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Concerts & Opera

Edita Gruberova's still young Anna Bolena

23.11.2015


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Gaetano Donizetti’s Anna Bolena opera was written first among the three operas called “Tudor Queens” written by the composer (The other two are Maria Stuarda 1834 and Roberto Devereux 1837). When Anna Bolena had its premiere in 26 December 1830, in Teatro Carcano in Milan, it had such a great success that after that night, Donizetti’s teacher Simon Mayr started calling his student “Maestro”.
 
The piece which was staged in 20th century for the celebration of Barcelona Opera’s 100th anniversary in 1947, took its place in the standard repertoire after it was staged again in 1957 in Teatro Alla Scala with the cast of Maria Callas, Giulietta Simionato, Nicolla Rossi-Lemeni, Gianni Raimondi and Luchino Visconti.
 
This production I watched in Vienna opera, had its premiere in the year of 2011. And ever since that year, it has been in the opera’s repertoire in every year. Eric Génovèse’s directing is quite loyal both to the composer and the librettist. He is far from being interesting, rising scandals to be spoken about, creating actions, situations and places that are totally against the music and libretto. I have happily seen that staged operas are gradually returning to traditional directions in a stylised way. Opera is a classical art; first and foremost, it is essential to respect the composer and the librettist and serve them in the best way possible.
 
The placement and the usage of the chorus was pretty aesthetical. Characters’ movements and their relationships with each other were on a balanced line. A detail that caught my attention was Anna’s interpretation as a very vivacious, lively and joyful woman especially in the first scenes of the opera and her flirtatious movements towards Smeton, to make him fall in love with her. In my mind, Anna should be an Anna who is unhappy and tragic from the first scene of the opera. As for Smeton’s secret love towards his queen, it should be totally platonic and should be revealed as a surprise even for Anna. However, this is only a difference of interpretation and they are both valid in the same level. Also, while the main event was going on in the front, the other events that were going on in the background or on the sides of the stage, added the scene transitions a cinematographic effect.
 
Jacques Gabel and Claire Sternberg’s settings are so practical and solve many scene changes without making the audience wait. The place changes are maintained by rotating the installed setting to the left or right and by lowering and raising the guillotine walls.
 
Luisa Spinatelli’s costumes were an entire visual feast, they were like an extra set inside the plain setting. Colours, models used and the fabrics were flashy and in an elegant exaggeration. The chorus were completing the scene with their costumes in the same few colours, only with little differences in their models.
 


Bertrand Couderc’s lights were projected in an effective and not exaggerated way, and their changes were nearly unnoticeable. The colour choices of the lights were far from being flashy and they were reflecting the atmosphere of England and the palace of the period in a very good way.
 
Born in 1946, Edita Gruberova is 69 years old this year. If played without intervals like in Vienna Opera, Anna Bolena is an opera that lasts for three hours and is very hard for a soprano. In Gruberova’s age, finishing this kind of a marathon successfully can be possible only with a solid technique, but more importantly, by singing in a very smart way. Gruberova’s voice tone still resonates young like a challenge to the nature, and it has not lost anything from its position and sound. But naturally, at some points, the body support cannot be enough, so she faces the problem of delivering a low pitched sound. This problem especially occurs in the phrases she sings between piano and marking level. Agilities are not as clear as they used to be. There are no problems in high pitched notes, including C Natural. In fact, while singing the recitative at the beginning of the getting-mad scene, she delivered such a wonderful C Natural that I think all the audience held their breaths at that note and during the dimuniendo she made. However the problem shows itself obviously, when first act cabaletta becomes an octave higher in a traditional way, in E flat in the final cabaletta and in D Natural in the final of the first act. These notes prominently come out as low pitched and flat.
 
Traditional changes should not be ignored in any way. While there are some applied traditional applications and their application really befits the piece by becoming a whole with it, there are also some traditional changes that, in time, go against with music or the dramatic action applied by some artists. These are colliding with the dramatic plot and the character in the piece. Taking some notes an octave higher in an actual dramatic recitative, using excessive cadenzas from the very first reprise and unnecessary high pitched notes placed in the parts that are sang with pain or melancholy with a big legato, spoils the piece’s integrity and the dramatic structure.
 
Despite of all these negations, when we look at the subject in a broad perspective, as a person who sang very hard lead roles and had a very active career for 47 years, from 1968 to 2015, Gruberova should really be examined as a lesson subject. After all those years and such a great career, her beautiful music phrases, her still young voice, her not having any problem in high pitched notes till a certain register and her acting for three hours on the stage without losing anything from her temperament shows us how special and a great virtuoso she is.
 
Marco Vinco in the role of Enrico (Henry 8th), unfortunately was not satisfactory in both visual and sound aspects. Bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green in the role of Lord Rochefort, with him being tall and with his flamboyant physic and his big and round voice made us think most of the time he could be a better King Enrico. Marco Vinco’s tone colour is not attractive, sometimes covered by the orchestra and because he is pushing his voice in high pitched notes his voice becomes off-key. Henry the 8th is known to be over 1.90 m tall and have an athletic body in history and without having these physical similarities, this character is hard to play on stage, only a singer/actor with high theatrical talent like Ildebrando D’Arcangelo can overcome it.
 
Mezzo soprano Sonia Ganassi is a singer who played many roles on the most prestigious stages of the world for almost 25 years. I watched her in the same role also in 1997, 18 years ago. She is solid in her technique and has a nice musicality, however all these features she possesses are always steady in a certain level. Even though the high pitched notes she sang, such as B Natural at the end of the second act cabaletta and C Natural in the final of soprano – mezzo soprano duet, lose their focus sometimes, they are still intact. She is singing in the same way as she sang in this role 18 years ago, there are no surprises that would excite and lift the audience’s emotions. Especially in the duet of Anna and Seymour, one the most important and exciting duets among all bel canto operas, became kind of boring and far from drama, with Ganassi’s dull singing and Gruberova’s constant cadenzas and with the notes she took higher to the third or the fifth. While in the live records of Callas-Simionato or Souliotis-Cosotto, the duet is applauded with bravos while it is still in its last note, this time this duet ended with a polite applause.
 
Spanish tenor Celso Albelo was one of the stars of the night. He was a very convincing Percy with his strong and warm voice. Trusting the ease of his high pitched notes, he sang Donizetti’s tenor score in high tessitura without having any difficulties. The aria “Vivi tu, te ne scongiuro” in Act two which is cut most of the time due to its difficulty, is also in this production without cabaletta’s second repeat being cut off. Albelo not only sang many B flat and C natural that are only written with a great ease and in a strong volume, but also gained the applause of the audience for long minutes by crowning the cabaletta with D natural.

Another bright name of the night was Margarita Gritskova, in the role of Smeton. Being only 28 years old, this Russian mezzo soprano, can become one of the important names of the opera world with this kind of talent and a little help from luck. With her warm and full voice, the register integrity among the high, middle and bass notes, musicality, solid legato, clean agilities and the ability of acting, she portrayed a first class Smeton. However, she often made me think how successful she would be if she were to act as Seymour. 
The conductor Evelino Pidò deserves a big praise for keeping all the soloists of the night in a musical integrity. It would not be an exaggeration if I say I discovered some of the parts of Anna Bolena opera thanks to him, even though I have listened to it many times till today. With his stylistic fortes, pianos, little nuances and rubatos, he managed to extract a great tone from the orchestra. Evelino Pidò is without a doubt one of the most important conductors of this repertoire specifically.
 
It was very pleasant to watch this kind of high quality performance in the enchanting atmosphere of Vienna Opera with its small halls, champagnes, extremely chic restaurant, opera boxes and elegant dressed audience.

Yiğit Günsoy

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