Roberto Devereux (or Roberto Devereux, ossia Il conte di Essex [Roberto Devereux, or the Earl of Essex]) is a tragedia lirica, or tragic opera, by Gaetano Donizetti. Salvadore Cammarano wrote the Italian libretto after François Ancelot's tragedy Elisabeth d'Angleterre, although Devereux was the subject of at least two other French plays: Le Comte d'Essex by Thomas Corneille and Le Comte d'Essex by La Calprenede.
The opera is loosely based on the life of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, an influential member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I of England. The plot of Roberto Devereux was hardly original, mainly derived from Felice Romani's libretto Il Conte d'Essex of 1833, originally set by Saverio Mercadante. Romani's widow charged Cammarano with plagiarism, although the practice of stealing plots was very common between rival Italian opera houses.
It is one of a number of operas by Donizetti which deal with the Tudor period in English history and include Anna Bolena (named for Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn), Maria Stuarda (named for Mary, Queen of Scots) and Il castello di Kenilworth. The lead female characters of the operas Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux are often referred to as the "Three Donizetti Queens." They earned some degree of fame in the 1970s, when the American soprano Beverly Sills promoted them as a series at New York City Opera.
It has been noted that, "although the plot plays fast and loose with history, the opera carries it own brand of dramatic conviction".
Roberto Devereux was first performed on 29 October 1837 at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples. Within a few years, the opera's success  had caused it to be performed in most European cities including Paris on 27 December 1838; London on 24 June 1841; Rome in 1849; Palermo in 1857; in Pavia in 1859 and 1860; and in Naples on 18 December 1865.  Also, it was given in New York on 15 January 1849, but it would appear that after 1882, no further performances were given during the 19th century.
20th century and beyond
The beginning of the 20th century revivals of Roberto Devereux started at the San Carlo in Naples in 1964, the revival starring Leyla Gencer. Montserrat Caballe appeared in a combination of concert performances and staged productions between December 1965 and 1978.
Roberto Devereux was first performed by the New York City Opera in October 1970  as the first part of the "Three Queens" trilogy. It was performed on a regular basis in European houses during the 1980s and in concert versions by the Opera Orchestra of New York in January 1991 (with Vladimir Chernov), the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in July 2002, and Washington Concert Opera in 2004. In 2009, performances were given by the Dallas Opera, the Las Palmas Opera, the Opera Holland Park Festival, while 2010 saw productions in Mannheim and Rome. 2010 saw performances given by the Minnesota Opera and Munich's Bayerische Staatsoper plus its first performance in Quebec in November of that year at the Opéra de Montréal.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, 29 October 1837
(Conductor: – )
|Elisabetta, Queen of England||soprano||Giuseppina Ronzi de Begnis|
|The Duke of Nottingham||baritone||Paul Barroilhet|
|Sara, Duchess of Nottingham||mezzo-soprano||Almerinda Manzocchi Granchi|
|Roberto Devereux, Earl of Essex||tenor||Giovanni Basadonna|
|Lord Cecil||tenor||Timoleone Barattini|
|Sir Gualtiero Raleigh||bass||Anafesto Rossi|
|A page||contralto||Giuseppe Benedetti|
|A servant of Nottingham||bass|
|Lords of the parliament, knights, squires, pages, guards of Nottingham|
Although not frequently performed today, it contains some of Donizetti's best vocal writing, some of it "first rate" (the end of Act 1's duet between Roberto and Sara beginning with Dacchè tornasti, ahi misera ("Since you returned, ah miserable me!"), while the brief second act is "superb". The opera is raw and emotional; it is a powerful vehicle for the soprano. Some of the highlights include the Act 1 duet between Elizabeth and Robert, Nascondi, frena i palpiti ("Hide and check your wild beating / oh my unhappy heart"). The final scene is one of the most dramatic and difficult in bel canto opera. As Elizabeth is going mad with the death of her lover, Quel sangue versato ("That spilled blood / rises to heaven") pushes romantic opera to the limits of melodic expression and has been described as "mak(ing) a powerful end to one of Donizetti's finest and most affecting operas."
- Place: London, England
- Time: 1598, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I
Scene 1: The Great Hall at Westminster
Sara, Duchess of Nottingham, cries alone while reading a book. The Ladies of the court express concern, but she replies that she is happy, while privately revealing her sadness. Elizabeth enters and states that, at the insistence of Nottingham, she has agreed to see Robert once again, now that he has returned from Ireland accused of treason. To Sara's gradual dismay, the queen reveals her love for Robert. Cecil enters and announces that Parliament is waiting for an answer from the queen regarding the charges against Robert, since that body regards her as being too lenient towards him.
Robert enters and, in a conversation overheard by the increasingly distraught Sara, Elizabeth declares her love for him. Now alone together, Elizabeth gives Robert a ring as a pledge of his safety should he ever return it to her and, increasingly jealous, demands of Robert that he name the woman he loves and then whether there is someone whom he loves. He denies that he loves anyone, and the queen leaves.
Nottingham, Robert's friend and supporter, enters and the two men discuss Robert's situation and Nottingham's concerns about his wife's behaviour after he has observed her embroidering a blue scarf. The two men are interrupted by Cecil demanding that Nottingham attend a meeting of the Peers of the Realm.
Scene 2: Sara's Apartments
Sara is alone when Robert enters, declaring her to be faithless because she has married Nottingham while he was in Ireland. She defends herself saying that it was the queen's idea and that she was forced to do her bidding. At the same time, seeing the ring on Robert's finger, she assumes it to be a love token from the queen, and tells him that they must never see each other again. In a final duet (Dacchè tornasti, ahi misera – "Since you returned, ah miserable me!") each declares love for the other and they accept that they must say goodbye.
The Great Hall at Westminster
The Queen approaches Cecil to find out what has been decided. Cecil declares that the sentence is death. The queen, asking Raleigh why the whole process took so long, learns that Robert had a scarf in his possession which he resisted giving over. It is handed to her. Nottingham enters and pleads for Robert's life, insisting that he is innocent, but the queen continues to describe how she knows that Robert has been unfaithful and, when he is brought in, confronts him, showing him the scarf. Nottingham sees it as well and recognizes it. Furious, he declares that he will have vengeance while, at the same time, Elizabeth offers Robert his freedom if he reveals the name of her rival. He refuses and she signs the death warrant, announcing that a cannon shot will be heard as the axe falls. Nottingham fumes that the axe is not a suitable punishment.
Scene 1: Sara's Apartments
Alone, Sara receives Robert's ring along with a letter from him. In it, he tells her to take the ring to Elizabeth and beg for mercy. Before she can leave, Nottingham arrives and reads the letter. Although she protests her innocence, he prevents her from leaving. They both hear the funeral march for Robert as he is led to the Tower, and Nottingham leaves to enact his revenge on Robert.
Scene 2: The Tower of London
In his cell, Robert ponders as to why it appears that his ring has not been received by the queen. But, he refuses to betray Sara, and when Cecil arrives at the door of the cell, it is not to free Robert but to take him to his execution. He is led away.
Scene 3: The Great Hall at Westminster
Elizabeth is mournful about the pending death of her lover and wonders why Sara is not there to give her comfort. Cecil announces that Robert is on his way to the block, and Sara arrives disheveled. She gives Elizabeth the ring along with confessing her guilt at being the queen's rival. In vain, the queen tries to stop the execution, but they hear the cannon announcing Robert's death. After Nottingham has arrived Elizabeth demands to know why he prevented the ring from being brought to her. He replies: "Blood I wanted, and blood I got!" Elizabeth is haunted by the headless corpse of Robert, and longs for her own death, announcing that James VI of Scotland (son of Mary Queen of Scots) will be king. Alone, she kisses Robert's ring.
Opera House and Orchestra
Anna Maria Rota,
Teatro San Carlo orchestra and chorus
(Recording of a performance at the San Carlo, Napoli, 2 May)
|Audio CD: Opera d'Oro OPD 1159
Cat: OPD 1159
|Carlo Felice Cillario,
Gran Teatro del Liceo Orchestra and Chorus
(Recording of a performance in the Gran Teatro del Liceo, November)
|Audio CD: The Opera Lovers
Cat: ROB 196801
|Sir Charles Mackerras,
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
and the Ambrosian Opera Chorus
|Audio CD: DG
Cat: 289 465 964-2
New York City Opera orchestra and chorus
(Recording of a performance at the New York City Opera, 18 October)
|Audio CD: HRE
Orchestre philharmonique de Strasbourg and the Opéra du Rhin chorus
(Recorded at concert performances in the Palais de la Musique et des Congres, Strasbourg, March)
|Audio CD: Nightingale
Teatro San Carlo orchestra and chorus
(This appears to be a video recording of a performance in the Teatro San Carlo di Napoli, May or June)
|DVD: Image Entertainment
Cat: ID 6943 ERDVD
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, orchestra and chorus
(Recorded at concert performances in the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, July)
|Audio CD: Opera Rara
Bayerisches Staatsorchester and chorus
(Video recording of a performance in the Nationaltheater, Munich, May)
|DVD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 073 418-5
Orchestra and Chorus of Bergamo Musica Festival G. Donizetti
(Audio and video recordings made at performances in the Teatro Donizetti di Bergamo, September)
|Audio CD: Naxos
- Ashbrook and Hibberd, in Holden p. 239
- Osborne, p. 260
- Libretti and associated performances on librettodopera.it Retrieved 5 April 2013
- Rudel, p. 4
- Operabase.org's list of past and future productions
- Kaptainis, Arthur. "Roberto Devereux well-sung but overdone". Montreal Gazette. 14 November 2010.
- Rupert Christiansen, "Roberto Devereux, Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre, review", Telegraph (London), 3 October 2013. Retrieved 18 October 2013
- Rian Evans, "Roberto Devereux – review", The Guardian (London), 3 October 2013. Retrieved 18 October 2013
- Recordings of Roberto Devereaux on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk
- Ashbrook William; Sarah Hibberd (2001), in Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam. ISBN 0-140-29312-4
- Osborne, Charles (1994), The Bel Canto Operas of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini, Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press. ISBN 0931340713
- Rudel, Anthony J.,"Three Queens, One Soprano" booklet accompanying the 1969 Deutsche Grammophon recording
- Ashbrook, William (1992), Donizetti and His Operas, Cambridge University Press, 1982, ISBN 0-521-23526-X ISBN 0-521-23526-X
- Ashbrook, William (1998), "Roberto Devereux" in Stanley Sadie (Ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. Two. London: MacMillan Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-333-73432-7 ISBN 1-56159-228-5
- Weinstock, Herbert, Donizetti and the World of Opera in Italy, Paris, and Vienna in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century, New York: Pantheon Books, 1963. ISBN 63-13703
- Libretto (Italian)