Monday, April 18, 2016
Douglas Messerli| "Scarf and Ring" (on Donizetti's Roberto Devereux)
scarf and ring
by Douglas Messerli
Salvatore Cammerano, based in François Ancelot’s play Elisabeth d’Angleterre (libretto), Gaetano Donizetti (composer) Roberto Devereux / The Metropolitan Opera HD Live performance, Saturday 16, 2016
Gaetano Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux begins in medias ras in the 69th year of Queen Elizabeth’s illustrious reign. She has aged obviously, still regal in her royal costumes, but frail and quite fragile, in part because her closest consort, and the one man whom this virgin queen loved, Robert Devereux, has been long off in Ireland fighting for England. Walter Raleigh and other lords, however, believe him to be guilty of treason, and are hounding her to bring him home in order for them to try him.
Yet we know that Robert (Matthew Polenzani) is, in fact, in love with Sarah, Duchess of Nottingham (Elina Garanča), the Queen’s closest lady-in-waiting and the wife of Robert’s dear friend, the Duke of Nottingham (Mariusz Kwiecien). We know this from earliest scene, wherein Sarah suffers in her sighs, the chorus commenting on her obvious depression.
So the central quartet is established, they who will be the center of not only the audience’s attention but the entire royal court (the always impeccable met chorus).
Meanwhile, the two ardent friends—another homoerotic operatic pairing—meet again, sharing their love and caring, Nottingham insisting that he will attempt to defend him against the others.
Yet, Robert still dares to meet with Sarah, she exchanging a blue scarf (which, incidentally, Nottingham has noticed her tearfully embroidering), he offering her the ring which Elizabeth has awarded him out of love—the two objects which will later convict them of wrongdoing. The scarf and ring, in fact, seem to almost unify the opera as objects which, meaning so much for the original lovers, indicate the illicit lovers’ disregard of their earlier commitments, and present proof of the Queen’s sexual rivalry and Nottingham’s cuckoldry.
These pieces of evidence end in Robert’s death by beheading, Elizabeth’s death soon after, and, ultimately, Sarah and Nottingham’s shame.
But this opera, so centered on its quartet, needs strong singers in all of the roles, which this production thoroughly offered up. The ending applause of the Metropolitan Opera theater-goers was long and genuinely expressive: this standing ovation by nearly everyone in the house was most certainly deserved, and I am certain than Howard and I will never again see such a perfect production of this Donizetti masterwork. Bel Canto has never appeared so crystalline and pure, each of these generationally connected singers working closely with one another to create their often awe-inspiring performances.
Los Angeles, April 17, 2016