11 Dec 2005

Edita Gruberová — The Queen of Belcanto Volume I

There are countless artists whose legend survives on their supposed fame, others leave a substantial legacy of their achievements.

The former have no real value, other than to provide a cult vehicle for sycophants, the latter contribute greatly to the lasting importance of their artistry, and their art. Edita Gruberová belongs to the latter group of artists, and the public is fortunate she has been active at a time when it has been possible to leave volumes of commercially recorded CDs, DVDs, radio and television broadcasts, and the ever important “pirate” recordings.

Born on December 23, 1946, in Bratislava, Slovakia, Gruberová studied with Mária Medvecká at the Bratislava Conservatory, and later at the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. After singing with the Lúnica Folk Ensemble and participating in several Slovak National Theatre productions, Gruberová made her operatic debut in 1968, in her home town, as Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Three years later she defected to the west when was engaged by the Vienna State Opera. The rest, as the phrase goes, is history. Gruberová’s international career was assured following her debut performance in Vienna as Mozart’s Queen of the Night.

The operas highlighted in this CD are well known and, therefore, it is easy to think of other singers interpreting these roles. However, be they one’s least or most favorite diva, the thought never becomes anything more than that. Gruberová makes each role her own, be it through her stratospheric singing, seemingly endless pianissimi, or impressive messa di voce and forte which seem to come out of nowhere. One thing is clear, Gruberovabá’s timbre is perfectly suited to interpret these bel canto “mad” characters; her technique, musical instinct, and her choice of perfectly placed embellishments have earned her the love and respect of fans and colleagues alike. Other than through her recordings, Gruberová is virtually little known in the U.S.A., but in Europe she has a legendary goddess stature, a true Diva, and her performances are always sold out. She is well deserving of the title “Queen of Belcanto.”

Typical of Gruberová’s style, the take of each track in this CD is slower than most other interpreters’ renditions of the same arias. Gruberová’s interpretations, tinged with the appropriate emotions, provide a different aspect of madness: these are not mature, tortured women gone over the edge; these are pouting, deceived, melancholy teenagers hurt and brokenhearted for the first time in their lives. To them there is no hope, no bright future, no possible explanation for their loss, and no redemption–not even the thought of vengeance to appease them. At a time when women were considered “property” and had nothing but their word and their chastity, madness and death are their only escape. Gruberová plays well on this psychological and historical aspect of the characters: Lucia is introspective with sporadic bursts of anger, and in spite of a sharp note at the end, Gruberová’s “duet” with the flute is one of the most effective on record. In Anna Bolena, as the impetuous young queen falsely accused, the singer is child-like in recalling her first love; in the subsequent cavattina, she is regal, realizing the madness of her immature ambition to be queen. Amina in Sonnambula is pure innocence misunderstood. Gruberová is superb in expressing the character’s sadness and grief: one can feel the tears in her voice in “Il pianto mio recarti...” leading to “Non credea mirarti” where she ironically compares the wilted flowers to Elvino’s love. This sad moment quickly turns to joy in “Ah! non giunge uman pensiero.” As Elvira, in Puritani, Gruberová vocal technique is put to the test with the character’s vacillation between madness and temporary sanity. The singer’s use of portamento is exquisite to indicate Elvira’s betrayal, despair, and mental state. Later, the pathos turns to temporary joy in “Vien, diletto, è in ciel la luna...”

This recording is coloratura at its best.

There is only one criticism of this disk: four mad scenes do not represent the wide scope of Bel Canto. Nightingale Classics, Gruberová’s recording company, has chosen to follow EMI’s lead in rehashing its one star’s recorded legacy as though it were a newly discovered masterpiece–all the tracks in this CD are taken from previously, or recently released complete opera recordings. Gruberova who, through deliberate and intelligent choices, has sung mostly Mozart, Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi, has recorded other CDs (“Donizetti Portraits,” and “Belcanto Duets”) more appropriate of the moniker given the present recording. There is another CD in the singer’s discography, titled “Mad Scenes,” which the present recording would have served well as a deserving follow up, and better titled as “Mad Scenes II”

This is a minor comment on an otherwise excellent vehicle for Gruberová, who approaching sixty years of age, is still riding high on the wave of success.

Daniel Pardo 2005



Liner Notes
Great Bel Canto Scenes
Giorgio Migliavacca
© Nightingale Classics

Interview by Xavier Nicolás