Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Joyce El-Khoury – World Class Soprano

Roberto Devereux

Welsh National Opera , Wales Millennium Centre , February-28-19
Roberto Devereux by Welsh National Opera The buzz of excitement began, as the well loved former company resident musical director Carlo Rizzo stepped up onto the podium. It continued as he raised his baton to lead the orchestra into Donizetti’s overture. A piece that was both robust and elegant. Rizzo’s masterly and joy continued throughout the performance.

Roberto Devereux is a very passionate man; this is reflected in the fine tenor of Barry Banks. He is widely recognised as a master of the bel canto, also much favoured by Donizetti. At this time in the story he is the lover of queen.

We are in the reign of Elizabeth the First. Donizetti has a fascination for English monarchy, also writing operas about Anne Boleyn and Mary Stuart. These operas are often referred to as the "Three Donizetti Queens."

But this is definitively Elizabeth’s opera. Her portrayal by Joyce El-Khoury is quite exquisite. Appearing in a bright red silk dress and a striking blond wig, her commanding soprano echoing through the auditorium full of strong passion and longing.

We first meet Sara, Duchess of Nottingham. We learn that she had a secret affair with Devereux (Earl of Essex) some time ago. Mezzo and former student of the Royal Welsh College Music and Drama Justina Gringytè also sings the role with passion and conviction.

We get very fine and strong acting performances from these two compelling aristocrats: in fact the acting from the whole cast is excellent and well suited to the nature of this near melodrama.

Parliament, lead by Lord Cecil, given another strong and convincing performance by Welsh tenor Robyn Lyn Evans. He has a menacing plan to bring a charge of treason against Devereux, on his return.

At his first audience with the queen, she declares her love for him. From the outset El-Khoury wraps her powerful, passionate voice around him and around all of us. She gives Devereux a ring that he is to return to her if he is ever in trouble.

The ring now becomes a vital part of the story. Devereux and Sara acknowledge their past love but it is now at an end. He gives her the queen’s ring! She gives him an embroidered scarf.

Knowing nothing of Devereux’s affair with his wife Sara, the Duke of Nottingham remains a strong supporter of Devereux. Again from Biagio Pizzuti we get a well-rounded and warm baritone and his strong support for Devereux registers very well but it does not succeed. Devereux is to be executed.

Sara has the ring but she is prevented from returning it to the queen in order to protect Devereux, by her husband. There’s no hope left, Devereux is lead away to be executed. We leave Elizabeth grieving for the now dead Devereux.

A now de-wigged and crushed Elizabeth, El-Khoury is as magnificent and compelling in her grief as she was when expressing her great love. A truly unforgettable performance.

Madeleine Boyd’s set was curious and disappointing and did nothing for the production. This was no matter, this was opera. Great music and great singing and we had that wrapped totally around us.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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