Historical accuracy never overly concerned Donizetti, though his dramatic story of the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex has almost as much truth as fiction, its present relative neglect in the opera house being difficult to understand.
Stephen Medcalf's splendid new production for Buxton Festival is played on a largely bare stage, the period created by the gorgeous costumes designed by Francis O'Conner and the subtle lighting of John Bishop.
If diminutive in stature, Mary Plazas makes a very dominant Elizabeth, handling most of
the vocal acrobatics with an ease that retains her regal state.
Yet it is the mezzo, Susan Bickley, who tends to unbalance the work, with her
superb and powerful portrayal of the Duchess of Nottingham.
It is her third act scene, when she is accused of adultery by her husband – a role forcefully sung by David Kempster – that eventually brings this highly-charged performance to boiling point.
Todd Wilander had soon showed signs of stress in Donizetti's demands on Essex, and almost gave out towards the end, the vocal pressure probably the cause of his rather wooden characterisation.
The singing of the small chorus was uncommonly good, conductor Andrew Greenwood keeping the music moving with admirable urgency.
Donizetti: Roberto Devereux Opera House, Buxton The opera continues on July 13, 17 and 21.