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Recordings

Siente Me: Popular Avenues
16 Nov 2007

Gruberova on Nightingale Classics

Edita Gruberova’s North American fans, who can only hold onto dim hopes that someday the European superstar will return to these shores, can always seek to sate their desire for her artistry by picking up the latest CD from Nightingale Classics.

Siente Me: Popular Avenues

Edita Gruberova, soprano, et al.

Nightingale Classics NC 8254162 [CD]

$14.99  Click to buy

This label focuses on Gruberova, and has now reached the stage of issuing the “Edita Gruberova Edition,” which seems to be themed collections of highlights from previous recordings.

Edition 3, Siente Me, bears the subtitle “popular avenues.” Some of the chestnuts here are pieces one would expect from Gruberova, including a flamboyant “Bell Song” from Delibes’s Lakme and the high-spirited “Ah! Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette. Somewhat less expectedly, Gruberova does very well by two of Puccini’s greatest hits for soprano, “O mio babbino caro” and “Ch’il bel sogno di Doretta.” The latter, exquisite performance makes one wonder if Gruberova ever attempted La Rondine on stage.

Although by no means a native speaker of English, Gruberova does a decent job with Bernstein’s “Glitter and be gay.” The listener won’t catch very word, but she seems to get the humor and certainly has the technique to deal easily with the challenges the music poses. This disc ends with two pieces of Euro-pop composed by one Gunnar Graewert. On one hand, for many people these synth-heavy but lightweight songs will seem out of place for Gruberova. On the other hand, she doesn’t sound so nearly out of her element as, for example, Kiri te Kanawa does on the “Kiri and Karl” CD. In fact, Gruberova’s ethereal tone is well used by the producer, especially in “Ecco la primevera.” Think of it as high-class, up-tempo Enya. The booklet has no texts, and only a scanty note in German or English, only slightly more comprehensible in the latter than in the former to this non-German speaker.

Gruberova_Adagio.pngThe booklet for edition 2, “Adagio: Between heaven and earth,” has no notes at all, just track listings, photos of album covers, and production details on the original recordings. It’s a beautiful collection, however, although the point of the title (let alone the tacky cover art) proves elusive. Anything with a vaguely “spiritual” bent seems to have qualified, including an absolutely luscious run-through of Lakme’s duet with Mallika (sung by Natela Nicoli). The opening track is a rare vocalise from Saint-Saens, “Le Rossignol et la rose,” allowing Gruberova to put on a master class in sustained breath control and floating notes. A series of lieder duets with Vesselina Kasarova makes one want to hunt down the complete recording they came from. All in all, the collection is much more heavenly than earthy.

Gruberova_Hymnus.pngPerhaps on some other disc of the “Edita Gruberova Edition” we will find tracks from Hymnus, a collection of pieces from Bach, Handel, and Mozart. Strangely, Gruberova does not seem at home in this repertory, although it provides some opportunity for her skill at quick runs. Here the light color of her instrument blanches, the high notes pop out a bit too ostentatiously. There are fine moments, to be sure, but even in Mozart’s “Exsultate Jubilate,” Gruberova sings as if disconnected, even disinterested.

Gruberova_Beatrice.pngShe is much more at home in Bellini, and Nightingale has released many a complete set of her in his operas. The Beatrice di Tenda comes from 1992, recorded live for Österreichen Rundfunks. This time Nightingale provides a full booklet, with a libretto in German and English. Niel Rishoi’s fine essay argues for a reconsideration of the opera’s merits, and the music is indeed as impassioned as in the more performed Norma or I Puritani. However, even those operas appear less often than they deserve, probably due to the difficulty in gathering casts adequate to the demands of true bel canto style. So the chances that Beatrice Di Tenda will be staged more often in the world’s opera houses seems slight.

The story is a romantic rectangle, if the reader will allow. Count Filippo would like to be rid of his wife Beatrice, so he can be with his beloved Agnese. However, Agnese actually loves Orombello more, but he has his heart set on...Beatrice! When the Count finds Orombello and Beatrice together, he accuses them of treason, and the opera ends with Beatrice’s noble ascent of the scaffold. Actually, the story is less incredible than that of the more frequently performed La Sonnambula. If the score, though of uniform quality, had a couple of arias with more distinctive melodic profiles, perhaps the opera would be better known.

Nightingale’s cast is capable, with a young Vesselina Kasarova as Agnese, Igor Morosow growling away as the bitter Filippo, and Don Bernardini coping well with the usual stringent demands of Bellini’s writing for tenor. Gruberova, the star, is not in the very best of voice, with high notes in particular sounding more effortful than usual, and not always perfectly on pitch. Pinchas Steinberg’s leadership of the ORF-Symphonieorchester provides fine support. Her fans at the live recording, it should be noted, reward her with vociferous enthusiasm.

A DVD of the opera, also with Gruberova, was available at one time; it may be difficult to track down at this time. A diligent hunt may also produce a copy of the studio recording Richard Bonynge and Joan Sutherland brought forth.

Gruberova fans will want all of her releases, surely. For those with favorable impressions of the singer but less devotion, the Adagio compilation earns a strong recommendation.

Chris Mullins

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