Roberto Devereux, Opera Holland Park, London
Wednesday 17 June 2009
One by one, the country-house opera companies are laying out their wares, each with its unique selling point. For me, Opera Holland Park's USP is partly horticultural – the Kyoto Garden, so idyllic a piece of Japan that you can hardly believe you're in London – and partly anti-operatic, in that the open-air stage is invaded by a gentle cacophony of birds, dogs, children, aeroplanes, and traffic sounds. But the company's raison d'être lies in adventurous programming, coupled with an ability to pull in some outstanding voices – and on both counts the opening show scored high.
Donizetti wrote Roberto Devereux – an ahistorical take on the story of Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex, while grieving over his wife's death (which may explain why it contains so much weeping). In the view of its conductor – veteran bel canto specialist Richard Bonynge – the story is pure Hollywood: Devereux and Sara, Duchess of Nottingham are clandestinely in love, but the Queen loves Devereux; an incriminating scarf condemns him to death, but a ring given him by the Queen would guarantee his pardon. Sara's vengeful husband hides the ring until the axe has fallen, whereupon the Queen goes mad with grief.
This opera may not often be performed, but it's dramatically gripping, and musically first-rate, provided it has a first-rate singing actress in the role of Elisabetta. And in soprano Majella Cullagh it gets exactly that: she brings to her laments and rages a glorious purity and versatility of tone. Contrasting with this is the very different timbre of mezzo Yvonne Howard, as Sara: a smaller voice, but with a lovely, carrying projection. Tenor Leonardo Capalbo looks and acts a brilliant Devereux, but vocally he's sadly underpowered until, late in the evening, he suddenly produces a pitiful plangency in his climactic, pre-execution scene. Baritone Julian Hubbard makes a good fist of Nottingham, if at times a shade flat.
The orchestra plays with passion, director Lindsay Posner pushes his courtiers and soldiers about with over-choreographed precision, but his direction of the final scene allows Cullagh to lose her wits with convincing abandon; off comes the dress, and then the wig, leaving Gloriana like a mad Pierrot bathed in unearthly white light, while the cymbals crash and the winds and strings weep on.
18 & 20 June (0845 230 9769)
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 2 How to turn off/stop 'seen by' on Facebook: Disable it to make your chats seem less passive aggressive
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 'We're not heroes, just tourists': Swedish police officers on holiday stop vicious assault on New York subway
- 5 Buckingham Palace guard who attacked passers-by in 'most most violent piece of CCTV footage' police officer had seen walks free
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election