OPERA PLOTS: HISTORICAL OR HYSTERICAL
Robert Devereux and Electra
While Robert Devereux takes liberties with historical facts, the opera is based on a real person, the English nobleman who was a favorite of Elizabeth I and an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II.
The opera so named after Devereux, based on his downfall and death, is really about Elizabeth I, sung by no less than soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, who has sung all three Donizetti Tudor Queen operas in the same season (Mary Stuart, Anne Boleyn and now Elizabeth I).
Electra is a mythological Greek character, the daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra, and thus princess of Argos. Nina Stemme is Electra — last seen in Turandot, this October to be Isolde. (an equally formidable trio of roles to compare to the Tudor Queens!)
Besides their royalty, both women have the opportunity on stage to enact their rages. Elizabeth cringes and pounds the floor at the news of the Lord of Essex’s death. Electra dances away in a frantic mania to her end in her grief over the death of her brother.
Ah yes! Life is so unfair in opera!
Both Elizabeth and Electra have had many plays, movies, operas written in attempts to figure them out: Electra with Greek playwrights from Sophocles, Euripedes and Aeschylus to the American Eugene O’Neill while Elizabeth had plays by no less then Shakespeare written in her honor.
Elizabeth has lands named after her (Viriginia comes to mind first, for her, the Virgin Queen). Electra has a psychological complex in her name.
Historians report that Elizabeth really only paused for a moment at the word that Lord Essex had been executed, and then continued playing the virginal. Thankfully historians don’t write operas or we would never have had that wonderful final scene of glorious bel canto singing.
Historical or hysterical— and as different as these two themes might sound—in the last two operas of the Met Simulcast season, both ring true.
At least to my ears!
See you next season.
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