The Edita Gruberová Show in Madrid: Roberto Devereux

SpainSpain G.Donizetti, Roberto Devereux: Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus Teatro Real, Andriy Yurkevych (conductor), Teatro Real, Madrid, 3.3.2013 (JMI)

Concert Version

Elisabetta: Edita Gruberová
Roberto Devereux: José Bros
Sara: Sonia Ganassi
Nottingham: Vladimir Stoyanov
Cecil: Mikeldi Atxalandabaso
Gualtiero: Simón Orfila

Picture courtesy Teatro Real, © Javier del Real
Picture courtesy Teatro Real, © Javier del Real

Edita Gruberová is one of the few singers who has been able to spend her later career singing only operas of her choice, at a few select theatres. On February 18 she celebrated the 45th anniversary of her operatic debut by singing a concert version of Bellini’s La Straniera at Vienna’s Musikverein.

Edita Gruberová has an almost mythical reputation as a vocal miracle. As such, she stands next to Plácido Domingo, Leo Nucci, Mariella Devia, and Dolora Zajick. Her legion of followers and admirers seem to enter ecstasy at her mere presence on stage, and for them performances by this outstanding Slovak singer are simply occasions to show their admiration and adoration for their goddess. It is not easy to understand how at 66 she can keep the freshness of her voice and her infallible top notes—sounding as if she were 20 years younger, but she does it, though her great technique certainly helps.

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G.Donizetti, Roberto Devereux,
F.Haider / Bavarian State Orchestra & Chorus
E.Gruberová and others

Despite my unreserved admiration for her voice, I have reservations about her choice of repertoire and, in particular, her choice of the role of Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux. An article by Eva Sandoval in the program describes the character of Elisabetta as the Elektra of bel canto and I think she is right. Obviously, Elisabetta belongs to the purest and most complicated bel canto roles and here Edita Gruberová is like a fish in water. Expression, tonal beauty, scale jumps, agility, trills, high notes … She has everything, although not always accompanied by the most exquisite taste.

If we consider Elisabetta a kind of Elektra—even if this is something of an exaggeration—it means that she needs to be played by a soprano with a voice far more dramatic than Gruberová’s. I remember attending her 1990 performance in Roberto Devereux at Barcelona’s Liceu, where she was as spectacular as she is now… and also featured the same shortage of drama for the rôle. The same program refers to the great Elisabettas who followed the Donizetti Renaissance, with special mention to Leyla Gencer and Montserrat Caballé, who were also great bel canto sopranos but also had voices perfectly suited to the dramatic demands of Elisabetta. This is not the case of Edita Gruberová, who is not and cannot be belcanto’s Elektra. At the most she is bel canoto’s Chrysothemis. All this doesn’t matter to her worshipers. Myself, I enjoy Gruberová in bel canto, but not her artificial and void low notes and in particular not her lack of dramatic weight in the final scene of this opera.

José Bros was Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, and he gave an outstanding performance: one of the very best I can remember from him. José Bros is a great bel canto singer, with excellent phrasing, elegance, expressiveness, and—truly rare these days—exemplary diction! For me, he was the real star of the concert. Vladimir Stoyanov as the Duke of Nottingham benefitted from singing at front of the stage. He is certainly better suited to this repertoire than to Verdi, where his voice lacks sufficient weight. Sonia Ganassi, also very well suited to bel canto, was a good interpreter of Sara, Duchess of Nottingham. Among the supporting cast, Mikeldi Atxalandabaso’s Lord Cecil was excellent.

Andriy Yurkevych, who often conducts for Mme. Gruberová, was at the helm. I liked his approach, since he didn’t merely accompany the singers, which is his primary mission in these concerts. There was a good deal of energy and he got an excellent performance from the orchestra.

José Mª Irurzun