Roberto Devereux, Teatro San Carlo, Naples, May/June 1998

In Review - Naples, Opera News, August 1998
Roberto Devereux, Orfeo nella Rete, June 1998


In Review - Naples
Stephen Hastings, Opera News, August 1998

Roberto Devereux, perhaps the finest of Donizetti's tragic operas, was a moving experience on May 28 at the Teatro di San Carlo, where it was first staged in 1837 and first revived (with Leyla Gencer in the title role) in 1964. David Walker's richly textured sets (done originally for Rome a decade ago) created such an authentic Tudor atmosphere that one was predisposed to believe immediately in what happened onstage, an effect reinforced by Alberto Fassini's cogently unobtrusive direction.

Alexandrina Pendatchanska made a superb Elisabetta I. Though her diction is a bit artificial and her coloratura approximate at times, the overall effect of her singing was emotionally overwhelming -- the voice expressing both strength and vulnerability in every phrase -- and the queen's physical decadence was laid devastatingly bare, without a hint of caricature. As Roberto, Giuseppe Sabbatini brought an uncommon range of nuance to a role often assigned to lesser tenors, and his singing was as proudly aristocratic as his deportment. The dungeon scene, set in an appropriately romanticized Tower of London, came off superbly. Roberto Servile's baritone has become somewhat gruff in the middle register of late, but his telling diction and phrasing made him a convincing Nottingham, while Ildikó Komlósi proved vocally competent but emotionally anonymous as Sara, Pierre Lefèbvre feeble as Cecil.

Donizetti's operas are among the most difficult to conduct well, and the success of the performance owed much to the leadership of Alain Guingal, who gave a sweepingly romantic account (galvanizing the somewhat rough-and-ready San Carlo orchestra) that sustained and inspired the singers rather than drowning them.

Roberto Devereux,
David Lipfert, Orfeo nella Rete, June 1998

Musica di Gaetano Donizetti (1837),
Libretto di Salvatore Cammarano
Direttore: Alain Guingal
Regia: Alberto Fassini
Scene e costumi: David Walker
Elisabetta: Alexandrina Pendatchanska
Roberto Devereux: Giuseppe Sabbatini
Nottingham: Roberto Servile
Sara: Ildiko Komlosi
Cecil: Pierre Lefebvre
Gualtiero Raleigh: Davide Baronchelli
Paggio: Massimiliano Chiarolla
Famigliare: Giuseppe Zecchillo
Maestro del coro: Andrea Giorgi
Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli
2 giugno 1998

Capping a season of commemorations for the 150th anniversary of the
death of Gaetano Donizetti, the San Carlo Opera put on one of the
composer's greatest successes at that house for the third time since its
rediscovery in the 1960s with Leyla Gencer at this very house. Borrowed
from the Rome Opera, David Walker's production featured enormous, heavy
curtains that muffled much of the sound onstage, with the San Carlo
chorus--second to none in Italy--nearly inaudible and the text could not
be understood. The Queen's bedroom looked like it might have come from
the V&A Museum. Director Alberto Fassini gave Queen Elizabeth's court a
believable feeling, but the soloists seemed to have developed their
characterizations independently of one another. One had the feeling that
Naples was shortchanged, as Fassini was simultaneously staging Giulio
Cesare in Rome.

Conductor Alain Guingal gave a fluid treatment to the numerous musical
themes in this score, which is unusually rich in counterpoint. One of
the principal delights of the donizettian orchestra is the rich and
varied pallette of orchestral colors, and these were heard with the
customary clarity in the acoustical perfection of the Teatro di San
Carlo. Mr. Guingal chose to use relatively little cymbals, while the
triangle achieved an unacoustomed prominence. Surprising was the
ornament of questionable taste that he allowed some of the singers in
the second verses of cabalettas.

More in the tradition of Gencer than Caballé, Alexandrina Pendatchanska
brought a highly inflected delivery and memorable presence to her Queen
Elizabeth I, particularly convincing at suggesting the queen's jealousy
and regal power. Not possesing a conventionally beautiful voice, her
high notes were more like girlish screams, particularly in the opera's
finale as she sank into a black velvet throne in depression following
the unwanted execution of her favorite Robert. She effectively used a
cane to suggest the aging Elizabeth, but did not resort to the nervous
hand movements that Beverly Sills did following the Bette Davis film.
Giuseppe Sabbatini brought an Italianate brashness to the skittish
Roberto; with a notable substance to his voice, but perhaps a vocal
conception that postdates the donizettian era, he ranks among the better
exponents of this role in recent years, in spite of not maintaining
consistent vocal focus in his middle range. He redeems himself with
acting as honest and straightforward as his singing. In a role that is
frequently cast with a second-rate voice, Ildiko Komlosi brought a rich
lower voice to her strongly-sung Sara. With two effective singers like
Ms. Komlosi and Mr. Sabbatini, the Act I love duet, mercifully set in a
starlit garden without the heavy drapery, achieved proper importance. As
Sara's husband Nottingham, Roberto Servile combined old-style operatic
posing with modern motivational acting. Although possessing a pleasant,
natural baritone, he resorted to forcing out his many high notes
principally because he does not sing on the breath. As Cecil, Pierre
Lefebre was unlistenable. Young Davide Baronchelli (Gualtiero) is on
track to becoming an important artist, but needs to develop both vocal
technique and acting skills.


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