Monday, July 5, 2010

More Like a CEO Than a Queen

That's what my beloved husband Mikey said at halftime about Edita Gruberová at the Bayerische Staatsoper's (Bavarian State Opera, Munich) Münchner Opernfestspiele production of Donizetti's Roberto Devereux on July 4. (Yes, I'm in Germany on vacay, and you're not, so there! ) This is a production first seen in 2005, revived in March of this year, and repeated at the Opernfestspiele. Although I didn't like the production, or a lot of the singing, I quite loved the performance.

The production is by Chistopher Loy, and is updated to modern-day England. I'd seen YouTube clips of excerpts, and didn't care for the production much. This review from last March's revival discusses many of my reservations to updating operas better than I can here. In a nutshell, if the purpose is to clarify dramatic detail by placing it in a more familiar time period, updated opera productions usually fail because one is impacted by the dramatic power of the music in spite of the production, rather than because of it.

Plus it looks goofy. The chorus men all looked fine as modern-day Members of Parliament, in drab gray, black and blue business suits, but the women didn't. They looked uniformly ridiculous with their ill-fitting suits and bad wigs. A chorus of Orthodox Jewish flight attendants. And the chorus number that opens Act II has been re-interpreted as a chorus of servants, but to me their costumes made them look as if they belonged in another opera--or operetta.

Let us talk about the singing. I've never been a big fan of Edita Gruberová, who sang Elisabeth the first (or second? who knows with this production). I'm still not a fan, but having now seen her perform live I quite understand the passion her fans feel. The lady has been singing opera professionally for 42 years, and this reviewer can't help but mention her age is showing vocally. Even at her peak, I found her a bit shrill. I was, however, completely won over by her use of the 64-year old voice's flaws for dramatic effect. And I can't deny that whenever she was on stage I was riveted. I couldn't breathe during the last-act finale-cum-mad scene, when Elisabeth is overcome with grief after having Devereux executed.

I'm also not a fan of José Bros, who sang the role of Roberto Devereux, the queen's former love. Based on the YouTube clips I've seen, I've never cared for him vocally, and frankly, I don't know why his career has risen to the level it has. I found his singing unattractive and his high voice particularly weak. It was a poor voice that sounded tired. He had charisma on stage, but to me that is all he had.

Paolo Gavanelli and Sonia Ganassi gave fine performances as the Duke and Duchess of Nottingham. Ms. Ganassi especially was a treat to hear vocally. Her performance of Sara, Devereux's former love, who married Nottingham only because Devereux himself was Mr. Unavailable, was completely committed vocally and dramatically. She was the only singer I wanted to hear more of upon leaving the theater. Paolo Gavanelli sang the complex role of Nottingham, Devereux's friend who defends him against a Parliament full of scheming Mad Men look-alikes (once again, the production is more distraction than asset), even while Devereux is meeting with Sara. His anger when he believes Sara has betrayed him (she hasn't) is palpable. Of his singing, I will say that, once he was warmed up, the lyrical passages were quite beautiful, but the blustery passages were overly blustery. While overall a very successful performance, not really the level of singing I expect at a theater on the professional level of the Met and Covent Garden.

This is a rare instance of being moved in spite of many factors that would normally cause me to give a thumbs-down, not least much of the singing. Your intrepid reporter left the theater bouyed by Ms. Gruberová's amazing performance. Indeed, a story had been told, and told well.

1 comment:

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

Ahhhh...the age old debate...whether vocal beauty or acting beauty is better to have. It's so rare that you get both. Glad you're having fun!