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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

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 [1]

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

Production Information

Production
Elizabeth I
Venue
Hackney Empire
City
London
Starts
March 2, 2019
Ends
May 23, 2019
Press night
March 2, 2019
Librettist
Giovanni Schmidt
Composer
Gioachino Rossini
Director
James Conway
Conductor
John Andrews
Set
Frankie Bradshaw
Lighting
Rory Beaton
Costume
Frankie Bradshaw
Technical
Drew Turner (technical manager), Lydia McDonald (costume supervisor), Andrew Stuttard (chief electrician)
Stage manager
Vicki Mackenzie
Production manager
Phil Bentley
Cast includes
Mary Plazas, Luciano Botelho, Lucy Hall, John-Colyn Gyeantey, Emma Stannard, Joseph Doody
Casting
James Conway
Producer
English Touring Opera
Running time
2hrs 50mins