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Elizabeth I review at Hackney Empire, London – ‘Rossini’s opera is delivered with style and clarity’

Luciano Botelho and Mary Plazas in English Touring Opera's Elizabeth I. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith Luciano Botelho and Mary Plazas in English Touring Opera's Elizabeth I. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
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Rossini’s 1815 opera marked his debut in Naples, where he was to remain for eight years, turning the San Carlo Theatre into the most talked about in Italy. He was just 23.

Sung in Italian in James Conway’s production, the opera Rossini titled Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra (Elizabeth, Queen of England) has had very few productions in the UK, but English Touring Opera’s spring jaunt takes it to no fewer than nine venues, from Exeter to Buxton.

There’s a lot for audiences to enjoy. A fictionalised account of the relationship between Elizabeth and the Earl of Leicester, plus his (secret) wife and her brother (the latter two supposedly the offspring of Mary, Queen of Scots), it’s a dramatic tale in which Elizabeth finally comes to terms with Leicester’s marital status, but all ends badly for his enemy the Duke of Norfolk.

Simple and traditional in look, the staging offers a clear narrative line.

Mary Plazas defines Elizabeth as a strong woman given to anger, jealousy and cunning – probably needing all three to survive.

Rossini is responsible for some of the most difficult vocal writing ever conceived, and none of the principals avoids the odd blip when the notes come thick and fast. On the other hand, all offer quality during the evening.

Lucy Hall makes something moving out of the plight of Leicester’s wife Matilde, Luciano Botelho cuts a dash as the two-timing Earl and John-Colyn Gyeantey’s Norfolk gives the text full value.

Best of all is the stylish conducting of John Andrews, who draws top-quality playing from the orchestra.

English Touring Opera: The company with education at its heart

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Rossini's Elizabethan opera is delivered with musical style and narrative clarity