I have been trying to get a chance to see prima donna assoluta of bel canto Edita Gruberova for last three years without success. There have been rumours that this is her final season for staged operas, and thus to get to see her performing in the legendary role of Queen Elisabetta in “Roberto Devereux” in Munich was of utmost importance. The ticket came to me by chance -those two dates in March did not seem good for travel due to work at the season planning stage, and when checked tickets after general sales were open there were just standing room places left – which could also do under most pressing circumstances. Then, sorting extra ticket for my daughter to join me seeing Norma in July I just stumbled on March 17th – and a few perfect seats still available in the Parkett. So, combining with Saturday night premiere of La Fanciulla this made a perfect opera weekend in Munich!
The evening was worth all the cost and even more – the realisation that I have just witnessed one of the opera greats on the stage in such demanding role, acted in perfection and sung with such gravitas and professionalism -at this silvery age after decades of category dominance! Even more, my seat was between two devoted fans from Vienna, following Gruberova everywhere she sings – a specialised form of opera travelling, for already two decades! The guys admitted that some finesse of her top notes has gone, nevertheless, what we witnessed was an admirable masterclass of vocal art. Gruberova still has a very strong middle register, her projection is dominant and easily overtakes orchestra, while the approach to top notes is a bit careful and even muted – with some occasional approximation to the pitch. Her strength is complete delivery of the character – regardless of royal posture you see fragile and sensitive woman underneath, lovesick, jealous, proud and also pitiless, in overall she fascinates!
The performance is built around all four key protagonists – the title character Roberto Devereux, his friend and advocate The Duke of Nottingham, and his wife Sara, the former romantic passion of Devereux.
Roberto Devereux was masterfully played and sung by Charles Castronovo, one of the best roles I have seen him – so easily flowing voice, great legato, fantastic acting and stage chemistry both with Sara and Elisabetta. Certainly, Castronovo is one of the performers to follow closely, as seems he is approaching his peak form, – with some smarter PR he could become one of his generation icons.
Sara was performed by Silvia Tro Santafé, it was my first encounter with her, and she left a very formidable impression, – strong delivery, shining top notes with just adequate dose of metal, great stage presence.
Another surprise of the night was Vito Priante as Duke of Nottingham, even if I have seen him before several times, last night he surprised with his mellifluous tone and superb legato -a pleasure to listen. His stage performance was a bit weaker than his partners, it gave an impression that he would better prefer to get to the designated spot on the stage and deliver. It might have been directorial approach as well, making him as a character a bit distant from the other protagonists.
The staging was both good and not so good – the times are modern again, the queen looks like current Elisabeth in both outfits, hairdo and gestures, while the Court is airport/ airline staff in matching uniforms, with main protagonists sticking out of the crowd with a different colour palette. On the other hand, the stage is almost empty, just a few props, not much disturbance for the vocal perfection.
The orchestra was led by Friedrich Haider, it seemed a bit too loud just in a few episodes -in overall very intelligent, considerate reading with great support to the singers.
What will stay with me after this incredible Sunday in Munich? Witnessing legends on the stage even if after their prime years are behind is still thrilling and emotionally charging experience. I strongly disagree with those opera fans saying that both Gruberova and Domingo have to retire and leave the stage for younger generations -they certainly need to be very careful with roles they select, since not each and every role can be played on the stage limitless – it would not be easy to believe in Gruberova’s Lucia nowadays – but her Elisabetta is perfect match for her vocal and acting powers to mesmerise the audiences and keep fans demanding her to reappear on numerous curtain calls (I left after #6). Now I need to go on Amazon and order DVD of this performance and check if her schedule for 2020 includes some more opportunities to see her on stage!
Conductor Friedrich Haider
Director Christof Loy
Sets and costumes Herbert Murauer
Lights Reinhard Traub
Dramaturgie Peter Heilker
Chorus Stellario Fagone
Elisabetta Edita Gruberova
Herzog von Nottingham Vito Priante
Sara Silvia Tro Santafé
Roberto Devereux Charles Castronovo
Lord Cecil Francesco Petrozzi
Sir Gualtiero Raleigh Kristof Klorek
Ein Page Robertos Boris Prýgl