Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux (1837) is quite a rarity, and many who are new to it might be tempted to assume that this is rather well justified. It could be said that the librettist Cammerano concocted a travesty of the story of Elizabeth and Essex, with singularly unappealing characters tied up in a knot of bad faith and vengefulness (one might equally say that of Wagner’s Ring, of course), and that Donizetti glossed over it with course after course of conventional emotivity bathed in meretricious bel canto sauces. However, after seeing and hearing this at first seemingly rather strange and off-putting but passionately committed production, only the most rigidly prejudiced will refuse to admit that they have been fascinated and moved. Conductor Friederich Haider, above all, conveyed his belief in Roberto Devereux’s quality and power through his deep understanding of bel canto as a psychological and dramatic idiom. In fact his contribution was equalled by the magnificent performances of Edita Gruberova and Paolo Gavanelli. Christof Loy’s production, which sets the action in modern Britain, may seem perverse at first and Herbert Murauer’s set and costumes singularly depressing, but eventually the distracting contemporary details vanish, as one abandons oneself to Donizetti’s spell.