Roberto Devereux: Munich Opera Festival
Roberto Devereux; The Queen Rules Again, at the Munich Opera Festival, Sunday, July 4, 2010
Richard Rosenman, Editor, Wagner News, Toronto Wagner Society
LSM Guest Reviewer
This is the second season that the Bayerische Staatsoper offers Edita Gruberova in a Gaetano Donizetti vehicle. Wisely or not, it had resisted mounting two of the three queens, last year’s contribution being Lucrezia Borgia. This historical melodrama of intrigue, forbidden love and corruption in Elizabeth’s I court, here shorn of its costumes and royal interiors, is less an equivalent of our time soap opera than a showcase of what ultimately counts –music and singing.
The production, premiered in 2004, has been seasonally revived but still draws full houses of devoted fans. Hearing the frenzied applause one feels it is all about her. Truly, Gruberova is a phenomenon – almost forty one years on stage (twenty after her first Elisabetta, in Barcelona), she still attacks the vocal pitfalls of the role fearlessly, though not as recklessly as in the past and not always as successfully. More successful is her concerted effort to act out the legendary temperament of the historical queen. She retains her charisma like a true primadonna that she is.
The director, Christof Loy, has chosen to place the action in a grey ministerial office, our idea of East German burocracy. The dark suited officials busy themselves with documents and briefcases. They are grave and humorless, whether shuffling papers or drawing blood, beating the hapless Roberto, (José Bros). Violence abounds; even Nottingham, (Paolo Gavanelli), gratuitously ties and abuses Sara, his wife, (Sonia Ganassi) in a fit of misplaced jealousy.
Of her many portrayals of the role, this time Elisabetta, like the rest of the cast, is also in modern dress, a light blue suit, almost a mini, changed only close to the finale for a more dignified black. Listening to Gruberova makes one continuously compare the now with what has been and with other famous Elisabettas. Her singing is now squally, lacking the precision of say, Caballe, in the same role. But one must admire her determination, not deterred by momentary fadings or strainings of her instrument.
Although nominally the hero, Roberto Devereux is forced to remain in the shadow, though he asserts himself when he comes through bright and lyrical when needed. In the snake pit, that the court is, he retains our sympathy as the victim. Nottingham, Paolo Gavanelli, a large and imposing figure, another favorite of the Munich public judging by the second best ovation, held his vigorous baritone in check most of the time. The resulting lyricism contrasted with his fortes, sung not shouted. He was convincing in the stages of his metamorphosis from a devoted husband to a ruthless avenger, blinded by jealousy. The other victim, his wife Sara, Sonia Ganassi, a reliable counterforce to the queen.
The orchestra was led by Friedrich Haider. At the end the queen tears off her wig and passes the crown to the new king. Gruberova suddenly looks her, and the queen’s, age. It is more than a mere opera – it is theater of highest order.