Bristol Hippodrome

WNO Roberto Devereux

April 2019


Spider's web at court of Good Queen Bess

For a good few minutes before curtain-up the orchestra played upbeat music on a loop under the baton of a very animated conductor.

My husband Rob said: “This is the most rousing start to an opera I have ever heard.”

It may have helped that it was the strains of God Save The Queen that emitted from the orchestra pit and the excitement in the audience (with lots of familiar North Somerset faces) was palatable.

The man in charge of the melodies James Southall is marvellous.

To be fair this is only our sixth or seventh visit to an opera so we are fairly new to this as an entertainment art form.

Opera along with ballet and short haul city breaks is something we added to our cultural bucket list as we neared retirement.

The Welsh National Opera has been an absolute delight and rarely disappoints with its magnum opus productions although its camp followers seem to be well-heeled midde class seniors.

On Friday night the courtiers of the company stormed onto the stage with the ladies dressed in dark silk clothes with leather-look cumberbands and the lords as henchmen in long black suits which was a bit of a foreboding about what was to come.

The opening scenes have a claustrophobic feel because while there are often only two people on the huge Bristol Hippodrome stage the backdrop was up close and personal which sets the mood.

The story gradually metamorphosises using insects as an allegory but it’s funny how different people interpret what they see and hear.

I thought the Queen looked like a forlorn Cinderella/praying mantis who when rejected and lied to by her lover ended up as a revengeful, wizen old Miss Havisham.

Reviewer Owen Davies, of Plays To See, sitting next to me thought she was like Catherine the Great/black widow spider.

He was raving about a Faust production he had just seen at Covent Garden but like me was initially reserving judgement on Roberto and co.

Lebanese-Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury was magnificent in the role of the virgin Queen Elizabeth I and her supporting stars sang their socks off.

Taking the title role of Roberto Devereux, Earl of Essex, was  English lyric tenor Barry Banks. 

He played alongside Justina Gringyte as Sara, the Duchess of Nottingham and the Queen’s secret rival.

It is a story of love, life, loyalty in the Tudor court so the threat of ‘off with their heads’ never seemed far away.

The set wasn’t my favourite, a sort of Grand Designs industrial construction, but the costumes were steam punk finery and the singing magnifico.

Nice little touches of bloodied severed heads on spikes, a mean machine metal arachnoid borrowed from Dr Who and the Lara Croft moment using red ribbons instead of lasers stayed in my memory.

The opera was first performed in 2013 as part of WNO’s Tudor season.

For spring 2019 we hear that Un ballo in Maschera was absolutely thrilling and hope to catch this if it comes back to Bristol.

The avantgarde Magic Flute we saw a couple of years ago and with its Alice in Wonderland lobster wasn’t to our taste and we are told prompted similar unsure responses from those who went this time.


Photo Credit: Bill Cooper

But if you could have been a fly-on-wall waiting at the bus stop for the X9 to go home it was buzzing as would-be passengers shared their excitement for this show.

Sung in Italian with English surtitles (Welsh in Cardiff and Llandudno) the opera is loosely based on the life of Robert Devereux, the Second Earl of Essex and his relationship with Queen Elizabeth I.

Fascinated by Elizabethan history, Donizetti wrote three operas heavily featuring Elisabetta and all three cite her fiery temper and tempestuous secret love life at the heart of the story.

In Roberto Devereux the Queen is romantically linked with the eponymous Earl of Essex as he is tried for treason.

Gaetano Donizetti is recognised as one of the giants of 19th-century Italian opera and his spine-tingling music had me in tears and gave me tummy butterflies for most of the second and third acts.

Carol Deacon



Spring Season 2020

  • Carmen on Wednesday and Friday, March 11 and 13 at 7.15pm

  • The Marriage Of Figaro – Thursday, March 12 at 7pm

  • Les vêpres siciliennes – Saturday, March 14 at 6.30pm

Tickets from £13 concessions available

To book click HERE

WNO Masks, Monarchy and Magic


PREVIEW: Masks, Monarchy and Magic: Welsh National Opera returns to the Bristol Hippodrome this speak with three major operas:

Murder on the dancefloor: Un ballo in maschera

Opening the spring season is a new production of Un ballo in maschera, where love, power and politics collide to create a tale of deception, intrigue and revenge.

The second instalment in WNO’s Verdi trilogy, the production is directed by David Pountney, conducted by Gareth Jones and is a co-production with Oper der Stadt Bonn. 

Performing from Wednesday to Saturday, April 10-13, the company will also bring revivals of Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux.

Un ballo in maschera is a study in kingship, and the heady relationship between personal and public affairs. 

The story reveals the tragic love triangle between Amelia, her husband Renato and her lover the King (Riccardo), Renato’s best friend. 

The King is obsessed with theatre and disguise, and this builds climactically to a masked ball in a backdrop of the growing conspiracy against him from his political and personal enemies. 

Despite Riccardo ultimately renouncing his love for Amelia, the culmination of the piece sees Renato discovering the affair and taking matters into his own hands with devastating consequences. 

The cast will include highly regarded Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones who will sing Riccardo with Mary Elizabeth Williams as Amelia and Roland Wood as Renato.

Raimund Bauer’s ‘Verdi Machine’ set design of three interlocking frames will again feature in this production, but will look distinctly different from the set of La forza del destino, designed to reflect  the way the King constantly plays with truth and disguise, and loses his sense of reality in his fascination with theatre. 

Costumes are designed by Marie-Jeanne Lecca who has most recently collaborated with WNO on the highly acclaimed production of War and Peace.

WNO artistic director David Pountney said: “All three of our operas in this season touch on the issue of kingship.

"The Magic Flute involves the training of an ideal, enlightened ruler and hopefully suggests that the future will be ruled by an equally matched male and female pair.

"Roberto Devereux celebrates the power and charisma of one of Britain’s greatest monarchs, and Un ballo in maschera shows what happens when the kingdom becomes the playground for the monarch’s theatrical and amorous fantasies.

"All three pieces capture the thrilling dichotomy between public power and private passion at which opera excels.”

Heartbreak and High Treason: Roberto Devereux

Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux conducted by James Southall and originally directed by Alessandro Talevi.

First performed in 2013 as part of WNO’s Tudor season to critical acclaim, it features Madeleine Boyd’s striking designs. 

Sung in Italian, the opera is loosely based on the life of Robert Devereux, the Second Earl of Essex and his close relationship with Queen Elizabeth I.

Fascinated by Elizabethan history, Donizetti in fact wrote three operas heavily featuring ‘the Virgin Queen’ and in all three the rumours of a fiery temper and love life are placed at the heart of the story.

In Roberto Devereux the Queen is romantically linked with the eponymous Earl of Essex as he is tried for treason.

Bel canto virtuoso Barry Banks returns to WNO as the titular Devereux, alongside soprano Joyce El-Khoury as Elisabetta, both making role debuts.

Also joining the cast are Justina Gringyté as Sara.

Magritte-inspired Marvels: The Magic Flute

Completing the spring season is a revival of Mozart’s ever-popular The Magic Flute with a production originally directed by Dominic Cooke, sung in English and conducted by Damian Iorio, making his debut with WNO.

Another tale of royal adventure, this Magritte-inspired production places Prince Tamino's quest to rescue a princess and find true love into a surreal, dream-like world that features an angry lobster, a newspaper-reading lion and a fish transformed into a bicycle.

The witty story of enchantment and colourful characters alongside Mozart’s music results in a unique piece of opera, particularly well known for its soaring arias sung by The Queen of The Night.

Returning to WNO in this role is Samantha Hay.

The cast includes Mark Stone as Papageno, Ben Johnson as Tamino, and Anita Watson as Pamina.

Making her debut with WNO, soprano Jennifer Davis also appears as First Lady, fresh from her acclaimed engagement as Elsa in Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House.


  • WNO - Un Ballo in Maschera on Wednesday, April 10

  • WNO - The Magic Flute, Thursday, April 11 and Saturday matinee, April 13

  • WNO Roberto Devereux on Friday, April 12

For more information and to book tickets £12.50-£49.50 click HERE