Roberto Devereux, Opera by G. Donizetti
Little is known of the private life and romances of Elizabeth I, sometimes referred to as the Virgin Queen. Her reign made England prosperous and great, and many writers, poets and composers found inspiration in her life’s story and her legacy. Gaetano Donizetti was fascinated with the Tudor dynasty and had a special way of peeking behind the official curtains of history to reveal emotions and private struggles that often remained hidden. In Roberto Devereux, the Italian composer unveils one of the great tragedies in Elizabeth’s life. Venice’s Gran Teatro La Fenice lets you experience the royal drama up close.
The libretto is the work of Salvatore Cammarano, who in turn used the French play Elisabeth d’Angleterre by Jacques-François Ancelot as a blueprint. The parallels to Felice Romani’s libretto Il conte d’Essex provoked a minor plagiarism dispute even though the ‘borrowing’ of storylines was common among competing theatre houses at the time. Despite Donizetti’s personal tragedies – his parents, his wife and two of his infant children died during production – Roberto Devereux’s premiere took place on 28 October 1837 at Teatro di San Carlo in Naples and immediately captured audiences’ hearts.
The story focuses on Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex and a favourite of Elizabeth I. As Governor of Ireland, he has failed to defend England’s interests against the local rebels and now awaits trial for high treason in London. Elizabeth is not alone in seeking to save him - Sara, Duchess of Nottingham, is an old flame who also tries to help him. The Queen soon realises she is not the sole occupant of Robert’s heart. Politics, love, intrigue and retribution create a dangerous mix that Donizetti’s inspired score brings to an intense high point before the tragic resolution sets in.