A young capture of Polish Soprano
Edita Gruberová
TODAY'S BIRTHDAY - December 23: Edita Gruberová

She is a living legend - one of the reigning divas and masters of coloratura, and even on this 23rd day of December, the 69 year old “Queen of Bel-canto” still leaves popular competitors less than half her age in the dust with her glorious and perfectly executed trills and virtuosic use of staccato that makes even the novice listener marvel at her impressive lung capacity.

Certainly, upon hearing the almost-septugenariun for the first time, one is catapulted back in time to the era of ‘Bel-Canto’, where sopranos dazzled audiences across Italy and indeed, across Europe, from the theaters, concert halls and opera houses showcasing the works of such gifted and prolific composers as Gaetano Donizetti, and the great Vincenzo Bellini. 

Gruberová in the role
of Lucrezia in Donizetti's
Lucrezia Borgia.
At a time when it was commonplace for a composer to write solo arias, or even entire operas for their chanteuse-muse, it would be difficult to imagine Gruberová, given all of her virtuosic ability, not being a source of inspiration for the maestri of bell'arte del canto had they been alive to fall prey to her enchanting spell. I imagine her highly prized technique to have been representative of exactly what the likes of Donizetti and Bellini had in mind when they envisioned their femmes fatales and heroines dominating, murdering, emasculating, unwittingly poisoning and begging for peace - indeed, the roles of Lucrezia and Norma (from Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia and Bellini’s Norma, respectively) were as emotionally demanding as the vocal score itself: if a heldontenor or basso-profundo is prime-cut steak for the bigboys - then the art of a coloratura soprano is the finest Italian truffle, drenched in Russian caviar - and Gruberová doesn’t appear just to indulge - the Lady Bel-canto came to serve!

The Original Primadonna,
'La Stupenda', Joan Sutherland
of Australia.

At age 69, Gruberová continues to shatter records unseen since the irreproachable (late) Joan Sutherland, dubbed “La Stupenda” for her impressive vocal prowess, who famously left audiences at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Opera House awestruck and standing in an over two-minute long ovation (an especially long time in between arias and recitatives) when she, alongside tenor Luciano Pavarotti, Mezzo Isola Jones and baritone Leo Nucci, hit a stratospheric high note - unwritten in Verdi’s original score, but added by Conductor Richard Bonynge specifically to spotlight the vocal ability of Sutherland - at the end of the famous aria for quartet “Bella Figlia dell’ amore”, from Verdi's Rigoletto, at the ripe age of 61.

It is a common (and somewhat correct) belief that the ultimate showcase of vocal agility, strength and resonance is to be found in the darker, fuller soprano roles of Wagner and Verdi (conductor Hans von Bülow famously declared Verdi's operatic repertoire as an "Atilla of the throat"), and while this is undoubtedly true, virtuosic romantic roles have a contender in the bel-canto artform: famed German and Wagnerian soprano Lilli Lehmann has gone on record to state that all of the performances of Brünnhilde from Wagner’s Ring Cycle, performed collectively in one evening, would be less taxing on the vocal chords and indeed, on the performer herself than any single staging of Bellini’s Norma (this would be no mean feat, as Wagner’s famous Der Ring des Nibelungen is a four-part cycle, over fifteen hours long - made to be spread out over the course of four days)!

As the human voice naturally develops a darker hue as one ages, there is said to be, in the world of operatic sopranos, a so-called “golden age” of tonal beauty that begins after several years of practice and maturity (akin to ‘ripening’) making lighter sopranos better suited for heavier, meatier roles - for a seemingly all-too-brief period - usually universally admired until the vocal chords and chanteuse herself begin to lose their ability, commonly believed to happen before she reaches quinquagenarian status.

If performers of the caliber of the late Joan Sutherland and Edita Gruberová are to be taken seriously, one is almost compelled to ponder the accuracy of such claims and stereotypes. The modern listener can then judge for his or for herself, whether these such beliefs possess any clout, or if they are both ageist and archaic - when you have artists like Gruberová shattering the mould, at least one thing is for certain: the next generation of divas and darlings have brighter, more extended futures in the world of Opera, more promising prospects, and a greater sense of optimism thanks the “Queens of Bel-canto” who have so expertly (and exquisitely) paved the way for them.

Happy Birthday, Edita!

Edita Gruberova sings Lucrezia's final cabaletta before expiring in Donizetti's 'Lucrezia Borgia'
Era Desso is considered to be one of the most, if not the most challenging of any soprano piece in 
the whole of Opera. As usual for Gruberova, this primadonna's performance goes off without a hitch.

READ MORE OF MY POSTS ON EDITA GRUBEROVÁ in the Gruberová archives here.


No comments:

Post a Comment