Rossini wrote Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra in 1815 for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, one of the most important operatic venues at the time. The composer opted for an opera seria, the first after Tancredi, and chose a libretto based on a gothic novel, where the motor of the plot is Elizabeth’s jealousy towards her lover Leicester, instigated by the Duke of Norfolc (sic), as an Iago-like figure. The opera marks also the first collaboration between Rossini and Isabella Colbran, for whom he would create many protagonist roles, and who would become his wife.

Barry Banks (Norfolk) and Karine Deshayes (Elisabetta)
© Studio Amati Bacciardi

Much of the music written for Elisabetta would be recycled by Rossini in other operas; notably, the overture (already borrowed from Aureliano in Palmira) became the über-famous sinfonia to Il barbiere di Siviglia, which also inherited also other ideas, such as the beginning of Rosina’s cavatina "Una voce poco fa", from Elisabetta’s “Quanto è grato all’alma mia”.

Davide Livermore transports the action in the 1950s, and turns Elizabeth Tudor into Elizabeth Windsor, Leicester into a war hero from the Royal Air Force and the Duke of Norfolk into Winston Churchill. Elegant costumes by Gianluca Falaschi reflect this time change. Giò Forma's sets consist of only a few solid elements: a few pieces of furniture and some doors, while the rest was realised as video projections (D-Wok) on the sides and back of the stage. The images were beautiful, sometimes illustrating events (explosions during the war), at other times representing the moods and emotions of the characters, like a devastating tornado during the furious outburst of Elizabeth’s rage, when she discovers Leicester’s betrayal, in the magnificent Act 1 finale. And then, at times, they were just very beautiful images with no discernible purpose: a huge deer appeared several times, a green hill covered with flowers, a wall of gurgling water which seemed a leftover from the parting of the Red Sea in Moïse et Pharaon from two evenings ago. Overall, the scene was very busy, occasionally distracting.

Karine Deshayes (Elisabetta)
© Studio Amati Bacciardi

Evelino Pidò took some liberties with the overture, especially with the tempi (some unusual rallentando and accelerando), but always with elegance and style. The sound of the RAI Orchestra was beautiful, with special mention to the brass. The pace was brilliant and the interpretation intense.

Karine Deshayes had all the tools needed for the role of Elisabetta: precise coloratura, forceful disposition, secure high notes, elegant phrasing. The hairstyle and costumes also helped in giving her a quite remarkable resemblance to the young Elizabeth II. Her high notes, unfortunately, had a tendency to sound quite acidic, and, at times, even harsh. Her rival Matilde, daughter of Elizabeth’s enemy Mary Stuart and secretly married to Leicester, was Salome Jicia, a name very well known and loved in Pesaro. Jicia has tackled many huge Colbran roles in the past (Elena in La donna del lago and, most of all, Semiramide), but Matilde is a high soprano role, and would perhaps need a more lyrical voice, centred in the high register. Jicia’s dark, almost husky timbre did not sound particularly well suited to the part, and her high notes seemed at times difficult. Nevertheless, her technique and interpretation were very enjoyable.

Salome Jicia (Matilde)
© Studio Amati Bacciardi

The cast includes two tenor roles with similar vocal characteristics, what we now would call a “baritenor”: a dark tenor voice, with strong, powerful high notes. Sergey Romanovsky, as Leicester, fits the bill. His performance was exciting, his high notes confident, his interpretation convincing as the young hero torn between love for Matilde and loyalty to the Queen, who wants him as her husband. He had one faulty moment towards the end, where his voice broke, but it happens to the best and it was easily forgivable.

Salome Jicia (Matilde) and Sergey Romanovsky (Leicester)
© Studio Amati Bacciardi

The other tenor is Norfolk, the villain, sung by Barry Banks. His intonation and interpretation were successful, but his voice was not as beautiful as one would have hoped, and his vibrato unfortunately had a bleating quality. His best moment was the duet with Elisabetta, when he tells her about Leicester’s secret wedding. He was very effective at playing the villain, smirking and lurking in the shadow.

Marta Puda left a good impression in the role en travesti of Enrico, Matilde’s brother, her mezzo warm and bronzed, her technique solid. Valentino Buzza was an enjoyable Guglielmo.