DONIZETTI: Roberto Devereux

“Why not? He is so lazy!” 1

This comment is tinged with irony, coming from someone who would, in time,
suffer the same reputation as the elder Maestro from Pesaro: a composer whose
music came to him with too much facility, whose music was devoid of real
emotion, and one who would rather plagiarize his own works than to come up
with new musical ideas.

As with Rossini, opera fans could argue Donizetti’s case either way, but
in the end it is the undeniable beauty of his music, his ability to create
engaging melodies and his acute understanding of the human voice, that speak
to Donizetti’s real talent. Ultimately, this is what really matters and
only the most stubborn listener would refuse to enjoy this composer’s

Donizetti was a master of his craft and he knew how far to push the
musical and political envelopes with each new opera, and he knew how to bend
the standards to fit his particular needs and those of the singers for whom
he wrote the music. His libretti were written, at times manipulated, in order
to ascribe qualities and situations to Protestant and non-Christian
characters that the strict and narrow minded Italian and Austrian censors
would never permit Catholic or their Royal personages. In the case of
Devereux, Donizetti, not inclined to involve himself in political
turmoil, used the rigid and tyrannical English Queen to paraphrase the social
and political situation in his homeland. Musically, Donizetti understood the
human instrument better than most composers, and he wrote elegant, sublime,
and compassionate passages for all the voices, he had a unique appreciation
of the dramatic musical situation, and he was as talented composing in the
comic as in the dramatic genre: Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) remains
the undisputed bel canto opera of the Ottocento, and his romantic comedy,
L’Elisir d’amor has been a perennial favorite.

At the time of his death in 1848 one in four operas performed in Italy
bore Donizetti’s name on the tittle page. In sad contrast, by the end
of the century most of his oeuvre had been largely forgotten,2 and would remain in oblivion until
the second half of the Twentieth Century. In 1964, the Teatro San Carlo in
Naples revived Roberto Devereux3 for Turkish
soprano, Leyla Gencer,4 leading to the most exciting revival
period, to date, of neglected operas.5 The role of
Elisabetta was later sung all over Europe by Monserrat CaballÈ and in the
United States, Beverly Sills became a well known interpreter of the
frustrated English monarch.

The libretto by Salvatore Cammarano is largely based on a play by
Fran&ccdil;ois Ancelot, and Felice Romani’s 1833 libretto for
Mercadante.6 Cammarano also used Jacques LescËne
Desmaison’s Histoire secrËte des amours d’Elisabeth
d’Angleterre er du comte d’Essex
as inspiration for his

The plot is simplistic, historically inaccurate and typical of the time: a
love triangle involving the Queen, Elisabetta I, who loves Conte di Essex,
Roberto Devereux, who is in love with Sara, who is married to Nottingham, who
believes his wife is unfaithful with Devereux and takes revenge on the Conte
by keeping Sara from delivering a life-saving ring to the Queen. Though it
sounds trite, the plot is taut with dramatic situations and formidable music
which carries the action to its dramatic end. As with many other Donizetti
dramas, Devereux has never achieved the popularity it rightfully

For the Paris premiere at the Italiens, on December 27, 1838, Donizetti
wrote a new overture which included the tune of God Save the Queen,
as well as a new romanza for the tenor and a new duet.

This Myto re-issue of the October 2, 1972 La Fenice performance has long
been considered by many to be the definitive recording of Roberto
. Though it has been available at one time or another and for
many years on different labels, this issue is in excellent sound. Adding to
the benefits of improved sound in this recording is Gianni Raimondi who left
few commercial recordings and, as with other famous CaballÈ
“live” performances, fans of the Spanish soprano will regret she
did not make a studio recording of this opera.

Gianni Raimondi, made his professional debut in 1947, as the Duke in
Rigoletto, and quickly became one of of the most popular tenors in
Italy. By the mid 50s, Raimondi had conquered La Scala where he went on to
sing in productions of La Traviata, Anna Bolena, MosÈ
in Eggito
, Semiramide, and Boheme. In 1963, after his
overwhelming success as Rodolfo at La Scala, Herbert von Karajan invited
Raimondi to conquer Vienna inLa Boheme, a production which later
toured various European capitals. In 1965, Karajan chose Raimondi to repeat
the role of Rodolfo in the Karajan/Zeffirelli film version of Puccini’s

Raimondi was a favorite Edgardo, Faust, Gabrielle Adorno, Arrigo in
Verdi’s Vespri Sciciliani, Cavaradosi, Pollione, Rinaldo in
Rossini’s Armida, Ferrando, Pinkerton, Arturo in
Bellini’s Puritani, as well as Arnold in Rossini’s
Guglielmo Tell. New York audiences missed out when the Metropolitan
Opera ousted him in favor of a younger newcomer in productions of
Boheme and L’Elisir. When the opera company later
invited him back, Raimondi declined the invitation, choosing to stay in

Raimondi’s voice was not large, but as this recording shows his
instrument had a warm, beautiful timbre, flawless phrasing, squillo and a
brilliant top. Always in control of his instrument, Raimondi was blessed with
superb understanding of the lyric line and a natural voice of immense beauty.
This performance of Devereux, eighteen years after his professional
debut, shows Raimondi in total control of his instrument and he imbues the
character of Essex with the youthful naivetÈ and virility of a younger man
so often lacking in more mature singers.

Raimondi’s opening lines are indicative of his ability to convey the
character he is portraying: “Il petto mio, pieno di cicatrici…Domata
in campo….” is filled with the arrogance of a young man blinded by
his desire to wear the crown, wanting to impress the elder woman he has
betrayed and immune to the accusations of those who plot against him.
Raimondi matches CaballÈ note for note and emotion for emotion in “Un
lampo, un lampo orribile/Nascondi, frena I palpiti…” to the end of
the scene. With Wolff he is contrite when Sara begs him to run away and
defiant with Elsabetta later in Act II. At the end of Act III scene II,
Raimondi is rewarded with spontaneous shouts of “Bravo” and
extended applause from every member of the audience. In the aria “Come
un spirito angelico” and the cabaletta “Bagnato Ë il sen di
lacrime” Raimondi displays his versatility as he follows the
spontaneity of the melodic line straddling his inner emotions. In this, his
last scene in the opera, Raimondi boldly demonstrates why he was the most
underrated Italian lirico-leggere tenor of his generation.

It is regretful that Gianni Raimondi, like Gene de Reszke, did not like
the timbre of his voice and shied away from studio recordings.

American mezzo, Beverly Wolff (1929-August 14, 2005) was well familiar
with the role of Sarah; she sang it at the New York City Opera and recorded
it in 1969. Born in Atlanta, Wolff started playing the trumpet, later turning
to voice at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. As comfortable singing
contemporary works by Bernstein, Moore, and Douglas, Wolff also excelled
singing Bach, Handel, Mozart, Verdi, Bellini, Rossini, Berlioz, Donizetti,
Bizet, Strauss, Brahms, and Bartok. Wolff was a superb Amneris as well as a
compassionate Adalgisa for which the Mexican government issued a medal in her
honor after a sensational performance in Bellini’s Norma.
Wolff started out as a concert singer and participated in the televised
premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti in 1952. After she
semi-retired to raise a family, Wolff made her operatic stage debut in 1958
at NYCO, repeating the role of Dinah in Bernstein’s one-act farce on
upper middle class marriage, Trouble in Tahiti. Later she sang
throughout Europe and North America and participated in the World Premieres
of Douglas Moore’s Carry Nation and Giancarlo Menotti’s
The Most Important Man. Wolff had a commanding sense of
interpretation and intuitive drama to augment her magnificent instrument.

After a long and successful career Beverly Wolff retired from the stage
and moved to Florida where she became a member of the Faculty of Florida
Souther College.

As Sarah, Wolf delivers a solid, though at times laid back performance.
Her interpretation is non-threatening, youthful, subservient to the other
characters and perfect for the role of the young girl who knows the perils of
her position. “All’aflito ” dolce il pianto…” is
sung simply and Wolff deliberately does not show off when the opportunities
arise. In “Ah! Quest” addiofatale” her voice blends
perfectly with Raimondi’s as their singing takes turns in prominence,
not competing but to emphasize their mutual grief and love.

As with the role of Sara, Nottingham is a thankless role: neither is there
as primary characters but to indirectly further the action and give support
to Elisabetta and Devereux. At the same time, Donizetti’s gift for
writing equally beautiful music for all characters calls for first rate
singers to interpret these two roles as in Act III scene I, where Wolff and
Alberti deliver a more than fine performance.

Walter Alberti, though not very well known, was a popular baritone in
Europe during the 60s and 70s and is well represented in a number of
recordings. He made his debut in Spoleto, Italy, as Di Luna in Verdi’s
Trovatore. Alberti appeared at all the major Italian opera centers
as well as in Paris, London, Barcelona, Lausanne, Marseille, Bordeaux, Rio de
Janeiro, etc., and the summer festivals of Wexford, Bremmen, Glyndebourne,
and the Festival dei due Mondi. In the United States, he sang at Carnegie
Hall. Alberti teaches voice in Rome at the Academia di Santa Cecilia.

In this performance, Alberti sings with authority and his instrument has a
pleasant timbre, but at the beginning of the opera he appears emotionally
detached from the character. In “Qui ribelle ognum ti chiama,”
the listener gets a glimpse of what Alberti’s instrument can deliver
when totally committed to the music and words. Alberti, as Nottingham, holds
his own in the exchange with the Queen in Act II, and the subsequent exchange
with Elizabetta and Devereux and to the end of the scene.

A few minutes into the opera, the audience breaks into applause, and one
instinctively knows the reason. Little if anything can be said about, or
added to, the legend that is Monserrat CaballÈ including all the criticisms
levied against the Spanish soprano: lack of acting ability, abuse of
pianissimo and the ever-disappointing cancellations. Yet upon playing this
CD, one cannot help but go back in time, re-live the evening, and marvel at
the outstanding performance, the magnificent instrument, the spellbinding
moments, the ease of delivery whether singing endless high notes that float
to the rafters, effective chest notes, parlando, or the exclamation of
surprise, fear, and pain. Such is the stuff of legends.

The role of Elisabetta, the real “lead” character in the
opera, is at the same time poignant, ruthless, helpless, vengeful, pitiful,
as well as physically and emotionally demandingóand CaballÈ does not
disappoint. She handles the intricacies of the musicóthe music for
Elisabetta is peppered with with an inordinate amount of high notes, a two
octave span, and impressive forte passages in the ensembles and individual
ariasóas easily as though she were singing a lullaby. This is no second
rate Bette Davis imitation as the recent NYCO and Covent Garden productions.
CaballÈ easily conveys the contradicting emotions of a woman trapped by her
own ambitions, her misplaced sense of self, restricted by her insecurities,
misguided by her hatred, and always living in the fantasy of her memories and
what might have been. This Elisabetta is human and vulnerable, secure, regal,
and commands the stage even when she is not present !

“Ah! Ritorna qual ti spero…Vieni, vieni t’affretta” is
sung with youthful abandon; its childlike anxiety dotted with high notes and
in sharp contrast to the preceding “L’amor suo mi fË
beata” in which the soprano effectively matches the underlying sadness
of the string instruments. CaballÈ imbues “Vivi ingrato” with
pathos, emotion and poignancy the real Virgin Queen probably never

In the immediate scene “Quel sangue versato” and “Quel
palco di sangue rosseggia” upon learning of Sara’s affair with
Devereaux and Nottingham’s blockage of the delivery of the ring,
CaballÈ’s tone rapidly turns to ice, with carefully placed forte,
clipping words and flawlessly switching registers to expose chest notes whose
vengeful tone cannot be denied..

After the customary outburst of applause at the end of a great
performance, one member of the audience summed this opera best, “Molto
bene ….”

This Myto recording of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux
includes excerpts from the “Dress Rehearsal” which makes one wish
that performance had been released, as well.

Donizetti has always had his share of detractors: Bellini conspired
against him, William Ashbrook, in his biography of the composer refers to
Vivi Ingrato as “… the wildly overdrawn final scene for Queen
Elisabeth,”8 and Chorley, never a Donizetti fan,
delighted in saying that by 1841 in England “only a song and a duet
from Roberto Devereux are remembered.”9 Not a bad way
to be remembered.

Devereux was well received when it premiered. Writing to a friend,
Donizetti said of the first performance, “ … I gave my opera the day
before yesterday at the S. Carlo; it is not for me to tell you now how it
went. I am more modest than a whore; therefore I should blush. But it went
very, very well. They also called out the poet….”10 To Angelo Lodi Donizetti wrote,
“I composed Il Conte di Essex and gave it two days ago at the
San Carlo, and the results could not have been more flattering.” 11

It is difficult to understand the reasons for the neglect of this opera
and the many others that have suffered the same fate, but in the words of
Paul Henry Lang, “I must return again and again to the warning that
this music is falsified by merely adequate singing. Moreover, it requires
singers with that undefinable animalism that will carry them through the
emotional situations, which cannot be resolved intellectually because this
music is addressed not to our intelligence but to our sensibilities. The
singers must be adept at those little inflections and accents that musical
notation cannot indicate, and they must be able to scale the heights
unflinchingly, effortlessly, and with secure footing.”12

Mr. Lang would have approved of the cast in this recording.

Daniel Pardo © 2006


Roberto Devereux
Liner Notes
Myto Records

Roberto Devereux
Liner notes
G.O.P Records

Playbill Arts

Metropolitan Opera Archives

The Complete Opera Book
© 1935 Gustave KobbÈ
G.P. Putnamís Sons, N.Y.

© 1965 William Ashbrook
Cassell & Company Ltd.

© 1963 Herbert Weinstock
Pantheon Books
New York

The Experience of Opera
Paul Henry Lang
© 1971 W. W. Norton Company
New York

Thirty Years’ Musical Recollections
Henry F. Chorley
Edited by Ernest Newman
© 1926 Alfred A. Knopf
London, New York


1 KobbÈ, 1935, p.308.

2 Donizetti was a prolific composer and his talent
extended beyond the seventy known works for the operatic stage. He left two
oratorios, twenty eight cantatas, five hymns, several masses and many
religious works. In addition, he wrote instrumental music for orchestra,
chamber and piano music, over two hundred songs, a number of miscellaneous
works for the voice and sixteen unfinished or unwritten operas. Donizetti
also left many sketches and drafts for unclassified works which never came to

3 Mistakenly referred to as the “Tudor
Trilogy,” a term popularized in the second half of the Twentieth
Century, Donizetti wrote four operas with a Tudor queen as the inspiration:
Elisabetta al Castello di Kennilworth(1829, Queen Elizabeth I),
Anna Bolena (1830, Queen Anne Boleyn), Maria Stuarda (1835,
England’s Queen Elizabeth I and her cousin Mary Stuart, Queen of
Scotland, and Roberto Devereux (1837, Queen Elizabeth I). In
addition, Donizetti wrote three other operas with an English Queen as the
central character or moving force behind the story: Alfredo il
(1823, Queen Ealhswinth, “Amalia” in the opera),
Rosmunda d’Inghilterra (1834, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaqine and
England), and L’Assedio di Calais (1836, Queen Isabella).

4 Leyla Gencer shares with Montserrat CaballÈ the
distinction of having the most revivals of neglected works associated with
their names.

5 There have always been “revivals” of
unknown operas, but by far the greatest period has been that of the second
half of the Twentieth Century. In the last forty-five years when the public
has benefitted from the performances of all of Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti,
Handel, Bellini and many of Meyerbeer, Gounod, Halevy, Pacini, Mercadante,
Piccini, etc.

6 Mercadante’s Il conte
premiered at La Scala, Milan on March 10, 1833.

7 BohËme would be Raimondi’s
vehicle for his sensational debut at the Metropolitan Opera on September 29,
1965. Mirella Freni would partner him as she had in Milan and Vienna, as well
as in the Karajan/Zeffirelli film.

8 Ashbrook, 1965, p. 447.

9 Chorley, 1926, p. 129

10 Ashbrook, 1965, p. 210.

11 Weinstock, 1963, p. 130

12 Lang, 1971, p. 128.

image_description=Gaetano Donizetti: Roberto Devereux
product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: Roberto Devereux
product_by=Gianni Raimondi (Roberto Devereux), Monserrat CaballÈ (Elisabetta), Beverly Wolf (Sara), Walter Alberti (Nottingham), Guido Fabbris (Lord Cecil), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice, Bruno Bartoletti (cond.)
Live recording, 10 February 1972
product_id=Myto 053312 [2CDs]