A week ago Monday night we head out into a wild thunderstorm to the first of our concerts for this season. This was part of a series under the title Bel canto Festival and featured one of Italy’s best loved sopranos: Mariella Devia. La Devia has spent most of her career in Europe. Though she did appear at the Met it has been some 14 years since she graced that stage – mores the pity for New York opera lovers. Here in Italy she is in constant demand for works by Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti as well as Verdi’s La Traviata, one of her signature roles. And her programme featured the first three and her encore was the from the last named.
From the minute the lights went up on the stage of the Sala Petrassi and Devia swanned on the whole thing took on the air of a love-in and it wasn’t just her psychedelic gown. The place erupted in wild applause and cries of “brava” and she hadn’t sung a note. “My god! Every opera queen in Rome must be here tonight,” I muttered to Laurent. “Guess so,” he replied with a sidelong glance at me! Though what he meant to imply with that glance I really don’t know!
I’ll get any carping I may have out the way right now; though pianist Rosetta Cucchi made big sounds this type of concert demands larger forces. If you are going to do Grandi scene della prima donna then do “Grandi scene”; you need an orchestra for those lyric introductions and a chorus to comiserate with the soprano and spur her on to greater heights of dizzying colouratura. A single pianist plonking away – however well – just doesn’t cut it.
The other thing may sound like a strange carp is that Devia was consistent. The problem with a programme like this is that she dazzled us from the start and continued dazzling us until the end. She was exhausted by the encore and frankly we were a little bit beat ourselves. How much better it would have been to hear her in a complete performance – preferably Pirata or Anna Bolena – where things would have been paced.
She has a voice that is secure throughout and problem-free at the top – and keep in mind she is in her 60th year. The sound is light but she is capable of subtle shadings and when it comes to firework colouratura she is fearless. There was a lack of drama in her Rossini numbers – only the aria from Adelaide di Borgogna had the required fire and again the colouratura was brillant. It may be that Rossini is no longer her cup of tea but certainly Bellini is. She sang the complete last scene of Il Pirata – senza chorus – with drama and a fine sense of tension that left us cheering at the end of the first half. And Giulietta’s aria from I Capuleti e i Montecchi had me rushing to the Teatro Carlo Felice website to book tickets for her performance there in October (damn tickets don’t go on sale until October 1!!!)
The second half was devoted to Donizetti and we got a fair serving of heroines bemoaning their fate in fine bel canto style. But things reached a meltdown stage when Devia launched into the final scene from Anna Bolena. Her dramatic grasp of Henry the VII’s second wife as she awaits execution was nothing short of breath taking. There wasn’t a sound out of her that didn’t convey the foolish woman’s plight. Sadly we only got the first part of the scene as the rest required a quartet of singers, chorus and an orchestra. Damn the Parco di Musica for scrimping on that one. I positively ached to hear the wedding bells for Henry (Enrico) and Jane Seymour (Giovanna) peel forth and Devia launch into Anna’s curse on the guilty couple. The video clip from Palermo last year shows us what we missed.
For an encore we got the Traviata Addio del passato and Chi il bel sogno di Doretta from Puccini’s La Rondine. Franky the later sounded slightly tired but given that Devia had been giving her all for over two hours it was understandable.
She declined to sing any further encores but it did not stop us from spending another ten minutes on our feet cheering and clapping. And okay I may have behaved a little bit like an Opera Queen!
25 settembre – San Nicolao della Flüe