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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The story is similar to the Bette Davis film "Elizabeth and Essex" the
love of the Queen with the captain Roberto Devereaux, who fired her
jealousy when he took on a new love. He is executed in the end, though
the Queen attempts to save him but fails. More than any other soprano,
Beverly Sills nailed the role with authenticity and with powerful
dramatic integrity. She becomes the feisty queen in this opera,
providing us not only with virtuosic singing but with Oscar-worthy
This performance was captured on video and also aired on TV back in 1975. The Wolf Trap Festival in Virginia was the sight of several other performances by Beverly Sills- among them La Traviata and The Daughter Of The Regiment. In the 60's and 70's, Beverly Sills, an American woman as homely and down-to-earth as any typical woman of her time, impressed audiences with beautiful and dramatic singing. In this role, she showcases her dramatic strengths. Her usual light voice, so perfect for laser sharp coloratura and lyric pianissimi, darkens and roughens to get into the powerful character of the Queen. Her heavy make up, costume and manners are very regal and dominant, and its clear that this is her opera. John Alexander as Devereaux is wooden and even effeminate - he looks like the Cowardly Lion to me, but is OK when paired with Sills. The better male singer in this opera is Richard Fredericks in the bass role of the villainous Nottingham. Susanne Marsee, soprano/mezzo soprano does a touching performance as the victimized Lady Sara. For fans of Beverly Sills, and fans of high-caliber opera, this one is the one to get. The most dramatic scene is when the Queen sentences Devereaux to death. Bel canto flavor mixes with intense drama. Beverly Sills is inspired by Bette Davis who did the 30's film opposite Erroly Flynn. Sills made this role so huge it landed her a cover of Time Magazine back in 1971.
Watching and listening to opera has always been a passion of mine, and
it was wonderful discovering this lesser yet nonetheless electrifying
Donizetti work. And who better to sing Queen Elizabeth than the late
great Beverly Sills? Roberto Devereux has a good story and wonderful
music, and this production was simply wonderful.
Remastered beautifully, the sets are sparse but very evocative regardless and the costumes particularly Sills' are lavish and colourful. This is all helped by great sound, clear picture quality and interesting video directing.
I cannot fault the orchestral playing or the conducting either. The orchestral playing is full of style, power and poignancy and Julius Rudel's conducting is very lively.
The performances are truly ones to treasure. John Alexander sings beautifully throughout, however he could have been more commanding in some of his scenes and the prison scene was a slight disappointment, but these didn't ruin the performance too much for me. Richard Fredericks is a powerful Duke of Buckingham, both vocally and acting-wise, and Susanne Marsee is a very touching Sara.
As great as these performances are, there is one performance that is really the one to watch for. Beverly Sills as Queen Elizabeth. I have always liked Sills, she was a wonderful Violetta, Lucia, Rosina, Olympia and Manon, but after seeing her here, this is probably my favourite performance of her and my favourite DVD featuring her. She had great technique and a beautiful voice, and I don't think I have ever seen Sills so powerful dramatically than I have here.
In conclusion, really an opera production to watch. 10/10 Bethany Cox
My only experience of the great American coloratura soprano, Beverly
Sills has been through records, now CDs and this filmed performance of
one of her great roles. So compelling is her Elizabeth that I have
ordered online her other two films (La Traviata and The Daughter of the
I have to admit however that my response to her very unique sound has not always been positive. I remember her records so well - her brilliant Elvira (I Puritani partnered by a disappointing Nicolai Gedda), her other worldly Lucia (mad scene with glass harmonica as in the original score!), her wicked Rosina (Barbiere), her Zerbinetta (a recording of Strauss arias) and of course her signature roles, the Three Donizetti Queens. In all these roles I was stunned by her technical perfection and the amount of emotional energy and intelligence she brought to them. The one thing that I found difficult was the shrillness of her voice and occasional uncontrolled, quick vibrato.
I stopped listening to her recordings in my collection for twenty or more years. Then they were re-issued on CD and somehow the shrillness stopped bothering me, and curiosity led me to the purchase of this film. I am so glad I did as the production, though not particularly innovative, is of a high traditional standard, and its centrepiece - Ms. Sills is flawless - ultra high voice and all. Costumed fabulously, she sails through rough emotional waters, as though born to play this troubled but great Queen.
In a word, her assumption of one of the most charismatic women in history is totally convincing. This is a woman who has everything and yet has nothing if she does not have the undivided affection of her court favourite, Robert Devereux. She is a woman of extreme passions - Donizetti was good at creating such portraits (both Elizabeth and Mary, the rival queens in Maria Stuarda are such women). Elizabeth's clearly aging face (marvellous make up) is set in contrast against the younger woman (Sara, sung competently by Susanne Marsee) who has stolen Robert's affections.
Unfortunately, so outstanding is Ms Sills that John Alexander (in the title role) seems unable to compete on an even playing field in either the acting or vocal departments. In fact nobody else quite measures up to her. A more balanced cast is to be found in a later film of a Munich Opera production, with Edita Gruberova (still wonderful in 2005) as the tragic queen.
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