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Friday, June 6, 2014

OONY Roberto Devereux

I'm going to sound like Edith Wharton but the only way to describe OONY's Roberto Devereux at Carnegie Hall is: "Anyone who is anyone was there." By "anyone," I mean the hard-core opera fans. The fakes, the name-droppers, the star-fuckers weren't necessarily interested in 66-year old Mariella Devia's return/farewell to NYC. In fact, as of this morning, Carnegie Hall was heavily papering the event. But the real fans, the ones you see who really love opera, were all there. It was a joy to see so many faces that I hadn't seen for years -- it really was one of those nights.


This Event was kind of put together in a slapdash way -- OONY used to have subscriptions with a loyal fan-base. Over the years, funds seem to have dried up, and there wasn't even the obligatory New York Times publicity interview for this performance. Kind of sad. In fact, the program even said that the appearance fee of several singers were taken care of through "anonymous donors."

I had never heard Mariella Devia in person until tonight. By the time I started going to opera regularly, she was sort of a distant relic. I heard she was doing great things in Europe, and occasionally I got to view a video, but I sort of gave up hope of ever hearing her in person. And when she made her appearance, I thought that she, well, looked like a sixty-something grandma type. Many divas of a certain age will acquire a kind of embalmed grandeur, usually through the miracles of wigs, makeup, voluminous gowns, and Norma Desmond-like hauteur. Mariella just scampered onstage, score in hand, in a pretty but unassuming green dress and got down to the business of singing.

The core of her voice is still there, which is what makes her remarkable. There was a little bit of a quavery, old-lady sound, and she marked the parts of the score that required her to dip into her lower register. Donizetti's writing isn't really for a lyric coloratura like Devia -- there are parts of the score that almost require a declamatory, chesty mezzo like Dolora Zajick to do it justice. She also seemed to be saving herself for last act. But Devia still has the musical line, the clear diction, the breath control, the sense of momentum as scenes climax in excitement that exemplifies bel canto singing. Trills still there and wonderfully articulated in "Ah! ritorna quel ti spero." "In her final aria "Vivi ingrato"/"Quel sangue versate" she was on fire, and for good measure capped the scena with a high D that had the crowd screaming and stomping in a standing ovation that completely drowned out the last few bars of the opera. Sorry orchestra! Then once the music stopped, the illusion was dropped, and she appeared almost sheepish at the applause. There was no grand diva bow, no milking of applause, she just walked off stage as unassumingly as she had walked onstage.

Devia's supporting cast was variable. It was very appropriate historically -- an aging Queen Elizabeth (she was in her sixties when she met Robert Devereux) surrounded by a group of younger, attractive males. One of the few stains on Queen Elizabeth's reign was that she had a lifelong weakness for good-looking, fawning users. Donizetti's opera really does capture that dynamic well.

In a strange way, the casting also was historically true. Elizabeth was besotted with Robert Devereux, but outsiders wondered what the fuss was about as they saw a slick slimy playboy. The opera industry seems just as besotted with Stephen Costello, but to these eyes and ears he has an unpleasant bleat to his voice, a wooden, awkward, terrified stage expression, does absolutely nothing with the text, and after a promising (if loud and unsubtle) start totally ran out of gas in his final aria. Geraldine Chauvet (Sara) is very pretty, but the mezzo is low-impact and she's one of those singers who constantly sings ever so slightly under the pitch. David Pershall (Nottingham) is cute (see a pattern here?), but seemed to be vying with Costello in a neck-and-neck race in terms of seeming totally disconnected from the text and the drama. John Kapusta's (Cecil) biography says he specializes in "character roles." I can see why. Classic comprimario voice. The best voice was bass Sama Vemic as Raleigh. He's very young, very tall, and also very cute, but the sound that comes out is big and rich.

I really respect Eve Queler for all the work and dedication she's given OONY, but her conducting tonight was strictly of the oompapa chug-along tradition. Also, a couple of the orchestra members were really not appropriately dressed. One violinist was wearing what appeared to be a black t-shirt with overtight black capris. The fact that the singers had their noses buried in their scores suggested a lack of rehearsal time.

The rag-tag feel of the event only added to its appeal, in a weird way. When the Carnegie Hall started screaming in ecstasy for Devia it felt like the very end of an Andy Hardy movie. "Wow we really put on a great show in this barn!"

15 comments:

  1. Love your reviews.You are an absolute delight to read! Always great stuff.

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    1. Thanks! I'm just happy I was lucky enough to get to experience this Event. I know it won't happen again.

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  2. Hey Ivy,
    I know what you mean by lucky.The first 2x I went to the old Met, I heard Bjoerling- twice in the same week!

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  3. First was Turiddu (with Simionato) and then,the following Sat. matinee Cavaradossi with Curtis-Verna- both the same week in November,1959

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    1. Wow you are lucky as I believe those are the last two times Bjoerling ever performed with the Met?

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  4. Not quite, Ivy. He sang 4-5 performances the following month in Dec.1959 adding Faust to the 2 I saw. Actually, we weren't really "lucky" to have been at our respective performances. I'm sure,you went specifically to hear Devia and I went specifically to hear Bjoerling. So, I'd prefer to think of both our choices to be more the result of great taste in singers!

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  6. Elizabeth was far younger when she FIRST met Robert Devereux, the son of her least favorite cousin (on the Boleyn side), Lettice Knollys. He may have been her godson, not sure. He was certainly a boy and she only in her forties. Her great love (with whom everyone loves to confuse Essex) was Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, who was exactly her age and who (to her immense chagrin and fury) abruptly married the widowed Lettice. Lettice never returned to court, but her son had, through his stepfather, an introduction to the intimate circle. After Leicester died (1588 -- the Queen was now 55), Essex and Raleigh and Christopher Hatton vied for her attention. She enjoyed it thoroughly, in an Auntie Mame sort of way. Hatton seems genuinely to have been in love with her; his name is never coupled with that of any other lady. Raleigh was a horndog and the Queen forced him to marry one of the ladies he knocked up. Essex married Frances Walsingham, Philip Sidney's widow and the Queen's goddaughter; they had three children. The relationship was undoubtedly flirtatious in a poetic way, but when it got down to business there were troubles -- Bess was not to be interfered with. Essex wanted fierce war with Spain because he was pretty good at it; Bess didn't want that because it was expensive. Essex became the darling of the mob; he believed his own hype; he was an idiot. He condemned the appointment of a rival to suppress an Irish rebellion; as a result, he got the job. That should have larned him. (His father had died bankrupt trying to suppress an Irish rebellion. Ireland was never good news for any English politician.) Ireland was a disaster for Essex and his return more so. (Raleigh crowed.) When he sulked, the Queen revoked a monopoly she had given him, and he was now bankrupt. She wanted him to admit he was wrong and crawl; she wanted an excuse to have him around being poetic and cooing at her. He wouldn't play. He led an attempted coup d'etat -- the people loved him, right? (No.) He paid Shakespeare's company to revive Richard II. There hadn't been a nobleman's coup d'etat in England against an adult monarch since York's rebellion in 1459; it was now 1601. He was sent to the Tower and refused to appeal to the Queen; the jurors condemned him. He admitted his guilt. The Queen told people she would have pardoned him if he'd pled to HER -- but he relied on the law, which couldn't pardon him. In that element if in nothing else the libretto is accurate. His head was chopped off. (His son avenged him, commanding the Parliamentary army against Charles I.) She died two years later.

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    1. Wow John. Thanks for the history lesson. I've read some Queen E. books but I think I've also seen the Bette Davis movie too many times.

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    2. Thanks for the review Ivy. Glad you got to see her. I'd liked to have been there, but I was afraid it might not happen, and this is a busy time of year for me to take a chance like that. I'm glad she had a success. I have never heard her live, but loved her in the Maria Stuarda I saw in HD.

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    3. Kathy, in my experience OONY's have been pretty reliable (for better or for worse). For instance projects that probably should have been canned (like last year's Andrea Chenier) were not.

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  7. Darling Ivy - you always tell it like it is. I know I will read the real thing from you. Rowna

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  8. Darling Ivy - you always tell it like it is. That is why I love your reviews! Rowna

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