San Francisco Opera begins its season this weekend, with Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci on Friday, Roberto Devereux on Saturday, and their annual Opera in the Park free concert Sunday afternoon. Sondra Radvanovsky and Russell Thomas play Queen Elizabeth and the titular Earl of Essex in Donizetti’s Devereux. It’s Thomas’s role debut, but Radvanovsky has sung all three of his ‘Tudor Queen’ roles: Anne Boleyn, Mary Queen of Scotts, and Elizabeth.

There’s more information about all the weekend’s festivities at the San Francisco Opera website.

“I love bel canto opera,” Russell Thomas says. “I don’t get to do it very much, but all the times that I’ve done it, I’ve done it with Sondra…” He says about Roberto Devereux: “It’s a great opera. It’s a great piece of drama and it works, as a great piece of music theatre.” That’s despite the fact that his character doesn’t have the dramatic arc of Elizabeth, the queen who loves Roberto, despite his being imprisoned for treason. His character is in love with Sara, the Duchess of Nottingham. Facing both political and romantic pressures (Donizetti wasn’t going for historical accuracy as much as maximum drama) Elisabetta shows all of her emotions. Radvanovsky says, “I would say of the three Tudor Operas (Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux), for me, this is the tightest piece not just musically but dramatically. I don’t think that any note shouldn’t be there. Oftentimes with bel canto music, you know, they cut certain things, it’s traditional, and with this opera really there’s no need to, because it flows so perfectly… It’s just up and down – she’s always… she sings high notes and then low notes, and then high notes and low notes, and I mean, she’s a woman that’s angry for ninety percent, maybe ninety five percent of the opera.” There are six performances, running through September 27th.