Cher Public

  • armerjacquino: I’m glad to hear it. Yes, their opinion matters. But I’m wary of the idea that it should be given much more... 7:32 PM
  • jackoh: Sher made his decision, and I applaud that. (I actually expressed my opinion on this precise matter in an earlier thread.) What I... 7:32 PM
  • Fluffy-net: Maybe I should just have said that what these kids said matters to me. That I created an example of another hypothetical... 7:27 PM
  • armerjacquino: Look below. ‘Some black singers said it’ is already being offered as a clincher. 7:24 PM
  • armerjacquino: This opinion matters more to me than that of a white liberal who lives in a white neighborhood who only encounters a... 7:21 PM
  • armerjacquino: The director wasn’t ‘required 217; to make a decision. He made a decision of his own free will. Is that... 7:20 PM
  • Fluffy-net: What I find has gotten lost here is the viewpoint of a group of black opera singers who no not object to Otello-in-blackfac e.... 7:19 PM
  • jackoh: Sorry for the placement. This is in reply to AJ above. 7:13 PM

Victorious, happy and glorious

Even before Italian diva Mariella Devia had completed the stunning high D natural that capped her miraculous portrayal of Elisabetta in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux Thursday evening at Carnegie Hall, tens, then hundreds of those in attendance leapt to their feet to shout their acclaim at the conclusion of the most recent example of that most quintessential event for many New York operagoers: the concert opera. 

Since the creation of the American Opera Society in the early 1950s nearly every season has seen at least one concert performance of an opera—no sets, no costumes, just an orchestra (and usually a chorus) on stage accompanying a group of (hopefully) starry singers in a usually rarely performed work. While this kind of opera presentation occurs occasionally in other major music capitals across the world, it has always struck me as a particularly beloved phenomenon in New York. While other cities have come under the thrall of regietheater, here there are still many for whom allegiance to star singers (rather than directors) remains supreme.

Fans with long memories love to recall Anita Cerquetti’s sole New York appearance in Gluck’s Paride ed Elena or Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s Doktor Faustus and Orfeo, his only operatic roles in the US or Eileen Farrell as Rossini’s (!) Desdemona or Richard Tucker’s Vasco in Meyerbeer’s L’Africana in 1972 during the first season of Opera Orchestra of New York, the organization under conductor Eve Queler that succeeded AOS as the principal purveyor of these operatic love-ins. Occasionally other groups have stepped up too: I especially remember a Giovanna d’Arco at Avery Fisher Hall with Margaret Price, Carlo Bergonzi and Sherrill Milnes, Kathleen Battle’s only Semele during a series celebrating Handel’s tricentenary and Janet Baker’s unannounced US farewell in Gluck’s Orfeo.

But for over 40 years, Queler has been responsible for several of each season’s “must-attend events,” including US premieres of works like Puccini’s Edgar and Boito’s Nerone, as well as the introduction of many important singers to New York. Thanks to OONY, New York audiences heard Nicolai Gedda’s sole Dalibor, Mara Zampieri’s single local appearance in Mercadante’s Il Giuramento,  Wagner’s colossal Rienzi (more than once) and—so far—Aprile Millo’s only Adriana and Minnie. I’ll never forget Leonie Rysanek dragging Gabriela Benacková back to bow after the orchestra had left the stage following a particularly searing second act of Jenufa because the audience simply wouldn’t stop applauding. Like many performing arts organizations, Opera Orchestra has faced challenges recently and yet Carnegie Hall was mostly full Thursday with many of New York’s most savvy opera lovers fervently hoping for yet another OONY miracle which, in one important way, the audience got.

While Montserrat Caballé sang Elisabetta at Carnegie Hall in 1965, the same year as her historic Lucrezia Borgia debut, and a previous OONY Devereux scheduled to star Zampieri which instead featured Martile Rowland, for many New Yorkers Donizetti’s wrenching portrait of an aging queen in love with a feckless younger man remains one of Beverly Sills’s most indelible roles, one she sang many times with the New York City Opera. Unfortunately lightning didn’t strike twice when a misbegotten 2000 production by Mark Lamos starring a hard-working Lauren Flanigan flopped at City Opera.

Although the MET has recently been mounting Donizetti’s so-called “Tudor Trilogy” of Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux, it hasn’t yet gotten to the last of these although a production starring Sandra Radvanovsky as Elisabetta is planned for an upcoming season. So Queler and company jumped in early to fill this gap: its raison d’être being the return of Devia. Absent from the Met for twenty years and OONY for fifteen, the Italian soprano has remained a paragon of bel canto singing, primarily performing in her native country. Intense yet somewhat subdued entrance applause greeted the diminutive diva (who recently turned 66) suggesting that the New York public hadn’t quite forgotten her.

I have to admit that as this Devereux approached I felt a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. I was astonished to realize that I hadn’t seen Devia live for nearly 32 years! The last time I heard her and the only time I had seen her in a staged opera was a Lucia di Lammermoor at the Dayton Opera in the fall of 1982. I remember it being very technically accomplished but absolutely dull. I somehow missed her 15-year Met career which was mostly about Gilda and Lucia with some Nanettas and Konstanzes thrown in, as well as her previous OONY appearances which must be acknowledged as the high points of her US career, particularly a Capuleti and a Puritani during the mid-1990s.

Over the years she remained on the periphery of my attention until about five years ago when a friend “dragged” me to Symphony Space to watch an HD transmission from La Scala of Maria Stuarda. My primary motivation was to see the Elisabetta of Anna Caterina Antonacci, but instead I was blown away by the intensely moving Maria of the then-60-year-old Devia. The technical supremacy remained, but the voice has warmed and softened and was now coupled with a dramatic specificity and intensity that I had not expected.

But time marches on and one wondered if Devia would still be singing well, but the answer quickly became clear at Carnegie. Although Elisabetta’s initial recitative sounded uncharacteristically heavy and cloudy, this almost immediately cleared in her aria “L’amor suo mi fè beata” where she traced the intricate lines with infinite care and nuanced flexibility. Although she took her time, this was not a self-indulgent display slowed to a dirge, but a moving insight into the queen’s dangerously deluded romantic obsession with the Earl of Essex. Not pausing for applause, she moved directly into the dialogue with Cecil that led to her first cabaletta “Ah! ritorna qual ti spero” which was spun out with a still sovereign florid technique that included immaculate trills and an inventive flair for ornamentation that has long been a hallmark of her career. Its applause was long and loud.

Elisabetta’s other long solo scene, of course, occurs at the end of the opera where the queen anxiously awaits news of the count’s planned execution. The great aria “Vivi, ingrato” where she makes peace with his faithlessness vowing to forgive him and allow him to live happily with his true love was taken at a surprisingly brisk tempo; other sopranos have made a long, slow meal of this piece but Devia instead sang it with a burning urgency. The cabaletta “Quel sangue versato” after Elisabetta learns of Roberto’s death caused by Nottingham’s vengeance challenged Devia’s essentially lyric voice but its vehemence still singed, and she molded the repeat (unusually set to a different text) with aptly grim ornaments. As she had eschewed added high notes throughout the performance, I suspect that most of the audience were shocked yet thrilled that at the end of the long evening Devia pulled out a really solid high D natural that led to one of the most spontaneous and enthusiastic ovations I have ever witnessed at Carnegie.

Yes, it must be admitted that the voice has aged revealing a very occasional rasp and lack of wanted strength at the bottom. Devia (who wore but a single emerald-green gown) remains such a tasteful, musical singer that I did occasionally hunger for a good old Gencer-glottal, but for the most part she revealed an astonishingly healthy and secure instrument used with an integrity and absence of mannerisms that puts her other “senior” rival in this repertoire to shame. Would that her colleagues Thursday evening had matched her signal achievement!

French mezzo Géraldine Chauvet made a highly promising US debut with OONY as Adriano in Rienzi in 2012 and as Sara, Essex’s pure (if married) paramour, she remains promising. Possessing a large, rather cool mezzo, she sang with an appealing fervor that might have been more satisfying if she hadn’t been so unwaveringly glued to her score to the degree that she scarcely glanced at either her husband or lover during their duets. She needs to work on control at the top of the voice which proved unruly throughout the evening.

As her husband, the initially supportive Nottingham, the very young baritone David Pershall often seemed like a boy sent into do a man’s job. And yet, to his credit, he refused to hector and bark his way through the music (unlike several Met baritones I could name) gaving an honest account of a role he really has no business singing now. I suspect at this point in his career Pershall could instead be a fine Figaro or Belcore, roles he will be singing when he joins the Vienna Staatsoper next season.

The blank at the center of the performance was unfortunately Stephen Costello’s Devereux. One had hoped that after his embarrassingly hang-dog Percy in the Met’s Anna Bolena that the tenor would have been working hard to improve his impossibly inept stage presence and poor bel canto style—sadly, there was no evidence he had. Wearing his signature black t-shirt and an unflinching blank expression of unspecific angst, Costello bawled his way through his music at an unvarying forte. Roberto isn’t the sharpest tack in the box in refusing to see that the queen’s love for him would protect against the risks of his unwise political and romantic follies, but Costello’s blankly uncharismatic portrayal made Elisabetta’s and Sara’s obsessions seem downright boneheaded. Despite serious intonation issues, his basic instrument remains appealing and bracingly Italianate, but clearly he wasn’t listening to Devia when he answered her delicately sculpted verse in their duet with his own flatfooted response.

As ever, Queler struggled to keep her forces together, monotonously beating time while her valiant orchestra struggled to give her more than she asked for. The sincerely enthusiastic ovation given her first appearance of the evening will always be more about her intrepid work as an impresaria than for her accomplishments as a conductor. Opera Orchestra has been struggling recently despite the appointment of Alberto Veronesi as its new music director (whose non-appearance this season suggested that perhaps he isn’t the man to keep the organization going after all), but the genuinely grateful ovations that greeted Donizetti’s opera Thursday evening suggested that New York fervently needs and wants OONY to continue and flourish.

80 comments

  • Mitridate says:

    Fair or not (although it is NOT unfair, IMO)- these people who wrote these hateful, unfounded, queeny, pissy and intentionally offensive comments on opera-l need to have their heads examined. They obviously have NO idea what Bel canto is. They both sound like bored Euro-trash, know-it-all, bitter has-beens (or wannabes who never even had a chance to become has-beens)and who have built their (dis)tastes in opera on video/audio recordings of dubious sorts. Devia is THE ONLY singer these days who has a PURE BEL CANTO technique which is FLAWLESS! To think or say anything otherwise is just ignorant. At her age to be able to sound the way she sounded last night in that concert is a pure gift from heaven to all audiences. I’m honored to have been able to finally hear her live for the first time in my life. The woman is vocally ASTOUNDING and extremely personable and pleasant- I had a chance to meet her and chat with her backstage. That’s all.

  • Mitridate says:

    Fair or not (although it is NOT unfair, IMO)- these people who wrote these hateful, unfounded, queeny, pissy and intentionally offensive comments on opera-l need to have their heads examined. They obviously have NO idea what Bel canto is. They both sound like bored Euro-trash, know-it-all, bitter has-beens (or wannabes who never even had a chance to become has-beens)and who have built their (dis)tastes in opera on video/audio recordings of dubious sorts. Devia is THE ONLY singer these days who has a PURE BEL CANTO technique which is FLAWLESS! To think or say anything otherwise is just ignorant. At her age to be able to sound the way she sounded last night in that concert is a pure gift from heaven to all audiences. I’m honored to have been able to finally hear her live for the first time in my life. The woman is vocally ASTOUNDING and extremely personable and pleasant- I had a chance to meet her and chat with her backstage. That’s all.

  • Mitridate says:

    Fair or not (although it is NOT unfair, IMO)- these people who wrote these hateful, unfounded, queeny, pissy and intentionally offensive comments on opera-l need to have their heads examined. They obviously have NO idea what Bel canto is. They both sound like bored Euro-trash, know-it-all, bitter has-beens (or wannabes who never even had a chance to become has-beens)and who have built their (dis)tastes in opera on video/audio recordings of dubious sorts. Devia is THE ONLY singer these days who has a PURE BEL CANTO technique which is FLAWLESS! To think or say anything otherwise is just ignorant. At her age to be able to sound the way she sounded last night in that concert is a pure gift from heaven to all audiences. I’m honored to have been able to finally hear her live for the first time in my life. The woman is vocally ASTOUNDING and extremely personable and pleasant- I had a chance to meet her and chat with her backstage. That’s all.

    • Mitridate says:

      I have no idea why my comment has posted 4 times. I did not do it intentionally. If bothersome, could the moderator please delete the extra comments and leave only 1 visible? Thanks.

    • Camille says:

      no matter, Mitridate. It bore repeating x four!

      Bravo, Re di Ponte, for you defended la Regina d’Inghilterra.

  • Sanford says:

    I had a very different reaction to last night. While the vast majority of the audience seemed to have been fans of Devia for years, I had no such history with her. I felt that a lot of the adoration showered on her last night was really about her long career and her long absence from New York rather than on the singing she actually did last night. While I found her upper extension to be very strong, I thought her bottom and middle sounded worn. I wanted to see if I would have liked her better 20 years ago so I listened to a 1992 Lucia mad scene. Even back then, I prefer her top to the rest of her voice. She just isn’t my cup of tea. As for Costello, I was gobsmacked. On the one hand, I enjoyed his singing but was amazed that he could do it while in a coma. He was so introverted that he barely acknowledged his ovations. He left me wondering if he registers on the autism scale. And aside from the wonderful bass, everyone else was just meh.

    • Mitridate says:

      I have not been a Devia fan for years. I just discovered her about two years ago. Given her age, I think it’s completely understandable why her lower and middle registers aren’t as strong as her top. And, I have to admit I was a bit taken aback initially by the difference in her sound now (live) and her earlier days (which I know only from recordings). But, I think that’s exactly the reason for her vocal longevity- she never over-used and pushed her chest and middle up. She continued to nurture and rely on her splendid top. That’s the real Bel canto. It’s a pity that she wasn’t given more chances here, especially at the Met. I think both Devia and Antonacci are one of the best female singers around these days that have been completely under-used in the States. True pity for the audiences here.

    • Evenhanded says:

      Well.

      Sanford: I have respect for you as a regular contributor to Parterre Box, and have enjoyed your comments and perspectives over the years. I start by saying this so that you can (hopefully) take my comments below with nothing but good will.

      Certainly, you are entitled to your opinions, and I think you have stated your impressions quite clearly. It says a lot that you sought out recordings of Devia from some twenty years ago, and it makes perfect sense that she isn’t your “cup of tea”. Fair enough. Still, I feel the need to address your comments about the middle and bottom of her voice sounding worn. I agree that one can hear the age in the voice most glaringly in the lower register. However, this role -- as composed by Donizetti -- is VERY difficult to negotiate through the many low-centered passages, and frankly, all the famous interpreters either sound gravelly in these sections or re-write them higher so as to avoid this problem. I can’t think of a single soprano who doesn’t (or didn’t) struggle with the often remarkably low tessitura.

      Now, concerning Costello, you write: “I enjoyed his singing.” And so I would ask: “How is that possible?” As I mentioned above, you are entitled to your opinion, but Costello’s vocalism last night was really very poor throughout the evening, with only a handful of isolated phrases that didn’t sound like a singer in severe distress. It was impossible, for example, to ignore the extreme pitch problems he exhibited -- especially evident in flatting through the upper passaggio. He showed no talent for or understanding of appropriate bel canto phrasing -- breath control -- dynamic shading -- vowel coloring -- integration of vocal registers… I mean really, the list of deficiencies is a mile long. I could spell it all out in painful detail (other writers have been very kind to him, IMO), but I’ve probably given enough description of what I heard. My question to you is this: what did you possibly find to enjoy in Costello’s performance? And how do you think he measures up vs. other tenors who actually have a clue about bel canto performance practice like Camarena (to name a present-day example) or Alfredo Kraus, if you’d rather use a historical example? Just curious.

    • Poison Ivy says:

      Well, I can’t say I’m a Devia “fan” by any stretch of the imagination. I never heard her live — by the time I started going to opera she had stopped singing in NYC. I saw a few videos, some youtube, that’s it. But I was very impressed by her singing last night, and I would have been impressed had she been 46 instead of 66. Beautiful sense of musical line, firm pitch, great diction, and a great sense of how to pace herself so she could let loose in the final scene. I set the bar for these Event/Farewell things pretty low, as I know that most of the time they’re “for the fans” and whatnot, but I thought Devia’s performance wasn’t just “for the fans,” it was great singing by any standard.

    • armerjacquino says:

      As ever, it would appear that the people who like her liked her and the people who don’t didn’t.

  • coloraturafan says:

    The Opera-L comments are hardly surprising. Devia has never been a universally loved singer. But she has her fans, and she is well loved by them. I’ve been a fan for years, and I am very happy that she had such a success last night. In spite of the fact that I don’t really think Devereux is her best role…. Personally I just think she does better in other roles. So I was a bit surprised that they choose that role for her big return to New York. But it seems as though everyone had a good night in the theater, and I don’t think you can ask for anything more in opera. Maybe Devia will come back to New York sometime soon, I am not sure if she is still singing Lucrezia Borgia, but for me that was a great opera for her.

  • Sanford says:

    I stand by my opinions and don’t feel I need to explain or defend them.

    • Evenhanded says:

      Well.

      Ok, Sanford. Fair enough -- I thought it might be an interesting discussion. No one said you needed to explain of defend anything. Enjoy your weekend. Cheers!

      • Sanford says:

        I was supposed to see Anna Moffo in ’79 on one of her farewell tours. I imagine I would have reacted to that the way I feel people reacted last night. I would have gloried in what she could do -- the high notes never left her -- and gloried in what I knew she had done in the past. To say that someone sounded really good for 66 is qualifying the success but nobody seems willing to say they’re doing that. Instead, someone asked me if I’d heard Te Kanawa or Gruberova lately. I have. I heard Kiri on Downton Abbey and it was pretty bad. And I was never a fan of Gruberova so while I can acknowledge that Edita is stilll singing well at her age, I don’t enjoy it. I would rather have seen someone like Maria Agresta brought in who’s only sung once in New York and who would have been electrifying, at least to me. As for Costello, I think he has a sweet tone which hits me just right. But I think someone needs to slap him awake. Do I think he’s the second coming of Corelli? No, but I wasn’t comparing him to anyone. WOuld I rather have heard Fabiano/Castronovo/Calleja? Yes. But what Costello did I enjoyed. With my eyes shut.

        • Krunoslav says:

          Unlike Gruberova and te Kanawa, Devia is a complete mistress of bel canto vocabulary and grammar and executed all of her effects perfectly, showing ample breath control, pitch ( not Costello’s strongest suit) and -almost always--roundness of tone. She didn’t always sound youthful, but for even you to compare the sound that she was able to bring to much of the role to poor Moffo in 1979 is just ludicrous.

          • Sanford says:

            Krunoslav, that wasn’t my point at all. I was comparing my level of fan worship for Moffo to the level of fan worship I saw for Devia. I was not comparing the state of their voices.

            • Krunoslav says:

              OK, Sanford, but to me that didn’t feel like fan worship as much as relief and wonder that SOMEONE is stlll able to sing bel canto music at that high level. I grew up in the 70s bel canto era--I was taken to see 2 PURITANI stagings, Sills and Sutherland respectively, before I ever heard DON GIOVANNI, BUTTERFLY or OTELLO, and grew up listening to those two, Horne, Ramey, Verrett, Caballe, Alexander and Bruson ( among others). The only comparable singing I have heard on that level in this rep of late has been by Podles, Spyres, di Donato, JDF and Brownlee ( no, sorry, for all of Camerena’s gifts he is not yet *that* accomplished). So it was astounding to hear what Devia has to offer, still at 66, and as Ivy said, had she been 46 it would have been astounding as well.

              Devia has admirers but NEVER had, at least not in the States, the kind of screaming fan base that would come just to prop her up.

        • SilvestriWoman says:

          Only judging from videos, Costello appears to have a technique based on what some coaches call “only smile when you get the check.” He rarely, if ever, shows his teeth, instead singing with a very open mouth and loose jaw. Does his voice carry well? I can see how this technique may help keep the voice open and relatively free of tension, but it may also muffle the sound. It’s very different than what I was taught, and I’d think his voice would lack point.

  • Camille says:

    As far as being a “Devia fan”, I must say I missed out on here entirely when I lived in Italy and there has been only one instance, the OONY Adelia, in which I had very little interest at that time, where I might have had the opportunity to have heard her live in the theatre. I chose not to go.

    My respect and admiration came about, oh around four or five years ago, when I heard the transmission via Sirius of her wonderful Lucia in the opera of the same name (1994, I believe). I felt *gobsmacked* that a singer of this fine distinction had thus far gone under my radar, and lamented that I had never had the opportunity to hear her perform, nor ever probably should have, either.

    That’s why last night was a little bit of manna from heaven for me. I had no problem that her voice wasn’t what it once was, as what in the name of God could anyone expect, REALLY? Singers that are twenty years younger don’t have a wobble-free emission like hers, for heaven’s sake.

    Anyway, I am very happy and very gratified to have heard one of the great practitioners of vocal art, and admire her tremendously for the example she decorously sets, one that is desperately needed in the world of singing at this time, and any other for that matter.

  • Ruxxy says:

    Regrettably I’ve never seen la Devia live but aside from envying those who have I can only say any soprano who sets foot on any stage to attempt to “do Devereux” gets nine out of ten from me before they start -- what a prick of a thing to sing! With Diva Devia’s fear of flying its little wonder we here Downunder never had a chance to hear her beyond the records and cd’s -- but everything I’ve heard her do is proof of a very accomplished artist.

    Sweet Sanford I know Kiri didn’t sound too crash hot in the Downton episode recently but I almost wonder if it wasn’t purposeful in some small way but one thing is for certain- her recent concerts here were a great success and showed there is still way more of a voice there than many of us feared. I don’t think there’ll be much more (which is timely now) as I think she’s itching to go fishing! :)

  • Die Frau ohne Titten says:

    http://youtu.be/fT-twIk2Hh4

    I know we have posted about him before on a thread about Cenerentola, but here is Andrew Owens delivering a pretty sensational version of the aria and cabaletta, complete with a thrilling C# at its conclusion. It’s a lighter sound than Costello, but I’d take this any day. He also have a version of same aria but in concert.

  • DellaCasaFan says:

    Some charitable person has already uploaded the final scene from Roberto Devereux with Devia/OONY. The sound is not perfect, but who could complain. It took my breath away.

    Vivi ingrato …

    … Quel sangue versato (with the rapturous ovations in the end!)

    • mia apulia says:

      perhaps one admires rather than being swept away, but one certainly does admire

  • aulus agerius says:

    Pretty satisfying, that, Mariella Davia! Imagine if she had had more accomplished colleagues to inspire her to up the level of her game!
    Thanks to DCF for the alert, and to the charitable uploader.

    • uwsinnyc says:

      I just can’t fathom how someone regarded as one of the greatest bel canto singers of our generation has been so woefully under-represented in New York.
      To sing like this at 46 or 56 is impressive. But at 66 it’s a miracle.

      We need to have her back at the MET. do you think there’s any hope ?

  • SacredMonster says:

    Always find it tacky when Agents review their former clients work… Always smells and tastes like sour grapes…..yes I mean you Harold…

  • antikitschychick says:

    wonderful review, thank you for sharing it DeCaffarrelli. I’m glad to hear the performance was a success for madame Devia, who at 66 is a singing miracle. Will try and listen to the YT excerpts later.