Roberto Devereux (Robert Devereux)
  • Gaetano Donizetti. Tragedia lirica in three acts. 1837.
  • Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano, after the play Elisabeth d’Angleterre (Elizabeth of England) by François Ancelot.
  • First performance at the Teatro S Carlo, Naples, on 28th October 1837.

Elisabetta (Elizabeth), Queen of England


Duke of Nottingham


Sara (Sarah), Duchess of Nottingham


Roberto Devereux, Earl of Essex


Lord Cecil


Sir Walter Raleigh




Nottingham’s Servant


The Earl of Essex has returned from his expedition to Ireland. Sarah, Duchess of Nottingham, who loves him, is sad at the danger he is now in, about to stand trial for treason. The Queen, however, is perturbed rather at his infidelity to her. In defending himself he gives rise to her suspicion of his love for Sarah, a suspicion shared by the Duke of Nottingham, who has intended to support Essex in the Council. At Nottingham House Essex casts down a ring the Queen had given him and protests his love for Sarah, who had married in his absence and who now gives him a silk scarf, a token of her love. The Council sentences Essex to death and his infidelity to the Queen and his betrayal of his supporter Nottingham are revealed by the discovery of the scarf Sarah had given him. Sarah plans to use the Queen’s ring to secure her lover’s pardon, but is prevented by her jealous husband. In the Tower Essex awaits pardon, but this does not come. In the Great Hall the Queen too waits for the ring, which will ensure pardon for Essex. Sarah brings it to her, but it is too late. The sound of a cannon is heard, a signal for the execution of Essex, and the Queen, distraught, now sees in her mind the bloodstained victim and her own throne a tomb.

Roberto Devereux, ossia Il conte di Essex (Robert Devereux, or The Earl of Essex) was successful at its first performance in Naples, although Donizetti continued to suspect that the work brought bad luck, having recently suffered the loss of both his parents and his wife. It includes God Save the Queen in its overture, an anachronism, and treats historical characters with considerable freedom. The Queen’s opening aria, L’amor suo mi fe’ beata (His love makes me happy), establishes the central importance of the role, with its dramatic conflict of emotions. Essex himself has a scene of his own in the third act, where, in Come un spirito angelico (Like an angelic spirit), he thinks of his love for Sarah and hopes to exonerate her from accusations of infidelity to her husband. The last scene is dominated by the Queen, her hopes and fears and her final horror at what has happened, with a completely unhistorical announcement that she will now abdicate in favour of King James of Scotland.