingham; he unfortunately had to withdraw a few weeks ago owing to injuries he suffered in a bicycle accident. Adler Fellow Andrew Manea replaced him.

I'm not going to say a whole lot about the production and direction, because I was very tired Friday night, to the point of feeling like I was coming down with a cold, and I mostly let the opera wash pleasantly over me, without a lot of analysis. I am neutral about placing the action in the Globe Theater, which is hung on an alleged rumor that Elizabeth appeared anonymously in one of Shakespeare's plays, apparently A Midsummer Night's Dream, as we're told during the overture.



The Glob Theatre
No. actually, it's Russell Thomas (Devereux) and Jamie Barton (Sara, Duchess of Nottingham)
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Who knows? Certainly not me, but that explains this photo, which I thought must somehow be the last scene setting of Falstaff when I saw it in a trailer or ad or something:


This set is flown in for about 45 seconds during the overture. Pretty, though!
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

I thought the direction, by Stephen Lawless, okay - I mean, there's nothing awful but also nothing great.The libretto just doesn't give the director that much to work with. There aren't many confrontations or big crowd scenes; in those confrontations that take place, the musical pacing doesn't invite what you might think of as action. It's a pretty weak libretto! So there was a lot of standing and singing, and mostly that's okay with me, given the thin plotting and the fact that I really don't care about what's happening on stage.



Sondra Radvanovsky as Queen Elizabeth 1
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The leading trio of Radvanovsky, Barton, and Thomas really could not be improved upon. They were even better than in 2014! In that Norma, I felt that Radvanovsky, who was marvelous technically, nonetheless sounded as though some of the spectacular effects she could pull off were just that: effects that weren't well-integrated dramatically or in the vocal line. There was none of that here after she was thoroughly warmed up (her entrance was a little bumpy), just a steady stream of magnificent singing, with every phrase utterly musical and sincere and integrated into the whole. Similarly, she really lived the role, most especially during her long last-act scene, with Elizabeth staggering around the stage in a nightgown, without her wig, and looking very much her age.


Russell Thomas in the title role of Roberto Devereux
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Thomas's career has really taken off in the last four or five years, I feel. He is being hired regularly, for leading roles, by major companies, and rightly so. He's got a beautiful, burnished tenor voice and he's an excellent actor - also a handsome man, which never hurts! Among current tenors singing dramatic roles, how many have Donizetti and Wagner, Bellini and heavy Verdi, in their repertory and sing them all so well?? He sang with even more subtlety and emotional range as Devereux than as Pollione.


Jamie Barton as Sara, Duchess of Nottingham
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Jamie Barton remains one of the great singers of her generation, a mezzo with easy high and low notes, a huge range, and the same versatility as Thomas: by July, 2019, we'll have heard her in SF in Bellini, Donizetti, Dvorak, and Wagner. She sang gorgeously and acted very well as Sara, a role that really could have used more direction. I would have liked to be more convinced that she just couldn't get out fast enough to save the life of Devereux. (Elizabeth may have a crush on him, but it's Sara he really loves, and vice versa; she is under her husband's thumb and maybe we need even more evidence of this.)



Blood on his hands: Andrew Manea as the Duke of Nottingham.
Implies he personally tore Devereux's head off. I say: not likely.
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Andrew Manea, as the villain of the piece, the Duke of Nottingham, isn't quite ready to be singing leading roles at the international level. He sounded wooly and without much vocal core for most of the opera, with his voice firming up toward the end. His acting was good enough.

Riccardo Frizza conducted and was very good, with the music moving well and always sounding beautiful without becoming repetitive or oom-pah-pah-ish. I will say that the chorus sounded weirdly under-rehearsed and tentative, and that is very unusual.

I hope that Radvanovsky, Thomas, and Barton will be back in future seasons, and perhaps in Verdi (Il Corsaro, folks!).

Other writers, who all got more out of the setting and its implications than I did:




No comments: