Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Queen, while not in the spring of youth, is far from dead

July 05, 2007

Edita Gruberova as Queen Elizabeth I
Photo: Wilfried Hosl/Bavarian State Opera 2006
The Bavarian Opera Festival continued tonight with one of two scheduled performances from Edita Gruberova. She is starring in both of her two recent triumphs here in Munich, Norma next week and Christoph Loy’s production of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux that I got to see tonight. Both of these productions, mounted to showcase Gruberova’s talents in particular, are available on DVD already, starring largely the same casts that will appear during the festival. Gruberova is better loved here than perhaps anywhere else in the opera world, which may explain in part her continued appearances in the most demanding roles well into the later part of her career. It is true that she has an amazing voice, though clearly not to everyone’s taste. She still handles the higher part of her range with ease, strength and great control. While she lacks a certain lightness, she gives a very athletic and powerful performance. And as any sports fan can tell you, there is sometimes a lot of beauty and grace in things that are athletic and strong. The bottom and middle part of her range have not fared as well and she often sounds as if she were gulping down words in an admittedly less than Italianate manner. What she does have, though, besides an upper range, is years of stage experience and actual acting talent. She sold the end of both the second and third acts with her acting alone. All that with her still beautiful voice makes it easy to see why she is so loved. Plus as the Staatsoper’s own PR says, where else in the world are you going to hear anyone really sing this part with so much skill by anyone else. (Natalie Dessay, you say? I love her, too. But I think not. Or at least not yet.)

The rest of the cast was quite good with the exception perhaps of Paolo Gavanelli as the Duke of Nottingham who often sounded overwhelmed by his vibrato. Jeanne Piland’s Sara, Duchess of Nottingham was harrowing and very affecting. Friedrich Haider led the opera orchestra in an appropriately spirited and well-paced evening.

The other really notable contribution to the evening’s success is Christoph Loy’s marvelous modern, razor-sharp production. The overtones to a current day government (and maybe even Angela Merkel) perhaps were not intended, but the relationship between all of these images is hard to ignore. I know I’ve gone on about this before but I would trade one of these maligned so-called “eurotrash” productions any day for the kind of ersatz Euro-fantasies American houses wheel out every week as if every big-buck donor can’t tolerate anything on stage that doesn’t “transport” them to some Disney version of a land far, far away. Heaven forbid anyone should think or feel anything other than cheap sentiment if even for a moment. All right, I’ll stop ranting. Check out the DVD, it’s worth seeing.

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