Roberto Devereux

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Paul Barroilhet: The Duke of Nottingham

Roberto Devereux (or Roberto Devereux, ossia Il conte di Essex [Robert 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 (1829), and based as well on the Historie secrete des amours d'Elisabeth et du comte d'Essex (1787) by Jacques Lescéne des Maisons, 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 Gauthier de Costes, seigneur de la Calprenède.

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 Elisabetta 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".[1]


The contract for a new opera seria for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples was concluded in spring 1837. The generation of Roberto Devereux was overshadowed by a serious crisis in the life of the composer. During the previous year, Donizetti had lost both his parents and then his wife Virginia Vaselli delivered a stillborn baby. In June 1787 another child died during birth. On July 30, his wife finally died at the age of 28. Therefore the rehearsals for the premier began at the end of August 1837, and consequently most of the score had to be written in the month following his wife´s death. Additionally, a cholera epidemic delayed again the start of rehearsals. Salvatore Cammarano´s libretto is very truthful to Ancelot´s tragedy, a romantic rewrite of the material already dealt with by Pierre Corneille and La Calprenède in France, to which he added individual touches from Lescènes´s Historie.

General overview[edit]

As a prime example of Donizetti´s interpretation of an Italian historical opera, Roberto Devereux is even more typical than Anna Bolena (1830) or Maria Stuarda (1834), to which it is most closely related in terms of subject matter. Somehow, is the counterpart of Lucia de Lammermoor (1835) style, even if the differences between varieties of the same genre are difficult to discern in the individual members. Even more resolutely than in his first opera, all the interest is concentrated on creating the characters in their historical context.

To the virtual exclusion of everything else, Cammarano and Donizetti have focused all the intertwining of the fates of the close friends Essex and Nottingham on the one side and the Queen and her confidant Sara on the other. All the incidental characters have no more than cues to deliver, the chorus is reduced to astonishment and participation as a passive general audience. Accordingly, the opera is short in extended choral numbers and ensemble scenes. Only Act II culminates in a dramatically moving finale which builds up from the terzetto to a major ensemble scene.

The dramatic and musical consistency taken over the structure alone would not secure Roberto Devereux a place in modern operatic repertoire: the level of public interest in the approach of the classic stage-play is quite low; therefore, it is far more the theatrical spectacle and the vocal performance of the singers that makes the difference between success and failure. But Donizetti´s Robert is virtually unparalleled in the way in which it takes account the modern tendency of opera to display the musical splendor. In this work, the composer lavishly allows his melodic skill to overflow: from Sara´s opening aria through the enthralling duet and impassioned conflict to the duet between Robert and Nottingham, as well as the encounter between Elisabeth and Robert, even the first Act contains cleverly heightened scenes.

In both parts of the aria finale, the lament of Vivi ingrato, full of airoso passages, and the cabaletta Quel sangue versato raise the action to the most intensive "espressivo" with its pulsating and thrusting extreme tonal jumps, and then the whole tragic solution of the conflict is confined in a dramatically compelling way: the lurking uncertainty of the Court, the restlessness of the Queen, the execution of Robert, the discovery of the preceding events and finally the abdication of the Queen. This final scene outstrips the comparable three-part final scene of Anna Bolena in terms of internal rigor with which the musical action is derived from the scenic. This same principle was also used by Donizetti for the other parts of the drama. In Lucía, he gave effect to the character of the novel by cutting individual and sharply detailed moments from the continuum of the plot and thus the composer created a montage of images in place of the drama. Here, in contrast, the enthusiasm of the librettist and composer is far more focused on the drama for music.

The whole opera has scarcely a single weak number, which is particularly unusual given the short time it was written, so no scene is disappointing in terms of scenic tension or musical quality. More consistently than in previous operas, Donizetti has given the orchestra the task of guaranteeing the connection between scenic progression and inner certainty. The orchestra carries out the major melody ties in the ensemble scenes throughout, starting with the duet between Elisabeth and Robert, in which the soloists can freely intervene with confirmation and contradiction.

The libretto gives to the four main characters an astonishingly evenhanded intensity and credibility in terms of plot and sensitivity, because they are treated equally and the relationship between them is very carefully drawn; Even the fact that due to her brilliant performance and also to her dramatic proportions, the role of Elisabeth naturally exceeds that of their partners, but it does not detract from this.

Generally speaking, Donozetti´s musical speech anticipates very clearly Verdi´s claim to musical truth, when he relates every turn of the music to the change in the feelings of the speaker.

The overall result is an historic chamber opera, carried out by four equally high-class singers in the main singing roles, who, in the most extremely intense tone language of contemporary opera and from a new spirit of theatrical truth, transfers dramatic action, which itself is compelling, into a musical experience.

Performance history[edit]

19th century

Roberto Devereux was first performed on 29 October 1837 at the Teatro di San Carlo, Naples. Within a few years, the opera's success[2] 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. [3] Also, it was given in New York on 15 January 1849,[1] but it would appear that after 1882, no further performances were given during the 19th century.[2]

20th century and beyond

The beginning of the 20th century revivals of Roberto Devereux started at the San Carlo in Naples in 1964,[2] the revival starring Leyla Gencer. Montserrat Caballé 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 [4] as the first part of the "Three Queens" trilogy. It was performed on a regular basis in European houses during the 1980s[2] 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 as well as by the Minnesota Opera and Munich's Bavarian State Opera[5] plus its first performance in Quebec in November of that year at the Opéra de Montréal.[6] In 2013, Opera Seria UK presented concert performances (alongside their staged productions of the other Tudor Queen operas) in Manchester, London and Preston UK.[7]

Welsh National Opera presented this opera (along with the other two "Three Queens" operas) in succession over three evenings beginning in October 2013.[8][9] It was given in concert form by the Opera Orchestra of New York (OONY) with Mariella Devia on 5 June 2014.[10]


Giuseppina Ronzi de Begnis by Karl Briullov
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
A servant of Nottingham bass Giuseppe Benedetti
Lords of the parliament, knights, squires, pages, guards of Nottingham


Place: London, England
Time: 1601, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, favorite of Queen Elisabeth, has been removed from office as Governor of Ireland because, acting on his own initiative, he has agreed a ceasefire with the rebels. Following an attempted uprising, he is awaiting his trial for high treason in London.

Act 1[edit]

Scene 1: The Great Hall at Westminster

Sara, Duchess of Nottingham, is trying in vain to hide her tears from the eyes of the Court, as she reads the sad story of Fair Rosamond, the unfortunate lover of King Henry II of England, and therein recognizes a very similar situation to her own. She is in love with Robert Devereux, her husband´s closest friend. The Ladies of the court express concern, but she replies that she is happy, while privately revealing her sadness (All'afflitto è dolce il pianto). 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 (Duchessa..Alle fervide preci). The Queen is willing to release him without charges if she can be sure of his continued loyalty. To Sara's gradual dismay, the queen reveals her love for Robert (L'amor suo mi fe' beata) . Cecil enters and announces that Parliament is waiting for an answer from the queen regarding the charges against Robert, since it considers her as being too lenient towards him, but she refuses to sign the death warrant proposed by the Royal Council.

Robert enters and, in a conversation overheard by the increasingly distraught Sara, Elizabeth declares her love for him. Now alone together, Elizabeth promises Robert that the ring once gave him will always be the pledge of his safety should he ever return it to her. The dream of bygone happy days is shattered by an inappropriate comment of Robert, who assumes that Elizabeth knows the secret of his love for Sara. The Queen, increasingly jealous, demands of Robert the name the woman he loves. He denies that he loves anyone (Nascondi, frena i palpiti), and then 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 shawl (Forse in quel cor sensible, Qui ribelle ognum ti chiama) . The two men are interrupted by Cecil demanding that Nottingham attends a meeting of the Peers of the Realm.

Scene 2: Sara's Apartments at Nottingham House

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, giving him the blue shawl as a love token. In a final duet (Dacchè tornasti, ahi misera) each declares love for the other and they accept that they must say goodbye. Robert makes plans to scape

Act 2[edit]

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 shawl in his possession which he resisted giving over. It is handed to her. Nottingham enters and pleads for Robert's life (Non veni mai si mesto), 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.

Act 3[edit]

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 (Non sai che un nume vindice). 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. She faints

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 (Come uno spirto angelico... Bagnato il sen di lagrime), 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 (Vivi ingrato, a lei d'accanto). 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.


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".[2] 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."[2] The final bars contains six high As, one high B-flat and one high B natural,[11] sometimes interpolated as an alt D natural.[12]

List of main arias and musical numbers[edit]

Act I

  • Sara- Romanza: "All'afflitto è dolce il pianto" : "To one who is sad, weeping is sweet".
  • Elisabeth: "Duchessa.. Alle fervide preci" : "Duchess.. To your husband´s eager requests".
  • Elisabeth- Cavatina: "L'amor suo mi fe' beata" : "His love was a blessing to me"
  • Robert: "Nascondi, frena i palpiti" : "Hide and check your wild beating"
  • Nottingham- Cavatina: "Forse in quel cor sensible... Qui ribelle ognum ti chiama" : "Perhaps in that sensitive heart... Here everyone calls you traitor"
  • Sara and Robert- Duetto: "Da che tornasi, ahi misera" : "Since you returned, ah miserable me!"

Act II

  • Nottingham and Elisabeth- Duettino: "Non venni mai si mesto" : "Never had I come so saddened"
  • Elisabeth, Nottingham and Robert- Terzetto: "Ecco l'indegno" : "Here is the unworthy one!"


  • Sara and Nottigham- Duetto: "Non sai que un nume vindice": "Don`t you know that betrayed husbands"
  • Robert- Aria: "Come uno spirto angelico.. Bagnato il sen di lagrime" : "Like an angelic spirit.. With my breast bathed in tears"
  • Elisabeth- Aria finale: "Vivi, ingrato, a lei d'accanto.. Quel sangue versato.." : "Live, ungrateful man at her side.. That spilled blood.."


Year Cast
(Elisabetta, Sara,
Roberto, Nottingham)
Opera House and Orchestra
1964 Leyla Gencer,
Anna Maria Rota,
Ruggiero Bondino,
Piero Cappuccilli
Mario Rossi,
Teatro di San Carlo orchestra and chorus
(Recording of a performance at the San Carlo, Napoli, 2 May)
CD: Opera d'Oro OPD 1159
Cat: OPD 1159
1968 Montserrat Caballé,
Bianca Berini,
Bernabé Martí,
Piero Cappuccilli
Carlo Felice Cillario,
Gran Teatre del Liceu Orchestra and Chorus
(Recording of a performance in the Gran Teatre del Liceu, November)
CD: The Opera Lovers
Cat: ROB 196801
1969 Beverly Sills,
Beverly Wolff,
Róbert Ilosfalvy,
Peter Glossop
Sir Charles Mackerras,
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
and the Ambrosian Opera Chorus
Cat: 289 465 964-2
1970 Beverly Sills,
Susanne Marsee,
Plácido Domingo,
Louis Quilico
Julius Rudel,
New York City Opera orchestra and chorus
(Recording of a performance at the New York City Opera, 18 October)
Cat: HRE-374-3
1975 Beverly Sills,
Susanne Marsee,
John Alexander,
Richard Fredricks
Julius Rudel,
Filene Center Orchestra & Wolf Trap Company Chorus
(Recording of Tito Capobianco's production, courtesy of the New York City Opera)
Cat: 4204
1994 Edita Gruberová,
Delores Ziegler,
Don Bernardini,
Ettore Kim
Friedrich Haider
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)
CD: Nightingale
Cat: 190100-2
1998 Alexandrina Pendatchanska,
Ildikó Komlósi,
Giuseppe Sabbatini,
Roberto Servile
Alain Guignal
Teatro di 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
2002 Nelly Miricioiu,
Sonia Ganassi,
Jose Bros,
Roberto Frontali
Maurizio Benini
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, orchestra and chorus
(Recorded at concert performances in the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, July)
CD: Opera Rara
Cat: ORC24
2005 Edita Gruberová,
Jeanne Piland,
Roberto Aronica,
Albert Schagidullin
Friedrich Haider
Bavarian State Orchestra and Chorus
(Video recording of a performance in the Nationaltheater, Munich, May)
DVD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 073 418-5
2006 Dimitra Theodossiou,
Federica Bragaglia,
Massimiliano Pisapia,
Andrew Schroeder
Marcello Rota
Orchestra and Chorus of Bergamo Musica Festival G. Donizetti
(Audio and video recordings made at performances in the Teatro Donizetti di Bergamo, September)
CD: Naxos
Cat: 8.660222-23
DVD: Naxos
Cat: 8.2110232



  1. ^ a b Ashbrook and Hibberd 2001, p. 239
  2. ^ a b c d e f Osborne 1994, p. 260
  3. ^ Libretti and associated performances on Retrieved 5 April 2013
  4. ^ Rudel 1969, p. 4
  5. ^'s list of past and future productions
  6. ^ Kaptainis, Arthur, "Roberto Devereux well-sung but overdone". Montreal Gazette. 14 November 2010.
  7. ^ Roger Smith, "Roberto Devereux, Opera Seria, Review", (London) 09 September 2013
  8. ^ Rupert Christiansen, "Roberto Devereux, Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre, review", Telegraph (London), 3 October 2013. Retrieved 18 October 2013
  9. ^ Rian Evans, "Roberto Devereux – review", The Guardian (London), 3 October 2013. Retrieved 18 October 2013
  10. ^ Zachary Woolfe, "From a Wistful Queen, Longing and Regret", The New York Times, 6 June 2014
  11. ^ Riggs, Geoffrey S. (2003). The Assoluta Voice in Opera, 1797–1847. McFarland. p. 154. ISBN 9780786414017. 
  12. ^ James Jorden, "The Queen Takes a Bow: Eve Queler Brought Devia to Devereux—and Wowed Audiences", The New York Observer, 10 June 2014
  13. ^ Recordings of Roberto Devereaux on

Cited sources

Other sources

  • Allitt, John Stewart (1991), Donizetti: in the light of Romanticism and the teaching of Johann Simon Mayr, Shaftesbury: Element Books, Ltd (UK); Rockport, MA: Element, Inc.(USA)
  • Ashbrook, William (1992), Donizetti and His Operas, Cambridge University Press, 1982, ISBN 0-521-23526-X
  • Ashbrook, William (1998), "Roberto Devereux" in Stanley Sadie (Ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. Three, pp. 1359–1360. London: MacMillan Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-333-73432-7 ISBN 1-56159-228-5
  • Black, John (1982), Donizetti’s Operas in Naples, 1822—1848. London: The Donizetti Society.
  • Loewenberg, Alfred (1970). Annals of Opera, 1597-1940, 2nd edition. Rowman and Littlefield
  • Sadie, Stanley, (Ed.); John Tyrell (Exec. Ed.) (2004), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2nd edition. London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-19-517067-2 (hardcover). ISBN 0-19-517067-9 OCLC 419285866 (eBook).
  • Weinstock, Herbert (1963), Donizetti and the World of Opera in Italy, Paris, and Vienna in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century, New York: Pantheon Books. LCCN 63-13703
  • Roberto Devereux: A Queen´s tragic love affair, Norbert Miller from Dahlhaus : "Enzyklopädie des Musiktheaters". Booklet of ROBERTO DEVEREUX opera, CD DDD NIGHTINGALE CLASSICS AG, Edition 1994: NC070563-2

External links[edit]