Elizabeth I in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux was, Beverly Sills has said, the role that took 10 years off her career, and indeed, it’s a fearsome undertaking. The very long role is composed over a slightly larger than two-octave span, and there are forte passages at both ends, both in ensembles and alone, and the sheer number of notes the character has to get out is awe-inspiring. Emotionally, too, the part is ripping: The elderly Elizabeth, in love with the Earl of Essex, who in turn loves Sara, the Duchess of Nottingham (forget real English history), is a ferocious monarch, comfortable and powerful only when ruling, and in private, a shattered woman, filled with vulnerabilities. Sills’ voice was at its pristine best in 1969, when this was recorded, before she sang it on stage. She is in absolute control of every resource she ever had: accurate roulades, brutal chest tones, full-bodied high notes, the ability to express both rage and joy, an impeccable bel canto line, stupendous breath control.
Having fallen into oblivion following performances in 1839, this attractive, rare opera buffa was revived in 1973 in the Dutch city of Zaanstad (the Saardam of the libretto). It's staged on this recording at Bergamo's Teatro Sociale as part of the Donizetti Festival in a new critical edition made for the Donizetti Foundation by Alberto Sonzogni. The plot opens with Tsar Peter the Great working incognito as a carpenter in Sardaam's shipyard to acquire technical knowledge which he will then take back home. The mayor is convinced of this secretive arrangement, which leads to endless misunderstandings. Conductor Roberto Rizzi Brignoli leads the orchestra of the Donizetti Opera; stage action is in the hands of internationally-renowned cinema director Davide Ferrario. Headed by the renowned bass Andrea Concetti, the cast comprises emerging stars in the belcanto repertoire, including Giorgio Caoduro, Juan Francisco Gatell, Irina Dubrovskaya and Aya Wakizono.