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Subject: Anna Bolena in Tokyo / The Gruberova cult in Japan
From: Szabo Katalin <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Szabo Katalin <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 12 Nov 2012 21:28:21 +0100

TEXT/plain (150 lines)

A kind Japanese fan of Edita Gruberova invited me to Tokyo to see Anna Bolena 
with Gruberova in the title role, on November 4, in the guest performance of 
the Vienna State Opera in the Bunka Kaikan. As this performance was allegedly 
the final performance of Gruberova in Japan, I just couldn't resist...

It was an incredible experience in more than one sense. Not only was the 
quality of the performance exceptional, but I also got a whiff of the 
Gruberova cult there. She is regarded so highly in Japan, that - as 
reported by several newspapers - she was even invited by the 
imperial family for tea. 

In the performance, Gruberova began well, perhaps a bit economizing in the 
ensembles. (Let's not forget that this role, by her own account, is for her 
fach what Brunnhilde is for dramatic sopranos.) Her stage presence was 
gripping as always, and we could again indulge in the beauty of the voice 
we are so crazy for. In the duet with Percy, came one of my fav notes 
in this opera: the high note, actually a high variation, on the "o" of 
"mi aborre", which means, "(the king) hates me". This note (from the proper 
throat) can sum up the essence of Anna's horrible fate. Gruberova always 
puts emphasis on this note, but on this occasion the note was extra 
powerful, ringing and looooong.  At this point she pulled out all the plugs 
and let it loose in a way which I had experienced with her in Bolenas 
15 years before. And there was no stop, no holding back till the end. 
The voice had a lot of power and luminosity, right to the last 
microsecond of the great, final e-flat.

For the sake of those who love to find even the slightest fault: there 
was a phrase where she missed the beginning, but she was back on the track 
2-3 seconds later.

At first, Gruberova's age showed a bit in her looks, she looked older 
than the king (played by 37-year-old Luca Pisaroni), but, as the performance 
progressed, she gradually looked younger and younger, and finally they 
somehow seemed to be of the same age.

Pisaroni is a bass-baritone well-schooled in belcanto, and has an 
impressive stage presence, too. Perhaps at this stage of his career, his 
voice was a shade too bright for the dark villain he played, but this is 
actually a matter of taste.

Giovanna Seymour was the always great Sonia Ganassi. Nice, expressive voice, 
great technical prowess. No one can do those Rossini-like runs better in the
cabaletta part of "Per questa fiamma indomita". She and Gruberova together 
can raise belcanto singing to exceptional heights, and they indeed did so 
in their duet.

Shalva Mukeria (Percy) sang impressive, ringing high notes. However, 
below that range, the voice tended to lose color a bit (in the relatively 
large - 2000+ - venue where he had to produce considerable volume to be 
audible). This effect was not so noticeable towards the end of the opera, 
though. In any case, he is a serious artist with a good feel for belcanto. 
His acting abilities are not particularly outstanding, though.

Hearing Elisabeth Kulman (Smeton) live impressed me more than when I 
heard her on recording.

The role of Anna's brother Rochefort was well served by Dan Paul 
Dumitrescu's velvety bass, and tenor Carlos Osuna was passable as 
"bad boy" Sir Hervey.

Maestro Evelino Pido masterfully chose the right tempi and right 
musical emphases to accommodate the soloists. Under him the orchestra
sounded exceptionally disciplined. The chorus also gave a wonderful 
performance. Looking back on the numerous Anna Bolena performances I 
have experienced in various venues, only the Sachsischer Staatsopernchor
(the chorus of the Semperoper in Dresden) comes to mind as a match to 
the chorus of the Wiener Staatsoper.

The staging is rather insignificant. There is a commercial video of it 
from Vienna from 2011, with Netrebko in the title role, she is the only 
one who has sung the role in Vienna on stage. However, for the 
Staatsoper's guest performance in Japan, the Japanese asked for Gruberova. 
The price of single tickets ranged from JPY 59,000 to 15,000. All 3 
performances sold out, the number of orders surpassed the number of 
tickets, so tickets were distributed by lottery. (If you divide the 
ticket prices by 100, you will get the prices in euro...)

Some excesses were left out from the staging as we know it from the video.
This time Anna did not kiss Smeton on the mouth (it would rather have 
proven her guilt than her innocence), and she did not pull the red cloth 
over her face in the last moments.

My friends told me that this had been the best of the series of 3 
Anna Bolena performances.

The ovation (naturally, a standing ovation) lasted for 15-20 minutes 
after the performance. Gruberova even tried to shorten it by waving goodbye 
- of course she was called back a few times even after that. Big banners 
were displayed on the stage, thanking her for performing for 32 years on 
Japanese stages. There were also smaller banners in the audience 
(one painted by yours truly).

After the performance Gruberova and the other protagonists gave 
autographs. There was a long autograph queue, it must have consisted of 
several hundred people, but it moved quickly. The ushers organized the 
people in the queue into pairs. They also declared (shouting) that each 
person could have only one item signed. (They shouted it only in Japanese, 
but I had my longtime friend Akira - of Opera-L - by my side, and he 
translated for me.)  A fan had bought a lot of roses - allegedly 1000 -. 
The side of the way from the venue to the car was covered by the petals 
of these roses, and the remaining petals were strewn on Gruberova 
when she came out.

It was so great to meet Akira again, and to meet other Japanese fans 
as well. Some I had already met in Europe. They are so nice and kind 
and respectful. And they are so crazy for Gruberova's voice as I am.

Even though Gruberova herself said in interviews that this would be
her last performance in Japan, the local fans secretly hope that she 
would return, at least for recitals. Several fans are also planning 
trips to Europe to see her again.

Gruberova will soon do Anna Bolena in Vienna as well - but not in the 
Staatsoper. It will be a concert performance in the Musikverein 
(the venue for the New Year concerts).

In February she will also have her 45th stage anniversary.
However, the Wiener Staatsoper, the venue where she came to world fame
(with Zerbinetta in 1976), and where she delivered hundreds of
performances in the past, will not hold any kind of gala or 
celebration for her. Instead, an independent presenter has organized 
concerts (Bellini's La Straniera, again in the Musikverein) for her 
for the occasion.

To this simple mind it is inexplicable that the Wiener Staatsoper
does not organize anything for the anniversary. If not out of respect,
then out of business sense. Gruberova is so popular in Vienna that
even her recital (with piano) in the Staatsoper, which was in April, 
sold out within hours after the beginning of the ticket sale 
(while other, also renowned artists' recitals didn't sell so well).
Perhaps they are waiting for the 50th anniversary...? Chances are,
Gruberova will be active even then. If not as an opera singer, then
as a singer of Lieder. 

Best regards


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