Welsh National Opera Roberto Devereux review


Welsh National Opera at Birmingham Hippodrome ***

Performances of vocal gold – compromised by a production of directorial dross. As the love-lorn Queen Elizabeth I soprano Joyce El-Khoury was magnificent, a truly regal presence. In the opera's climax she also revealed the vulnerable woman inside the carapace of royal power, so that her aria Vivi, ingrato – the demanding succession of high notes despatched with pinging clarity – was not the conventional raging mad scene but more emotionally nuanced. Her triumph came despite having to wear a bald wig and talons whilst singing atop an eight-foot high metal spider, the last eliciting audience titters and giggles. Barry Banks, as the Queen's lover Roberto (Earl of Essex) deserves an award for triumph over adversity. Crowned by one of WNO's least successful wigs and tied hand-and foot with tendrils of spider-web – that tiresome court-as-web-of-intrigue arachnid trope again – he delivered Come uno spirto angelico with romantic ardour and tenderness, with notes attacked cleanly.

As the Duchess of Nottingham, the third side of Donizetti's erotic eternal triangle, Lithuanian mezzo Justina Gringyte made a powerful impression: exquisitely sung and. in her duets with lover and husband, a flesh-and-blood woman, not a simper dressed in stays and ruff. Roland Wood's trenchantly sung Duke (a late replacement for Biagio Pizzuti) made believable his transformation from steadfast friend to revengeful cuckold. The supporting cast were excellent, as was the WNO chorus although the latter's normally ebullient presence was hampered by the production. Carlo Rizzi conducted Donizetti's febrile score with conviction and the orchestra deserved their applause for the overture.

Norman Stinchcombe

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