(by Gaetano Donizetti)
(Metropolitan Opera, screened July 5, 2016)
We’re still not quite sure what to make of this Met rendering of Donizetti’s brilliant little bel canto sweetmeat. It seems to have been given the Heaven’s Gate treatment. But there is much to like – the static set by David McVicar (more Georgian/art nouveau fusion than Elizabethan) provided a sense of stability and economy, serving well as various rooms at Nonsuch Palace (looking a little Hampton Court), The Duke of Nottingham’s digs, the Tower, and as a gallery for the peripheral players.
The Errol Flynn, Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland roles were taken by Matthew Polenzani as Essex, Sondra Radvanovsky the virgin Queen, and Elīna Garanča, who were fine, as was Mariusz Kwiecien as Nottingham, looking alternately at Essex like he was a little…’curious’ (these two also got hot and heavy in Pearl Fishers) and convincingly daggers when ‘Desdemona’s scarf’ turns up.
But while Radvanovsky looked splendid (she even adopted the Katherine Hepburn ‘shakes’ to denote the ageing monarch), her singing was uneven, at times shrill, some of her highlights seemingly trilled from a blast furnace, in an attempt to match the wild pacing of conductor Maurizio Benini. Still, she evoked the contradictory emotions of old Bess beautifully, such that the occasional clang of teeth on tin seemed more apt than accident. Roberto got a little puffed at the close too, but again, he was just about to have his noble and anguished head lopped-off, so fair play to him.
Okay, so it’s not Wagner. But it was a diverting three hours and like the tropes present in the set, ‘Death’ and ‘Time’, they got there in the end, to a deserved standing ovation.