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A dramatic tour de force

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
04/15/2014 -  & April 29, May 3, 10, 15, 18, 21, 2014
Gaetano Donizetti: Roberto Devereux
Sondra Radvanovsky (Elisabetta), Leonardo Capalbo (Roberto), Allyson McHardy (Sara, Duchess of Nottingham), Russell Braun (Duke of Nottingham), Owen McCausland (Lord Cecil), Matt Boehler (Sir Gualtiero Raleigh), Gordon Bintner (A Page), Neil Craighead (A Servant)
The Canadian Opera Company Chorus, Sandra Horst (chorus master), The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Corrado Rovaris (conductor)
Stephen Lawless (director), Benoît Dugardyn (set designer), Ingeborg Bernerth (costume designer), Mark McCullough (lighting designer)

L. Capalbo, S. Radvanovsky (© Michael Cooper)

This handsome production from Dallas Opera is mounted as if one chapter in a series of historical tableaus - which is precisely what it is, as the same set was used earlier in Toronto for Maria Stuarda, and, in Dallas, also for Anna Bolena.

The work itself is singular in that it deals not with a conventional love triangle, but with two of them: two women are in love with the same young man, and one of them has a jealous husband in the mix. The unmarried woman is a combustable, all-powerful monarch. Most operas focus on a woman in peril, but in this work it is the young man who is in danger. The title role is played with virile panache by Leonardo Capalbo, a relatively late arrival to the cast as he replaces Giuseppe Filianoti for the first three performances of the run. His Act III aria while in prison is a memorable set-piece.

While Roberto is the title role, the dominant role, especially with Sondra Radvanovsky giving a powerful yet nuanced performance, is that of Queen Elizabeth I. We see the aging woman, wigless in her nightgown, as well as the imperious royal object she presented to the public. There are moments when Radvanovsky departs from perfect, precise bel canto for dramatic purposes, although her voice just by its impressive size is quite the dramatic instrument. Both she and Capalbo are capable of wonderfully long, steady lines and terrific soft singing.

Russell Braun is a bit stretched in his first aria, but gives an all-out performance of a man who at first champions the embattled Robert, then becomes his enemy when he discovers his wife is in love with him (there is an incriminating handkerchief). From the very start, Allyson McHardy gives an ardent portrayal of the lovelorn duchess. The blistering duet for her and the duke is hair-raising.

This isn’t Donizetti’s most memorable score but it is much more then serviceable. Debuting conductor Corrado Rovaris draws out all the emotion and drama one would want. Stephen Lawless’s staging is intriguingly stylized in a way that enhances the drama. The opening night audience simply did not want to stop applauding - there hasn’t been an ovation like that in years.

Last minute: Giuseppe Filianoti will not be performing the final four performances (May 10, 15, 18, 21). Edgar Ernesto Ramírez will sing on May 10, then José Bros in the final three performances.

Michael Johnson



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