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Subject: The real Zerbinetta - Gruberova's best on You Tube
From: Niel Rishoi <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:[log in to unmask]
Date:Wed, 9 Aug 2006 02:05:17 -0400

text/plain (179 lines)

At long last, I can recommend a definitive rendition of
Edita Gruberova doing her classic Zerbinetta.  I have heard
some 20+ versions, live (audio, video) and commercial
(audio, film), but it is the one she sang in 1982 from
Salzburg (the revised 1916), there on You Tube, by my
estimation, is her absolute finest:  The links come in 2

This is probably, certifiably, the only rendition she does,
that is documented, that I can fully recommend: it is
~Scompleat~T in every way possible.

The two commercial recordings I find not quite
satisfactory: both on the Solti (1977) and the Masur (1988)
find her a bit hard-edged and not least, lack the visual
element; it is not until you see Gruberova performing the
music in tandem with her acting of the scene that you
realize, that in the audio alone, leaves the performance
incomplete.  She is ~Sacting~T in the studio, but the
interpretation has a specificity to it, in the way she
phrases key moments.  In other words, the interpretation is
communicated too text-stylistic, appearing almost
idiosyncratic, because it is not conventionally sung.  I
don~Rt know if that makes sense, but a fastidious person
would hear a less ~Spure~T, less instrumental approach on
audio: when you see how Gruberova fashions the character,
it makes logical, even inevitably ~Sright,~T sense.  Ideally,
it should be heard AND seen. (I sure wish we could use
italics on here!)

It is not simply that Gruberova sails through the aria,
technically ~ she is one of the very few who can handle the
ferocious difficulty of the writing.  But more than
anything, she understands the character so completely, and
is therefore technically unimpeded to bring full justice to
the score.  One of the most notable features of the aria is
its numerous trills, the difficulty of them, especially
long ones on high.  And how important they are.  The one on
the word ~Sstirn~T is a quiver of eroticism: if it is left
out, the word has no effect. And a good deal of sopranos
leave it out or just cannot do it adequately.

I have never read any truly insightful essays into this
piece, and I wish a musicologist with far better score
reading skills than I would delve into it; most just
concern themselves with the orchestra, Ariadne~Rs and the
Composer~Rs music. Usually Zerbinetta~Rs aria is simply
dismissed by a vague allusion to the technical aspects,
along with comments about personality, but no real insight
into the character or what the music *means*.

More than that, though, in most accounts I have heard, I~Rve
not had the feeling that the soprano has understood the
character.  Often, the impression I~Rve gotten is that most
sopranos think of Zerbinetta as a soubrette-coquette,
dizzy, merry, cute, cute, cute, and a bit vacuous.  I think
people somehow expect a ~Scute~T Zerbinetta, right up there
with Adina, Norina, etc.  Many of the other accounts are
very pretty, sung ~Scorrectly~T (and not even always that),
but no more. The quavery, squeaky Erna Berger sings the
music literally but is sugary-sweet and little-girlish;
 Rita Streich is highly regarded on the Karajan set, but it
is merrily monochromatic, and lacking in sensuality. She
also has no real trills, a serious fault (and do I hear a
vibrato that hangs on the lower side of the pitch?? ~V she
sounds ~Sunder~T a lot).  Over the years I~Rve been sent
numerous accounts: someone said Gianna D~RAngelo was
~Swonderful, charming (which she is)~T and I moved heaven and
earth to secure an account: it is the same as most
soubrette-type of coloraturas, high notes lacking true
bloom, white-toned, flutey-tubular timbred, pipingly
pretty, nightingale-sweet, but ultimately, meaningless.
 Peters I found brittle; Battle overparted, Geszty and
Grist not up to the demands. There is in most accounts a
kind of inert sort of cuteness, others a very determined
striving for technical ease, but little freedom of
expression; you hear them just ~Sgetting by,~T not really on
top of the music securely. Also, most of these nightingale
voice types are just too narrow in color and weight to
impart the substance, as well as to the soaring heights of
the music~Rs expressiveness.  More seriously, I hear scalar
passages broken up from faulty breath control, sections
slowed-down in order to get around the notes ~V and worst of
all, substituting merely a vowel ~V the ubiquitous ~Sah~T for
real words.

The most common problem in many interpretations is a
lame-brained attempt at a surfeit type of coquettishnish in
the bimbo category ~V like what is regarded as a California
dumb blonde. Barbie-doll cute maybe, but not sensual,
ironic or engaging.  Often they play Zerbinetta like Julie
Andrews did in The Sound of Music: irrepressibly perky.

She is a coquette, to be sure, but of a knowing, keen,
experienced sort.  But; Zerbinetta may very well be opera~Rs
first modern woman: a sexual femme-fatale of the world.
Read the text. Her long aria is not merely about
flirtations with Mezzetin, Pagliazzo, etc, but about her
sexual delight in all the men she~Rs slept with.  She~Rs not
just tiptoeing through the daisies with her men; she~Rs
rolling around the fields with them, indulging in carnal
lusts.  Zerbinetta is a multi-layered, tragico-comico
character, but that comedic aspect has a world-wise irony
to it that the majority of sopranos miss. Too, if anyone
has bothered to listen, in the prologue (a piece of genius,
in my view), at ~SEin Augenblick,~T the achingly sweet and
pathos-laden duet with the Composer, you will see/hear a
very sad, very poignant young woman who is quite jaded by

When I first heard the aria, I did not like it, and found
the coloratura figurations utterly alien and strange.  It
seemed zig-zaggy, abrupt and extreme.  It was only later,
having studied the score, and all the accounts of the aria
I could find. It was in Gruberova~Rs performances that I
understood what many of those figurations meant. From ~SSo
war es mit Pagliazzo und Mezzetin~E.~T on, the writing goes
up, swoops down, giggles, laughs in sexual delight. It
CANNOT be cute: listen to Strauss~Rs orchestration and the
persona of the character. Brazen in her sexuality. You get
into the closing passage, ~SAls ein Gott kam jeder
gegangen,~T and the music gets heavier into the wide
intervals, including a fiendishly impossible set of
triplets ~V and when it goes to ~S~Eund sein Schritt schon
machte mich stumm, k?sste er mir Stirn und Wangen, war ich
von dem Gott gefangen und gewandelt um und um ( roughly,
that all means ~SEach came like a god and his presence left
me speechless~Ewhen he kissed my brow and cheek, I was held
captive to each god and became transfigured~T)  - the music
becomes very lush, sensual, both for voice and orchestra;
there are numerous erotic trills, topped by a high E, an
expression of ecstasy, followed by more extreme intervals.
 And then: it builds momentum, up, down, the figurations
rising by steps ~V ~Qhingegeben war ich stumm (I surrendered
without a word)~R ~V her imagined ~Ssubmission~T ~V becomes a
very prolonged high D, which segues into an equally long
trill.  This effect is, plainly, a paroxysm of orgiastic

When you see Gruberova on You Tube performing this, you may
see exactly how she enacts these particulars.  She even
uses the high E effectively: she begins it at full volume,
does an extreme diminuendo, returns to full volume.  But
she draws herself inward into Zerbinetta~Rs sexual persona,
her eyes becoming half-lidded, her hands imaginary-feeling
the lovers~R caresses on her waist and breasts.  The singing
itself is just stupendous: the camera caught her on one of
those ~Ssuper-ON~T nights, and she traverses through this
music with sheer bravado and abandon: there are no
limitations. I cannot do better than to cite a contemporary

~SVocal exhibitionism  of the
sheer-pin-your-ears-back-and-make-your-jaw-drop sort was
provided by Edita Gruberova~Ebut again it was appropriate to
the work. Her performance of Zerbinetta~Rs aria was a
firework display of coloratura singing, each exploding star
of a note appearing as if by magic at exactly the right
point in the sky, and with just the right coloring and
intensity. One sat there unable to believe one~Rs ears. This
incredible, impossible performance was so effortless for
her that she allowed herself to tease the audience with an
ironic exaggeration or two ~V but again in character, and
not too much. When she finished, the house came down. It
was the high point of a production of the very highest
distinction.~T (from OPERA magazine)

But don~Rt take my word for it ~V have a look ~V and listen
for yourselves.

Niel Rishoi

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