Donizetti: Roberto Devereux
Nationaltheater, Munich, 5 & 13-Feb-2012
Elisabetta: Edita Gruberova
Nottingham: Fabio Maria Capitanucci
Sara: Carmen Oprisanu (on the 5th) / Sonia Ganassi (on the 13th)
Roberto: Joseph Calleja
Cecil: Francesco Petrozzi
Gualtiero: Tareq Nazmi
Page: John Chest
Giacomo (silent role): Johannes Klama
conducted by Friedrich Haider
stage director: Christof Loy
This is a production I had seen many times, and was delighted to see again.
When I bought the tickets, I was happy to see in the cast list that
two mezzos I like, Oprisanu and Ganassi, would be sharing the role of
Sara in the run, therefore I bought the tickets so that I could see both
(even though my biggest motivation was to see the leading lady).
I value Oprisanu not only for her gorgeous, velvety, "classic" mezzo voice,
but also for the depths of her portrayals. I think that she sang this role
for the first time ever - certainly so in this Munich production, in which
I had already seen 2 other mezzos in the role of Sara (Roberto's secret love) before.
Seeing Oprisanu's interpretation I realized that there is more to this role
psychologically than I had thought before. What made me think that was not
just the acting, it was somehow the "impersonation" of the character,
of the broken, abused, unfortunate, silently suffering woman who had been
forced into an unwanted marriage. She no longer fears for herself,
her only concern is the safety of her beloved Roberto.
It also helped the credibility of the character that Oprisanu is tall and
slim and pretty. She also executed the vocal part of the role well (it
suits her better than Adalgisa which lies a bit high for her). Her singing is
elegant, noble and intelligent.
The other performance had Sonia Ganassi as Sara. If Gruberova is the
[soprano] Queen of Belcanto, then Ganassi is the [mezzo] Crown Princess
of it. Her voice lies higher than Oprisanu's.
While there is nothing wrong with Oprisanu's "italianita", either, Ganassi
really has this in her veins. She is a belcanto specialist. Her
vocal "tricks" are spectacular.
She is not tall, but she has slimmed down recently, so her physical
appearance as Sara is also believable. Since 2003 when I heard her
live for the first time, I have noticed a marked development in her
expressivity. She was a fine Sara, though she was more restrained
and detached than Oprisanu.
I am happy that I have seen both of these ladies in this role.
The title role was assumed by Joseph Calleja, one of the big names in
the world of tenors. His fame is justified. He has developed since I
last saw him in this role in Vienna a few years ago, the vibrato has
become less pronounced, the voice sounds more homogenous now and
more beautiful, the singing even more stylish.
By nature he seems to be one of those "stand-and-deliver" type of
singers, but he has apparently worked hard to learn even the
nuances of this staging. Nevertheless, he still appeared a bit
static (less so in the second performance than in the first).
The weak element among these august singers was the young baritone
Capitanucci. Not awful, just not good enough. To my (non-professional)
ears, the voice often sounded as if it was not in position (i.e. it
sounded throaty), and it thinned out in the high range. He apparently
doesn't use enough support. (Perhaps this role is new for him and it
has not yet "settled".) Also, he has a tendency to begin phrases with
"Mhmmm" (thus, instead of "Sara, vederlo io voglio", he sings
"Mhmmm, Sara, vederlo io voglio").
He had no noticeable stage presence, either. His timbre is very attractive,
he has a lot of potential, time will tell what he makes of it.
Conductor Friedrich Haider's interpretation of this opera is really great
(it has been called idiomatic in this forum), bringing out the maximum drama
and tension as well as the lyricism, and at the same time he is supportive
of the singers. It is always a joy to hear the piece under his baton.
(I must remark, that, although I'm often referring to him as a "belcanto
conductor", that just reflects my preference of repertoire, and does not
do justice to the other sides of his talent. As an example: his
"Ariadne auf Naxos" is just as idiomatic - in a good sense - as his Devereux.)
As a longtime fan of Edita Gruberova, I have praised her in this forum
so many times that by now I have run out of words. Elisabetta is one of
her greatest roles, and at 65 she is still able to deliver the goods,
with a thousand tricks, like unbelievable messe di voce, trills etc.,
and a very nuanced, thrilling interpretation which really goes "deep".
She "owns" the vast stage of the Nationaltheater.
This role of hers is also special in the sense that the age of the
portrayed character is the same as the actual biological age of the singer.
This is not a young-girl role where we should "suspend disbelief"
because the mature singer does not look like a young girl (at least
not from close range). The only thing we should suspend here is the preconception
that a soprano of this age cannot sing well. She can, still can.
(This is rare, but not unprecedented: think of Freni, Olivero, Helen Donath...)
This particular staging (by the genial Christof Loy) has been specially
tailored to the diva, it must have been created in close collaboration
with her. Even her everyday gestures have been built into the acting.
(You don't have to know her in person to realize this - it's enough
to watch the recent documentary about her, "The Art of Belcanto", available
with her "Lucrezia Borgia" DVD.)
Gruberova's every appearance in this role in Munich is a success,
with standing ovations, applause lasting for dozens of minutes,
and, when there is an autograph hour after the performance, there is a
long queue of people lining up for getting her autograph and
exchanging two words with her (such was the case also on the 13th).
It's all the more painful to her audience that - according to what
has been published in the papers - this was the last run of Devereux
with her in Munich. And not the last run of Devereux in the house, just HER
They are doing this to a singer who has remained loyal to the house
for almost four decades. Last year she was the only singer of star status
who didn't cancel participation in the Bavarian State Opera's Japan tour,
but did the contracted performances, to great acclaim (can you guess the
opera? yeah, it was Roberto Devereux).
The daily "Muenchner Merkur" wrote that the new singer who would (or might)
be engaged by the management for further Devereux-s is Mariella Devia.
(Gruberova is 65 and Devia is 63...)
Now, I admire Devia greatly, and it would be nice if she got engagements
in Munich (or elsewhere in Germany). But she would be terribly handicapped
in this staging of Devereux, which has been tailored to Gruberova in
every way. Gruberova has done all the performances so far. (I witnessed one
performance which she nearly cancelled because of illness, but she - with
medical aid - managed to do it nevertheless, and very well, even the
hardcore fans who had seen hundreds of her performances could hardly
detect any sign of illness in her singing. There was a replacement singer
ready to go on stage, but she didn't get the chance.) So the audience is
accustomed to her interpretation, and any singer trying to fill
La Gruberova's shoes in Munich would have a very hard time.
The fans' reactions to this piece of news vary from "I would NEVER want to see
Devereux without HER, in HER staging!" to "I would attend, just to
boo off the stage whoever DARES to sing the role here, unless she is very,
very good, but even a reincarnated Maria Callas would not do!".
Anyone remember Fleming's Lucrezia Borgia debacle at La Scala in 1998?
(She did not really sing badly, it was perhaps just her style, her way of
singing which was unusual in the house. A - perhaps small - part of
the audience was hostile to her, she was booed in mid-performance and
then really made a few mistakes. Later she sang a few more performances,
but then withdrew from the rest of the run.)
I wonder if we will witness a similar event in Munich...
"Either an opera house can acquire the services of "la Gruberova" - or they can
forget putting on this opera." Roberto Devereux was advertised with these
words - on the homepage of the Bavarian State Opera(!). Am I the only one who,
in this light, finds the behavior of the management hypocritical?
Gruberova's performances in the BSO regularly sell out. She has a big fan base.
She is reliable, not a canceller. She still sings well.
Of course, in every active singer's life, the time will inevitably come to
say goodbye to the stage. There is an optimal moment for this, when you are
still good enough, so that you leave a favorable impression in the audience.
Big opera houses plan their schedule for years in advance.
So, they cannot be sure if a soprano in her 60's, however good her
technique may be, will be in good form 2,3,4,5 years from now.
Nevertheless, I think, Edita Gruberova has the ability to assess herself
objectively. A proof of this is an interview from 1997 (she was 50 at the time).
She was then asked what the chances were of her singing Zerbinetta at age 60.
Her answer was one word, "Good!". I myself thought at the time that this was
an exaggeration. Was I wrong! She sang Zerbinetta for the last time
a few days ahead of her 63rd birthday. (And she announced to the audience
during the curtain calls that it had been her last Zerbinetta.)
So, I think, she knows when to give up a role.
At a recent press conference, Gruberova announced that she is leaving
the BSO, the only role she would do in a few more performances until 2014
would be Lucrezia Borgia, and that would be the end.
On the basis of reports in the papers, and what I have heard from the fans,
I have tried to put together the pieces of the puzzle: The management
apparently didn't offer her any new roles in her fach. She was offered
Verdi roles she has never sung before (allegedly Amelia and others),
and these roles are unsuitable to her voice (during her career she has
always had the good sense to reject unsuitable roles - that is probably
one of the secrets of her longevity). For a while she was scheduled for
a run of Traviatas, but then she cancelled this (proof again that she
knows when to say goodbye to a role - she had a grand goodbye to Violetta
in 2010, on stage in Hamburg, and then in concert in Munich and Vienna).
Also, the management of the BSO has reduced the number of her performances,
she was no longer asked to sing in the festival performances in the summer
(which she has done for decades). She was informed that other singers would
sing "her" roles (i.e. the roles which are in her current repertoire
at the BSO: Elisabetta in Devereux, Norma and Lucrezia Borgia).
Of course it is not illegal to cast different singers in a role, this
is usually a sensible decision. However, the case here is special:
we have a legendary singer regularly drawing full houses,
having a loyal audience which is used to HER interpretations.
The staging of each of the abovementioned operas has been tailor-made
for her, and she has sung all of the performances in these stagings.
So, I think, the management is shooting itself in the foot
when they oust her and bring in other singers, while she is still
able to deliver the goods.
It seems that, wounded in her pride, she decided to announce the
end of the collaboration herself at the press conference.
She has abandoned portraying young girls on stage, the abovementioned
roles are all mature women: Norma is a mother, also Lucrezia (she has a
grown-up son), Elisabetta is in her 60's.
She is still scheduled for stage performances of "Roberto Devereux" in
other opera houses. The new management of the Zurich Opera (where
she didn't sing for 10 years for personal reasons) welcomes her back
with open arms.
The city of Munich will not remain without Gruberova performances, either:
she will debut there in the Philharmonie in July in the role of Alaide
(La Straniera) in a concert performance, and other concert performances
are also planned with her. I have met the agent organizing these concerts.
He, a great connoisseur of voices, says, there can easily be another
5 years in this voice, and he would love to organize a festive concert
for her 50th stage anniversary - with her active, singing participation,
of course. (This would be due in 2018!)
Not only does Gruberova have a stable and devoted fan base, but she is
still capable of winning over new fans, too. She has just recently become
popular in Warsaw, and I witnessed the triumph of one of her rare
appearances in Paris in December. It was a workday, so only a few
of the "hardcore" fans from abroad could attend the performance, and yet
she was able to bring the local audience to the point of delirium
with her concert performance of Norma.
In this light, the decision of the BSO is all the more puzzling and unfortunate.
I am not an insider, I have written of what I have read and heard,
drawing my own conclusions. If you wish to read a German press article
on the same subject, you can go to
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