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Photo: Ben Van Duin


Belcanto opera is an elite sport. The arias are often super-equillibristic with lightning-fast, acrobatic runs up and down the scale. The Donizetti classic Roberto Devereux plays out in Amsterdam with fine vocal performances in a loyal, quality production that suffers somewhat from a lack of surprises.

The belcanto repertoire has always been a kind of X factor test for star sopranos such as Maria Callas, Anna Netrebko and Joyce di Donato, who I actually saw in New York about 10 years ago when she blew the roof off the Met.

Back then it was another Donizetti bel canto masterpiece, Maria Stuarda, which together with Anna Bolena and Roberto Devereux make up the so-called Tudor Trilogy centred on Queen Elizabeth I.

Dutch director Jetske Mijnssen has staged the trilogy at the Nationale Opera & Ballet in Amsterdam and GOT TO SEE THIS was in place for the final part. Mijnssen recently appeared at the Copenhagen Opera with her excellent staging of Mozart’s farewell opera, the not-so-good Titus.

Roberto Devereux is basically a rather small chamber play where two love triangles are woven into a tragic story of impossible love.

Hold on tight. Queen Elisabeth has a crush on Roberto, who is one of her Favorites – chosen advisors at court, and maybe a little more than that.

Elisabeth has a bad feeling that Roberto is juggling another woman on the side. Her suspicions turn out to be well-founded. The secret lover is Sara, who in addition to being Elisabeth’s friend, is married to Roberto’s good friend Nottingham.

Roberto’s close relationship with Queen Elizabeth has made him unpopular with some members of the court, who use a perhaps overly generous peace settlement after an Irish campaign to have Roberto charged and convicted of treason.

Photo: Ben Van Duin

A death sentence that Elisabeth refuses to sign in the hope that his innocence will be proven.

However, Nottingham discovers his wife’s affair with Roberto and succeeds in preventing a possible last minute pardon for his former friend.

Off stage, the thud is heard as the coroner’s axe separates Roberto’s head from his body. A game without winners that is a creative fictionalization of real events.

Barno Ismatullaeva from Uzbekistan sings Elisabeth with a beautiful, creamy-soft timbre and charismatic charisma. Sara is convincingly sung by the American mezzo Angela Brower, while the Spanish, internationally recognized tenor Ismael Jordi is an excellent, but also somewhat smooth Roberto.

Perhaps best is Russian bass-baritone Nikolai Zemlianskikh, as a pent-up, understandably angry Nottingham.

Photo: Ben Van Duin

I have to be honest and confess that I find Donizetti’s operas somewhat dated. This applies to Anna Bolena, which I saw a few months ago in Berlin. It also applies to this Dutch production by Roberto Devereux, which is staged in two rather static, albeit aesthetically satisfying stage pictures. 

The first part is set in Elisabeth’s beautiful, classicist-style chambers with high wing doors, lots of blood-red velvet and important gentlemen in tuxedos.

The second part shows Elisabeth in all her solitude on a large, square landing that suggests a courtroom, around which the chorus lines up in the opera’s most effective scenes on the road to destruction. Dramatic, graphically tight and not at all crazy.

Photo: Ben Van Duin

The production delivers nicely on musical qualities, the reading and the presentation of the characters’ inner psychology. Overall, however, an extra gear is missing, and it stays at four stars from GOT TO SEE THIS.