Edita Gruberova

Ingrata, t'amo ancor

BsoluciaTickets to yesterday evening's performance of Lucia di Lammermoor completely sold-out, presumably because Edita Gruberova was singing the title role. She is in her 25th year of singing Lucia, and she is quite remarkable. Her voice can be the very embodiment of icy perfection. The audience screamed and clapped after "Quando rapito in estasi" for more than thirty seconds, and after the mad scene for at least a minute.

Marcello Viotti was adequate, the pacing seemed right. Robert Carsen's staging was dull, it involved walls with recessed square panels, like the ceiling of the Pantheon. These walls were arranged at angles to suggest a vanishing point of a painting and perhaps confinement. Richard Hudson's costumes all involved plaid except in the case of Lucia. This heightened the absurdity of an opera whose setting is Scotland, but whose language is Italian.

Paolo Gavanelli, as Enrico, was most impressive besides Gruberova, his baritone is very pleasant. Tenor Marcelo Alvarez was also quite good, one of the better tenors I have heard at the Bayerische Staatoper. The sextet in Act II Scene II was incredible. The only weak voice was Helena Jungwirth as Alisa, though it is a very small part with no aria. I could not hear her over the music from where I was.

Anna Bolena

BsobolenaLast Wednesday I was back at the Bavarian State Opera, seeing their production of Donizetti's Anna Bolena, this particular one having premiered 30. October 1995. The music was pretty enough, but the ending seemed anticlimactic musically, it did not finish well. Too weak somehow. Soprano Edita Gruberova is most beloved in Munich. Her voice can be ravishing, her pianissimo is perfect. But on the other hand, her voice is sometimes very shrill, it was especially at the end of Act I. That last note of hers was almost painful.

Ralf Weikert seemed to have control of the orchestra. Jonathan Miller's production was simple, the set had basically two modes, with a wall and without one. Too bad Peter J. Davison's sets took so long to get from one mode to another, the curtain came down for each scene, lights came on as well. The lights even came up after the overture, so they came up five times during the performance, far too many, it breaks the concentration. Clare Mitchell's costumes were perfect, just straight out of Holbein the Younger. Nils Christe was in charge of choreography, there wasn't much going on, Carmen Oprisanu as Jane Seymour (Giovanna Seymour) looked so uncomfortable, sometimes she just would stride in and it was just wrong.

Mezzo Carmen Oprisanu sang well though, very consistent, with lots of vibrato but very cold. Roberto Scandiuzzi as Henry VIII acted well, and sang well too, his voice being hearty but not pretty. Tenor Gregory Kunde was not bad, but his voice sounded constricted in his upper range, and he was less resonant compared to Gruberova. My favorite was Elena Cassian who sang the part of Smenton, a trouser role. Her voice was strong and she has good control.

There was a woman two rows in front of me who kept coughing and making strange vocalizations as she gasped for air. She also talked. Another audience member told her to shut up in German. She did not.

Figlia d'Eva

BsotrovatoreThe Bavarian State Opera performance of Il Trovatore yesterday night was perhaps the most traditional production I have seen there to date. Zubin Mehta conducted quite well. Luca Ronconi's staging was conservative, it appears to be the only opera she has staged here. My only complaint was the gratuitous use of a scrim to separate Manrico from Leonora in Act III Scene 2, when they are supposedly in a room of the Castellor castle, which is under siege. This tired device has no purpose, there is no reason to have the characters in different spaces and have them sing touching hands against the scrim. The rest of the choreography was natural, no unnecessary collapses, no singing in strange positions, no undressing. The capture of Azucena in Act III, Scene 1 was especially passionate and chilling.

Margherita Palli's sets involved a series of large square pillars. The sets, one imagines, were a challenge, since there are 8 scenes. Instead of using some sort of device or ploy to move the sets around during the action, the scrim or the curtain was simply brought down after each scene. It would take several minutes for the set to change, and they brought the lights up in the hall each time. I have mixed feelings on this point, the long set changes broke the flow, but I appreciate the simplicity of this solution to set change. Gabriella Pescucci's costumes were not elaborate as far as the Spaniards were concerned, though the gypsies had colorful accouterments, which had more of a Middle-Eastern feel than what one typically associates with the Roma.

All together, the singing was of good quality. Alexandru Agache made a fine Conte di Luna, the baritone has a strong voice, and his singing in Act II Scene 2 with Maurizio Muraro (Ferrando) and the chorus of nuns was especially sublime. Mezzo-soprano Elisbetta Fiorillo had a somewhat gritty voice suited for Azucena, though at points she sang with celestial sweetness. Her struggle in Act III Scene 1 was, as I mentioned earlier, exceptionally good and not in the least artificial.

The lead soprano, Fiorenza Cedolins (Leonora), sang admirably, though with a great deal of vibrato, which seemed to overwhelm her at times. Tenor Dennis O'Neill was excellent as Manrico, the troubadour himself. Clear and sweet, his voice contrasted with Fiorillo's nicely.

The audience seemed to like I Puritani more than Il Trovatore, but preferred the latter to Così fan Tutte. Odd, considering the cast for Così was the most consistent, and in my estimation, the one for Puritani was the least, as Gruberova had far and away the best voice. All of these operas are short, in Italian, have complicated plots, and familiar music, though the music to Il Trovatore is likely the best known by laypersons.

O Rendetemi La Speme

Bsopuritani Last night's performance of Bellini's I Puritani at the Bavarian State Opera was quite good. Friedrich Haider conducted competently, though the orchestra was, on occasion, rather louder than some of the singers. Also, sometimes the timing appeared off between singer and orchestra. But the blame more likely lies with the singers than the conductor.

Jonathan Miller's staging was pretty good, simple and following the music. The choreography was natural and worked well on non-dancer bodies. Isabella Bywater's sets were likewise plain, stoney tiles as a floor and lighter grey walls that could be moved up and down to suggest a square or a hall or courtyard. It was completely silent, which was excellent. The only thing amiss was a pulpit in the third scene of Act I, put stage left, near a down stage door. It seemed to have no purpose except to suggest the action was inside, not outside, and only once did Riccardo briefly climb its steps. Clare Mitchell's costumes were lovely, very much like Van Dyck paintings come to life. The colors were overwhelmingly blue, purple, and black offset by lace. The hairstyles were also done well.

The only real disappointment as far as the singing was perhaps Liliana Mattei as Enrichetta, widow of Charles I. Her dark soprano was not distinct and rather quiet. Bass Alastair Miles was fairly good as Giorgio, though his lower range did not project so well. Baritone Albert Schagidullin played scorned lover Riccardo well, though he projected even less well than Miles.

José Bros sang the tenor part of Arturo Talbot with passion, his high range is clear and very pretty, but his low range is gritty.

Edita Gruberova was a delight to hear as Elvira. Though her timing and intonation are perhaps imperfect, her flexible voice is lucid and bright.

All together a pleasant evening. Bellini's music is all melody and lyricism, and the opera is brief, a bare 2.5 hours. The 30 minute intermission after Act I seemed unnecessary. The Münchners do clap excessively I believe. They like to make noise, they stamp and scream, even after whispering fiendishly during recitative or orchestral bits. One listens with ears not mouth, and I simply don't understand what they have to say to each other that's so pressing.