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Subject: La Straniera in Zurich
From: Szabo Katalin <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Szabo Katalin <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 22 Jul 2013 22:46:54 +0200

TEXT/plain (185 lines)

Bellini: La Straniera
Zurich, Opera House, 14-Jul-2013

Alaide (La Straniera): Edita Gruberova
Isoletta, Arturo's bride: Veronica Simeoni
Arturo: Dario Schmunck
Valdeburgo, the Straniera's brother: Franco Vassallo
Osburgo: Benjamin Bernheim
Il Signore di Montolino: Pavel Daniluk
Priore: Reinhard Mayr
Conducted by Fabio Luisi
Stage director: Christof Loy

La Straniera is Edita Gruberova's newest role. Her stage debut
was in Zurich in June, I saw the last performance of the run.
The role fits her very well. The title character is a mysterious 
and melancholic woman, always veiled, living in a hut at the lake. 
She is actually an exiled queen in disguise. A romantic, rash 
nobleman, Arturo, falls in love with her and wants to abandon 
his bride for her. The Straniera discourages him but cannot help 
returning his affections a bit, despite herself. She tells him
that their love cannot have a future. Arturo finally 
agrees to marry Isoletta, but, as a last favor, wants the 
Straniera to attend his wedding. She does, but leaves the church 
before the wedding is concluded. When it comes to saying "I do", 
Arturo leaves his bride at the altar and runs after the 
Straniera. At this moment it is declared that she is the Queen,
her exile is over, she can return to the throne to the side
of the King. Arturo cannot bear this and commits suicide 
in front of her, which prompts her to sing a wonderful, 
mad-scene-like cabaletta (performed in Zurich in true 
Gruberova style).

Stage director Christof Loy has created a beautiful, dreamlike, 
ageless production. The dreamer is the incurably romantic Arturo, 
torn between two women, the heavenly, mysterious idol Straniera,
and the earthly one, a nice girl with a good heart - who is not
surrounded by any mystery, though. Loy shows it in the
wedding scene that the two female characters are actually two aspects
of the same woman (cf. Les Contes d'Hoffmann), as both are dressed
in white bridal attire (the Straniera has a black veil, though).

There is a single set, a sort of "theatre in the theatre".
There are a lot of movable semi-transparent curtains which
are often operated by the singers themselves. Ropes also play a 
significant part, and they are symbolic (like the whole staging). 
Example: When Arturo stabs his friend out of jealousy (thinking 
that he is the Straniera's lover, while actually he is her brother),
and the victim falls into the lake and disappears, and Arturo, 
realizing his mistake, jumps after him to save him, the Straniera is
arrested and charged with the murder. They try to tie her with
the ropes, but she breaks free, only to pick up a rope and tie
her own hands with it, which probably symbolizes that she takes
the murder charges upon herself. (Later the murder charges are 
dropped when the victim turns up alive.)

The floor of the stage is a beautiful intarsia parquet, but the edges
reveal that it is only a "stage parquet".

In the opening scene just as in the closing scene, Arturo 
lies on the floor, covered with the bridal veil and flowers.

Loy is not afraid to pepper up some potentially boring scenes.
Sometimes just with the agitated movement of chorus members,
but at one time with a shocking presentation of brutality.
In one scene the villagers, who hate the Straniera and 
think that she is a witch, incited by the intriguer Osburgo, tell 
Arturo the lie that the Straniera and her friend (who is actually 
her brother but the villagers and Arturo don't know that) are 
lovers and criminals who have fled from justice. To illustrate 
the sexual relationship, the villagers bring a life-sized 
witch-puppet made from straw, one of them imitates copulation
with it, then they hang the puppet on a rope and pull it slowly 
upwards until it (almost) disappears from sight. At this moment
the Straniera (who has not seen the villagers) appears, to 
say goodbye to her brother. She is about to go to bed, so her
hair is undone. You realize with horror the shocking resemblance 
of her hair and black dress to those of the hanged puppet.
And you forget the stereotype that "belcanto operas are boring".

Another aspect of Loy's style is the references to other stagings,
sometimes his own, but in this case to the Zurich production of
Roberto Devereux (staged by Giancarlo Del Monaco). In the
final scene of this Devereux, Queen Elisabetta takes down and 
throws away her jewels. In the final scene of La Straniera
(though not at the very end), the Straniera/queen puts on 
regal jewels.

The "Assoluterova" was in good form and sang with incredible finesse.
She sang the final aria and cabaletta like a "soprano drammatico d'agilita".
The audience was at her feet.
Franco Vassallo in the role of the brother sang well and 
displayed his trademark high notes. I could have done with
a little more Bellinian sophistication, though.
Dario Schmunck (Arturo) sounded a bit bland and buzzy in 
the beginning, but these effects disappeared in the 
trio of the first act. However, someone ought to have
told him that there is no need to bellow the high notes 
so hard in the relatively small Zurich opera house which
has good acoustics.
Veronica Simeoni, who was the bride Isoletta, has a fine voice.
Unfortunately, I have also heard Sonia Ganassi in this role,
and the two singers cannot really be mentioned in the same breath,
as far as technique, imagination, finesse are concerned.
Just one example: in the beginning of the opera Isoletta quotes
the Straniera's laments which she overheard ("Ogni speme...").
Simeoni sang this in her own voice, while Ganassi had tried
to imitate Gruberova's ethereal, otherworldly singing (Gruberova 
sings in this way offstage before she comes to sight),
and Ganassi had achieved great effect with it even on the concert 
podium. On stage Simeoni at this point was dressed (veiled) like 
the Straniera, but she did not sound like her at all, so she did not 
impress with this phrase. (It is also possible that it was the 
conductor who did not allow Simeoni to imitate Gruberova, but I 
somehow don't think so.)

I found the chorus a little uneven. Fabio Luisi's conducting
was correct and supportive of the singers. The small roles
were acceptably cast.

I think that the music is gorgeous and the work has definitely
merited this staging in Zurich.
Another run is planned in Zurich for September/October. I have read
that the production would also go to Essen (Germany) in the next season,
where Marlis Petersen would sing the title role. In 2015 Gruberova and
Petersen will share the title role in the Theater an der Wien.

Musically, my favorite parts are the Straniera's entrance 
(she begins to sing a sad song behind the scenes),
the Straniera-Arturo duet in Act I (perhaps this is
melodically the most beautiful part), and the Straniera's arias 
in the finales of the Acts (in Act II with a cabaletta, too).

A trailer video of the staging can be seen online:

This trailer is rather eclectic and confusing, it is not chronological,
the sound and the picture, more often than not, don't match, 
so here is a little and somewhat incomplete guide to it:

00:19 Arturo commits suicide (Act II)
00:25 The end of the Straniera-Arturo duet of Act I 
(but the picture matches this only from 00:40)
00:52 Isoletta's scene from Act II (when she gets 
the good news that Arturo is coming to the wedding after all),
but the picture matches this only from 00:58 for a
short while
01:00 The Straniera opens the case containing the 
regal jewels (Act II)
01:12 The brother consoles the Straniera after
the murder charges against her are dropped (Act II)
01:29-01:38 Act II: Minutes before the wedding ceremony, 
the villagers rejoice, while, unseen by them, the Straniera 
wanders around in bridal attire, wearing a crown (which is probably 
her flashback to her own wedding to the King)
01:47 The Straniera says goodbye to her brother before
going to bed (Act I)
01:49-02:00 (the picture, not the music): the shocking scene with 
the witch-puppet (Act I)
02:13 (only the picture, not the music):
The Straniera embraces Arturo's lifeless body at the end of the opera

Best regards


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