If Edita Gruberová were Japanese, she would be a Living National Treasure – she is 65 and sings one of the most difficult roles in the repertoire, Bellini’s Norma, quite often. She is a singer of legendary technique, musicianship, expressiveness and dramatic commitment – but, even if her tonal quality is extremely youthful, she is no longer in her prime. That does not mean that she should retire – God forbids! – but I wonder why a singer used to immaculateness could content herself with being indulged. Is it because her artistic generosity is such that she feels that she should give her all even risking her reputation? I tend to believe that: “generosity” was precisely the word on my mind during this evening’s performance, which required from her an immense effort in adaptation to overcome many glitches. A poorly tuned Casta diva followed by a Bello, a me ritorna a bit all over the place did not promise a gratifying experience, but then Ah, rimembranza had many breathtaking examples of lovely high mezza voce and the end of act I developed into something truly exciting (with some interesting interpretative touches, quite different from what she has done both in her video and audio recordings). In act II, her problems with the lower end of the tessitura brought about unconvincing examples of “acting with the voice” (especially in In mia man, when things got a bit out of control), but she more than compensated in a truly heartbreaking plea for her children in the closing scene. While I still believe it was a rewarding experience, I would have truly preferred to see an artist of Gruberová’s level in a repertoire when one doesn’t need to forgive her anything but rather appreciate her immense talents under the proper light.
Sonia Ganassi does not need to fear comparison in what regards artistic generosity – her Adalgisa is exquisitely conceived, the text is expressively and intelligently used, she masters the difficulties of that role and has an engaging personality. And she was in very good voice, better than last time I saw her in this opera. As his Norma, Johan Botha found problems in his opening aria – the high notes were tense and edgy. That did not prevent him from trying high options in the cabaletta, but the problem persisted. That said, he sang with such elegance, nuance and imagination as I haven’t heard before in this role. Alexander Vingradov’s full-toned and finely focused bass worked beautifully in the role of Oroveso. This is a singer I would like to hear again. Kyungho Kim too deserves mention for his Flavio – far more positive and pleasant-toned than we are used to hear in this role.
Although Andriy Yurkevich has his kapellmeisterlich moments, he has a good grasp of bel canto style and some surprises in reserve, especially a good sense of balancing, of bringing endearing instrumental details to the fore without interrupting the rhythmic flow – even when giving his singers some freedom to phrase. The Staatskapelle Berlin was in excellent shape – the string section adopted a bright, Italianate sound and tackled passagework with virtuoso quality. If it were not for the Schiller Theater dry acoustics (that robbed brass and drums roundness of tone), this would have been ideal.