Gaetano Donizetti

Georg Saal, Kenilworth Castle, 1866

Kenilworth Castle is located in the town of the same name in Warwickshire, England. Constructed from Norman through to Tudor times, the castle has been described by architectural historian Anthony Emery as "the finest surviving example of a semi-royal palace of the later middle ages, significant for its scale, form and quality of workmanship". Kenilworth has also played an important historical role. The castle was the subject of the six-month-long Siege of Kenilworth in 1266, believed to be the longest siege in English history, and formed a base for Lancastrian operations in the Wars of the Roses. Kenilworth was also the scene of the removal of Edward II from the English throne, the French insult to Henry V in 1414 (said by John Strecche to have encouraged the Agincourt campaign), and the Earl of Leicester's lavish reception of Elizabeth I in 1575.

The castle was built over several centuries. Founded in the 1120s around a powerful Norman great tower, the castle was significantly enlarged by King John at the beginning of the 13th century. Huge water defences were created by damming the local streams, and the resulting fortifications proved able to withstand assaults by land and water in 1266. John of Gaunt spent lavishly in the late 14th century, turning the medieval castle into a palace fortress designed in the latest perpendicular style. The Earl of Leicester then expanded the castle once again, constructing new Tudor buildings and exploiting the medieval heritage of Kenilworth to produce a fashionable Renaissance palace.

ELISABETTA AL CASTELLO KENILWORTH - GAETANO DONIZETTI

Elisabetta - Mariella Devia
Amelia Robsart - Denia Mazzola Gavazzeni
Leicester - Jozef Kundlák
Warney - Barry Anderson
Lambourne - Carlo Striuli
Fanny - Clara Foti

Conductor - Jan Latham-Koenig. Orchestra - RAI Milano. Chorus - RAI Milano. 1989

Il castello di Kenilworth (or, under its original name in 1829, Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth) is a melodramma serio or tragic opera in three acts by Gaetano Donizetti. Andrea Leone Tottola wrote the Italian libretto after Victor Hugo's play Amy Robsart (1828) and Eugene Scribe's play Leicester, both of which following from Scott's novel Kenilworth (1821). Daniel Auber composed another opera on the same subject, Leicester, ou Le chateau de Kenilworth in 1823.
 

This opera was the first of Donizetti's excursions into the Tudor period of English history, and it was followed in 1830 by Anna Bolena, (which was based on the life of Ann Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII), then by Maria Stuarda (named for Mary, Queen of Scots) which appeared in different forms in 1834 and 1835. All represented the interests (even obsessions) of many Italian composers of the era, Donizetti's included, in the character of Elizabeth I, whose life he was to explore further in 1837 in his opera Roberto Devereux (named for a putative lover of Queen Elizabeth I.) The leading female characters of the operas Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux are often referred to as the "Three Donizetti Queens."
 

As Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth the opera received its first performance on 6 July 1829 at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples and, in a revised version at the same house, as Il castello di Kenilworth on 24 June 1830.

Roles

IL CASTELLO DI KENILWORTH
 

Opera in three acts by Gaetano Donizetti. Andrea Leone Tottola wrote the Italian libretto.

Elisabetta, Queen of England    -soprano
Roberto Dudley, Earl of Leicester    -tenor 
Amelia Robsart, his secret consort    -soprano
Warney    -baritone
Lambourne    -bass
Fanny    -mezzo-soprano
Knights of the queen, domestic servants of Leicester, guards, soldiers, people

 

Premiere Cast, 6 July 1829

Historical Character

Elizabeth I of England


Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) was Queen of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death on 24 March 1603. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the last monarch of the House of Tudor.
 

Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife, who was executed two-and-a-half years after Elizabeth's birth. Anne's marriage to Henry VIII was annulled, and Elizabeth was declared illegitimate. Her half-brother, Edward VI, ruled until his death in 1553, bequeathing the crown to Lady Jane Grey and ignoring the claims of his two half-sisters, Elizabeth and the Roman Catholic Mary, in spite of statute law to the contrary. Edward's will was set aside and Mary became queen, deposing Lady Jane Grey. During Mary's reign, Elizabeth was imprisoned for nearly a year on suspicion of supporting Protestant rebels.
 

In 1558, Elizabeth succeeded her half-sister to the throne and set out to rule by good counsel. She depended heavily on a group of trusted advisers, led by William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley. One of her first actions as queen was the establishment of an English Protestant church, of which she became the Supreme Governor. This Elizabethan Religious Settlement was to evolve into the Church of England. It was expected that Elizabeth would marry and produce an heir to continue the Tudor line. She never did, despite numerous courtships. As she grew older, Elizabeth became celebrated for her virginity. A cult grew around her which was celebrated in the portraits, pageants, and literature of the day.

The "Darnley Portrait" of Elizabeth I (c. 1575)

In government, Elizabeth was more moderate than her father and half-siblings had been. One of her mottoes was "video et taceo" ("I see but say nothing"). In religion, she was relatively tolerant and avoided systematic persecution. After the pope declared her illegitimate in 1570 and released her subjects from obedience to her, several conspiracies threatened her life, all of which were defeated with the help of her ministers' secret service. Elizabeth was cautious in foreign affairs, manoeuvring between the major powers of France and Spain. She only half-heartedly supported a number of ineffective, poorly resourced military campaigns in the Netherlands, France, and Ireland. By the mid-1580s, England could no longer avoid war with Spain. England's defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 associated Elizabeth with one of the greatest military victories in English history.
 

Elizabeth's reign is known as the Elizabethan era. The period is famous for the flourishing of English drama, led by playwrights such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, and for the seafaring prowess of English adventurers such as Francis Drake. Some historians depict Elizabeth as a short-tempered, sometimes indecisive ruler, who enjoyed more than her share of luck. Towards the end of her reign, a series of economic and military problems weakened her popularity. Elizabeth is acknowledged as a charismatic performer and a dogged survivor in an era when government was ramshackle and limited, and when monarchs in neighbouring countries faced internal problems that jeopardised their thrones. Such was the case with Elizabeth's rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, whom she imprisoned in 1568 and had executed in 1587. After the short reigns of Elizabeth's half-siblings, her 44 years on the throne provided welcome stability for the kingdom and helped forge a sense of national identity.

Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester

 

Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester KG PC (24 June 1532 – 4 September 1588) was an English nobleman and the favourite and close friend of Elizabeth I's, from her first year on the throne until his death. He was a suitor for the queen's hand for many years.
 

Dudley's youth was overshadowed by the downfall of his family in 1553 after his father, the Duke of Northumberland, had failed to establish Lady Jane Grey on the English throne. Robert Dudley was condemned to death but was released in 1554 and took part in the Battle of St. Quentin under Philip II of Spain, which led to his full rehabilitation. On Elizabeth I's accession in November 1558, Dudley was appointed Master of the Horse. In October 1562, he became a Privy Councillor and, in 1587, was appointed Lord Steward of the Royal Household. In 1564, Dudley became Earl of Leicester and, from 1563, one of the greatest landowners in North Wales and the English West Midlands by royal grants.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was one of Elizabeth's leading statesmen, involved in domestic as well as foreign politics alongside William Cecil and Francis Walsingham. Although he refused to be married to Mary, Queen of Scots, Dudley was for a long time relatively sympathetic to her until, from the mid-1580s, he strongly advocated for her execution. As patron of the Puritan movement, he supported non-conforming preachers but tried to mediate between them and the bishops of the Church of England. A champion also of the international Protestant cause, he led the English campaign in support of the Dutch Revolt (1585–87).

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, c. 1564.

His acceptance of the post of Governor-General of the United Provinces infuriated Queen Elizabeth. The expedition was a military and political failure, and it ruined the Earl financially. Leicester was engaged in many large-scale business ventures and was one of the main backers of Francis Drake and other explorers and privateers. During the Spanish Armada, the Earl was in overall command of the English land forces. In this function, he invited Queen Elizabeth to visit her troops at Tilbury. This was the last of many events he had organised over the years, the most spectacular being the festival at his seat Kenilworth Castle in 1575 on occasion of a three-week visit by the Queen. Dudley was a principal patron of the arts, literature, and the Elizabethan theatre.
 

Robert Dudley's private life interfered with his court career and vice versa. When his first wife, Amy Robsart, fell down a flight of stairs and died in 1560, he was free to marry the Queen. However, the resulting scandal very much reduced his chances in this respect. Popular rumours that he had arranged for his wife's death continued throughout his life, despite the coroner's jury's verdict of accident. For 18 years he did not remarry for Queen Elizabeth's sake and when he finally did, his new wife, Lettice Knollys, was permanently banished from court. This and the death of his only legitimate son and heir were heavy blows. Shortly after the child's death in 1584, a virulent libel known as Leicester's Commonwealth was circulated in England. It laid the foundation of a literary and historiographical tradition that often depicted the Earl as the Machiavellian "master courtier" and as a deplorable figure around Elizabeth I. More recent research has led to a reassessment of his place in Elizabethan government and society.

Amy Robsart

 

Amy Dudley (née Robsart) (7 June 1532 – 8 September 1560) was the first wife of Lord Robert Dudley, favourite of Elizabeth I of England. She is primarily known for her death by falling down a flight of stairs, the circumstances of which have often been regarded as suspicious.

Amy Robsart was the only child of a substantial Norfolk gentleman and at nearly 18 married Robert Dudley, a son of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland. In 1553 Robert Dudley was condemned to death and imprisoned in the Tower of London, where Amy Dudley was allowed to visit him. After his release the couple lived in straitened financial circumstances until, with the accession of Elizabeth I in late 1558, Dudley became Master of the Horse, an important court office. The Queen soon fell in love with him and there was talk that Amy Dudley, who did not follow her husband to court, was suffering from an illness, and that Elizabeth would perhaps marry her favourite should his wife die. The rumours grew more sinister when Elizabeth remained single against the common expectation that she would accept one of her many foreign suitors.

 

Amy Dudley lived with friends in different parts of the country, having her own household and hardly ever seeing her husband. In the morning of 8 September 1560, at Cumnor Place near Oxford, she insisted on sending away her servants and later was found dead at the foot of a flight of stairs with a broken neck and two wounds on her head. The coroner's jury's finding was that she had died of a fall downstairs; the verdict was "misfortune", accidental death.

Possible portrait of Amy Robsart

Amy Dudley's death caused a scandal. Despite the inquest's outcome, Robert Dudley was widely suspected to have orchestrated his wife's demise, a view not shared by most modern historians. He remained Elizabeth's closest favourite, but with respect to her reputation she could not risk a marriage with him. A tradition that Sir Richard Verney, a follower of Robert Dudley, organized Amy Dudley's violent death evolved early, and Leicester's Commonwealth, a notorious and influential libel of 1584 against Robert Dudley, by then Earl of Leicester, perpetuated this version of events. Interest in Amy Robsart's fate was rekindled in the 19th century by Walter Scott's novel, Kenilworth. The most widely accepted modern explanations of her death have been breast cancer and suicide, although a few historians have probed murder scenarios. The medical evidence of the coroner's report, which was found in 2008, is compatible with accident as well as suicide and other violence.

Death and inquest

On Sunday, 8 September 1560, the day of a fair at Abingdon, Amy Robsart was found dead at the foot of a pair of stairs at Cumnor Place. Robert Dudley, at Windsor Castle with the Queen, was told of her death by a messenger on 9 September and immediately wrote to his steward Thomas Blount, who had himself just departed for Cumnor. He desperately urged him to find out what had happened and to call for an inquest; this had already been opened when Blount arrived. He informed his master that Lady Dudley had risen early and

 

would not that day suffer one of her own sort to tarry at home, and was so earnest to have them gone to the fair, that with any of her own sort that made reason of tarrying at home she was very angry, and came to Mrs. Odingsells … who refused that day to go to the fair, and was very angry with her also. Because [Mrs. Odingsells] said it was no day for gentlewomen to go … Whereunto my lady answered and said that she might choose and go at her pleasure, but all hers should go; and was very angry. They asked who should keep her company if all they went; she said Mrs. Owen should keep her company at dinner; the same tale doth Picto, who doth dearly love her, confirm. Certainly, my Lord, as little while as I have been here, I have heard divers tales of her that maketh me judge her to be a strange woman of mind.
 

Mrs. Picto was Lady Dudley's maid and Thomas Blount asked whether she thought what had happened was "chance or villany":
 

she said by her faith she doth judge very chance, and neither done by man nor by herself. For herself, she said, she was a good virtuous gentlewoman, and daily would pray upon her knees; and divers times she saith that she hath heard her pray to God to deliver her from desperation. Then, said I, she might have an evil toy [suicide] in her mind. No, good Mr. Blount, said Picto, do not judge so of my words; if you should so gather, I am sorry I said so much.

The Death of Amy Robsart
by William Frederick Yeames

Blount continued, wondering:
 

My Lord, it is most strange that this chance should fall upon you. It passeth the judgment of any man to say how it is; but truly the tales I do hear of her maketh me to think she had a strange mind in her: as I will tell you at my coming.
 

The coroner and the 15 jurors were local gentlemen and yeomen of substance. A few days later Blount wrote that some of the jury were no friends of Anthony Forster (a good sign that they would not "conceal any fault, if any be") and that they were proceeding very thoroughly:
 

they be very secret, and yet do I hear a whispering that they can find no presumptions of evil. And if I may say to your Lordship my conscience: I think some of them be sorry for it, God forgive me. … Mine own opinion is much quieted … the circumstances and as many things as I can learn doth persuade me that only misfortune hath done it, and nothing else.
 

The jury's foreman assured Robert Dudley in a letter of his own that for all they could find out, it appeared to be an accident. Dudley, desperately seeking to avert damage from what he called "my case" was relieved to hear the impending outcome, but thought "another substantial company of honest men" should undertake a further investigation "for more knowledge of truth". This panel should include any available friends of Lady Amy's and her half-brothers John Appleyard and Arthur Robsart, both of whom he had ordered to Cunmor immediately after Amy's death. Nothing came of this proposal.

                                        Synopsis

 

Queen Elizabeth at Wanstead Hall. The figures in the garden may include representations of Robert and Lettice Dudley.

Time: The reign of Queen Elizabeth I
Place: Kenilworth Castle


ACT I

It is announced that Queen Elizabeth is to visit Kenilworth, the Earl of Leicester's castle. Leicester is a favourite of the Queen, but now has a new bride, Amelia Robsart, with whom he is in love. Fearing the Queen's displeasure, he asks his servant Lambourne to arrange for Amelia to be hidden until Elizabeth departs. Amelia is taken to a small cell in the castle by Leicester's equerry, Warney. He then tries to seduce her and tells that she has been placed there because her husband no longer loves her. When Amelia rejects his advances, Warney vows revenge.


ACT II
 

Amelia manages to escape from the cell and in a secret garden of the castle encounters the Queen. She tearfully tells the Queen about her troubles with Leicester, whom she believes has betrayed her. The Queen goes to Leicester and Warney angrily demanding an explanation. Warney deceitfully tries to persuade the Queen that Amelia is his wife. The Queen vows to resolve the mystery and briefly believes the lie. Leicester, however, reveals his marriage with Amelia to the Queen who becomes even more angry and dismisses him.

ACT III

 

Warney, still desiring revenge, attempts to take Amelia away with him from Kenilworth with a lie that it is Leicester's wish, but fails when she refuses to go. He then tries to poison Amelia, but is foiled by her faithful servant, Fanny. In the end, Elizabeth orders the arrest of Warney, pardons Leicester and Amelia, and approves their marriage to the jubilation of all.


 

Portrait of Elizabeth commemorating the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588), depicted in the background. Elizabeth's hand rests on the globe, symbolising her international power. One of three known versions of the "Armada Portrait". Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire.