By Gianmarco Segato, Adult Programs Manager
Bel canto (literally, “beautiful singing”) is an elusive term. It is most often used as a convenient, catch-all phrase
referring to the early 19th-century period in Italian opera dominated by Rossini, Bellini
and Donizetti. But it also denotes a singing style, the hallmarks of which are beauty
of tone, wide range, extreme flexibility and expressive utterance of text. For this spring’s
Roberto Devereux, the COC has assembled an ace team of highly trained vocal athletes
who are ready to meet bel canto’s extreme demands in Donizetti’s great historical
drama about the last days of England’s “Virgin Queen,” Elizabeth I (Elisabetta).
In that pivotal role, superstar soprano Sondra Radvanovsky makes her hotly
anticipated return to the COC after bringing down the house as Aida in 2010.
While her career has mainly been centred on core, late-Romantic Italian roles such as
Leonora in Verdi’s Il trovatore, Radvanovsky’s exploration of earlier 19th-century bel canto
heroines like Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda (who together with Elisabetta make
up Donizetti’s “Tudor Trilogy”) is much more recent. The soprano’s account of the
path that led her to bel canto is fascinating and frankly revealing. In 2002, a polyp
(caused by a botched childhood intubation) was removed from her vocal chords. “I had
to learn how to sing all over again. It opened up a whole new world for me, a world
I never thought or imagined musically I would be singing in.” Radvanovksy credits
her voice coach Tony Manoli with steering her in this new direction.
Despite her many accomplishments as a Verdi singer, he was convinced she had the potential
to be even greater in the bel canto repertoire. Together, they re-worked her technique
post-surgery and in the process, she feels she became “a better singer. It was a
godsend. No one else heard it; [Manoli] was the only one.” The ultimate affirmation
of this vocal transformation was her recent fall 2013 Metropolitan Opera Norma
(the summit of all bel canto roles) – “it was a huge success… HUGE!”
Radvanovsky notes that elsewhere in his Tudor Trilogy “Donizetti chose to highlight earlier stages of the Queens’ lives whereas Elisabetta is at the end and she’s worn down; she’s a broken woman. She was a very strong Queen, as we know, but here she’s angry a lot and it shows in the vocal writing Donizetti gave her. If you look at the length of the role, Elisabetta is the shortest, especially compared to Anna Bolena which is a marathon. In fact, Elisabetta doesn’t appear in quite a bit of the opera but she has the key moments and by far the hardest music. In terms of vocal range, hers is the widest
with a great amount of dramatic coloratura that is just unrelenting.”
Roberto Devereux’s title role will be shared between two debuting artists, Italian-American tenor Leonardo Capalbo and Italian tenor Giuseppe Filianoti.
Leonardo Capalbo comes to Toronto fresh from his fall 2013 success as Roberto Devereux with Welsh National Opera where his performance was praised for its “power and elegance” (The Guardian). A tenor on the rise, since debuting in 2004 Capalbo has performed across the world for companies like the Welsh National Opera, Oper Leipzig, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, Opéra de Lyon and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Capalbo sings Devereux on April 25, 29 and May 3.
Giuseppe Filianoti is a regular at Europe’s leading opera houses, North American audiences will know him best for his riveting portrayal of the Emperor Tito in the recent Metropolitan Opera HD transmission of Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito. “From the start, Roberto knows there is no escaping the jealousy of the 63-year-old queen, wounded in her pride and in her love,” says Filianoti. “[He] represents the typical romantic hero: young, attractive, ambitious, valorous and merciful in war but, unfortunately, in love with the wrong woman. He hopes until the end to be able to save himself from an unjust death sentence and to redeem the honour of his beloved Sara. Although his execution inevitably takes place, we at least get to hear his final appeal in one of the most beautiful arias Donizetti wrote for the tenor voice, “Come uno spirito angelico” (“Like an angelic spirit”). Filianoti sings Devereux on May 10, 15, 18 and 21.
The third member of this tragic love
triangle is Sara, Duchess of Nottingham sung
by COC favourite, Canadian mezzo-soprano
Allyson McHardy. “Sara is an opera singer’s
dream,” enthuses McHardy. “She lives a
tortured life married to someone she doesn’t
really love [the Duke of Nottingham]. She
feels a certain allegiance to Elizabeth
and therefore, must hide her feelings for
Devereux. She fights through the entire
opera to save him and do the right thing
no matter what the consequences are for
her. This is beautifully laid out in Donizetti’s
music: moments of torture, love, tenderness
and desperation.” McHardy concurs with
the generally held opinion that Roberto
Devereux’s success is largely due to
Salvatore Cammarano’s superior
libretto with its strong command
of text and clear storyline.
“The characters are so real and
so complete. Their interactions
are intense, complex and so
wonderfully nuanced. It takes
English history and sets it on
The fourth player in the
drama is Sara’s husband, the
Duke of Nottingham. In
general, bel canto opera does
not bestow the same gifts
on baritones that it does on
sopranos and tenors, however,
Nottingham is an exception to
this rule, blessed as he is with
one of the opera’s great melodies,
“Forse in quel cor sensibile”
(“Perhaps in that sensitive heart”).
This isn’t lost on Canadian star
baritone Russell Braun: “His
music is wonderful and the
character is very mature actually.
He’s very ordinary at the
beginning but what happens to him as the
result of jealousy, and through the sense
of a loss of power is what makes the drama.
Because he’s so human at the beginning
I feel his transformation is believable and
really shows what actually can happen
to each and every one of us in this
Roberto Devereux runs from April 25 to May 21 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. For tickets and more information, click here.
Photos: (top) Leonardo Capalbo as Roberto Devereux and Sondra Radvanovsky as Elisabetta; (middle) (far right) Sondra Radvanovsky; (bottom) Allyson McHardy as Sara and Russell Braun as Nottingham. All photos from the Canadian Opera Company’s Roberto Devereux, 2014 by Michael Cooper.
Posted by Danielle D'Ornellas / in Roberto Devereux / comments (0) / permalink
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001