Deutsche Oper Berlin: “Roberto Devereux”

Deutsche Oper Berlin – Season 2014/2015
Tragedia lirica in three acts
Libretto by Salvatore Cammarano after Jacques-Francois Ancelot’s tragedy “Elisabeth d’Angleterre”
Music by Gaetano Donizetti
Il duca di Nottingham DAVIDE LUCIANO
Sara, duchessa di Nottingham VERONICA SIMEONI
Roberto Devereux CELSO ALBELO
Sir Gualtiero Raleigh MARKO MIMICA
Un familiare di Nottingham STEPHEN BRONK
Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin
Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin
Conductor Pietro Rizzo
Chorus William Spaulding
Concert performance
Berlin, Philharmonie, 5th November 2014

Berlin is a city of (re-)construction. Apart from the never-ending story about the new airport Berlin-Brandenburg, the historic building of the Deutsche Staatsoper Unter den Linden has been under thorough reconstruction for more than four years now without light at the end of the tunnel. The building of the Deutsche Oper Berlin dates back to the early 1960s and the stage tower and lifting machinery need some doing up as well. So the new season started with a series of concert performances at the Philharmonie. After a successful re-discovery of Meyerbeeer’s Dinorah and a mixed Ariadne auf Naxos to mark Richard Strauss’ 150th birthday this year, a climax of the season has been reached by Roberto Devereux before the opera house re-opens on 27th November. Gaetano Donizetti’s third opera about a British queen after Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda is another gem of belcanto and Elisabetta I. a kind of signature role of Edita Gruberová. The queen of coloratura shows up in an ocean blue dress with huge valances that look right cut from a four-poster bed of a Victorian noble boudoir thrown at with glitter. From the first notes on there is no doubt that it is all about her. Without any warming up she starts to develop wonderful vocal lines with mesmerizing cantilenas, piani, glissandi and trills but also powerful effective notes. The audience applaud frenetically already after her entrance aria. The love story of the aging Queen comes to life again but this time without the trademark of a scenic production when she lifts up her wig to reveal the Queen’s thin and grey hair at the end. La Gruberová gets all that done by vocal means alone. Sometimes she uses veristic elements especially in the lower range of her voice to get right back to a stylistically impeccable belcanto line thanks to her excellent technique which allows her to sing this highly demanding repertory after nearly fifty years of an extraordinary career. Her voice may not be considered the most beautiful one but it is absolutely amazing what she makes out of it. She drags the notes sometimes, discolours them to even muffled or disembodied tones and then all of a sudden, there is this fine musical line again sung by a seemingly ageless voice without any disturbing vibrato that is typical of most senior singers. Edita Gruberová is on the wrong side of 60 but there you go: she is undoubtedly the last virtuosa. For years opera lovers have been waiting for a successor in her repertory and you will think of a couple of names but nobody has really followed in her footsteps. As she once put it herself: I will take up where others have long run out of puff. She has set standards only she herself is able to be up to. Compared to her studio recording of Roberto Devereux twenty years ago she sounds more mature now but at the same time more authentic and even more aware of her apparently endless vocal means culminating in cadenzas of great beauty in Elisabetta’s first aria, the duet with the tenor and last but not least the final E minor above the system. Chapeau! And yet the concert does not turn into a one woman show. The title role of the opera was sung by the Spanish tenor Celso Albelo whose flexible belcanto tenor reminds me of Alfredo Kraus particularly because of his vocal projection, his appearance however of the young Luciano Pavarotti. Vocally he was a real match for the primadonna in the duet of the 1st act and his C at the end was as splendid as hers. He pulled out all the register in his final scene when he interpolated a few admirable acuti and showed an excellent fiato, which suggested that he has listened very well to either Miguel Fleta’s or La Caballé’s recordings. A real surprise was Davide Luciano whose virile and elegant baritone was ideal in the part of the Duca di Nottingham. The voice is round and balanced in all registers with striking low and high pitches and I tend to be a little reminded of Ettore Bastianini. Apart from Edita he was most acclaimed by the audience the more so as  Nottingham deceived by both his wife and closest friend, is the most tragic character. Veronica Simeoni is an attractive Duchessa di Nottingham both optically and vocally. She cannot be blamed at all for singing all notes and even adding extra ones but she will hardly set the Thames on fire like that in a belcanto role. Or was it only because of the titan Gruberová that she fell a little short of? After all she has studied with Raina Kabaivanska. Highly competent members of the company of the Deutsche Oper contributed to the comprimari, especially Gideon Poppe with his nice lyrical tenor as Lord Cecil and the profound bass Marko Mimica as Sir Raleigh. The Chor of the Deutsche Oper Berlin contributed to the belcanto event professionally as well as the Orchester der Deutschen Oper under the baton of Pietro Rizzo who conducts pretty well and sometimes with little spirit but what can he do when there is only one queen who rules over finest dynamic melody lines, coloraturas, cadenzas, emotions and at long last a frenetically acclaiming audience hoping there will still be many extra  class events like this with the last virtuosa. Photos by Bettina Stöß