Memorial concert in Néris-les-Bains, 2022

In the framework of Festival Lyrique en Tronçais:
Concert dedicated to the memory of Edita Gruberova
June 30, 2022
Théâtre André Messager, Néris-les-Bains, France
Klára Kolonits, soprano
Maxime Neyret, piano
Dolina, Dolina (Slovak folk song)
W.A. Mozart: "Schon lacht der holde Frühling" (concert aria)
W.A. Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail ‐ overture (piano)
W.A. Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail ‐ "Martern aller Arten"
Mozart: Idomeneo, re di Creta ‐ ballet music (piano)
V. Bellini: Norma ‐ "Casta diva... Ah bello a me ritorna"
* * *
G. Donizetti: Maria Stuarda ‐ "Deh! Tu di un umile"
G. Verdi: I Masnadieri ‐ overture (piano)
G. Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia ‐ "Com'è bello... Si voli il primo a cogliere"
F. Halévy: La Magicienne ‐ ballet music (piano)
G. Meyerbeer: Les Huguenots ‐ "O beau pays de la Touraine"
G. Meyerbeer: Dinorah ‐ entr'acte (piano)
F. Erkel: Hunyadi László ‐ La Grange aria
G. Verdi: I Lombardi ‐ overture (piano)
G. Verdi: La Traviata ‐ "E strano ... sempre libera"
Charpentier: Louise ‐ Depuis le jour
The concert took place in a charming little theatre, in honor of Edita Gruberova who passed away last year. Even though the programme, by the organizers' concept, largely consisted of pieces that Gruberova had sung, the goal was of course not any sort of mechanical imitation of her, as Edita Gruberova's voice, her art, her whole being had been so unique, that any imitation attempt would necessarily have resulted in a failure. Instead, the evening was a thanksgiving that Edita had been here for us, the audience, for more than half a century, bringing a lot of joy, making life bearable by her magic for a number of fans, or helping them get over illnesses. I felt that the concert helped a bit in the grief work, although I am sure that we fans will never be able to release the artist completely. As long as even one of us is alive, Edita Gruberova, the artist, will live.
The organizers engaged Klára Kolonits for the concert, who has been valued highly for years by several Gruberova fans, and not by accident.
In the ambitious programme, next to the pieces from Gruberova's repertoire, there were two and a half numbers which Gruberova had not sung but could have sung. The "half" was the very rarely performed cabaletta of the entrance aria of Lucrezia Borgia. Also, as far as I know, Gruberova never sang (but Sutherland did) the aria of Marguerite de Valois from Les Huguenots. The La Grange aria had a Gruberova aspect in the sense that she had been asked twice to sing it. In the 90's a Hungarian fan of hers provided her with score and recording, but, after studying them, she said that it was too low for her. For the second time, in 2019, the opera intendant in Budapest, Szilveszter Ókovács offered her an aria concert for 2020, which would have included at least one aria by Erkel, perhaps this aria, too, but the artist eventually did not undertake it. Thus, we can only try to imagine how she would have sung these arias. Perhaps the Hungarian language would not have been an obstacle to her, as she spoke Hungarian fluently (she has only one recording in Hungarian, on her Children's Songs CD).
The evening started with introductory words of remembrance and continued with a projected video montage of Gruberova photos and applause videos made by fans. During the projection the music was a Lamartine poem set by Gounod, "Le soir", the (pre-recorded) singing was by counter-tenor Jean-Marie Chauvin, who possesses an unusually large, natural-sounding, very nice voice (I have also heard him live and I hope that one day we will hear him in Budapest, too). The video also contained moving words of remembrance by fan Victor Li from Hong Kong.
The opening vocal piece in the memorial concert was Edita's favorite Slovak song, "Dolina, Dolina", sung very expressively, in Slovak. The song is about how love and youth pass. The Mozart concert aria that followed had not belonged to Gruberova's core repertoire, I had heard it with her only from recording. Now at the concert we got a similarly virtuoso rendition which left a great impression in me.
After that came the "Martern" aria which Gruberova had sung many times in concert even in the later phase of her career. The interpretation of Klára Kolonits was not so extremely confrontative as what we had grown used to at Edita's concerts, but Konstanze's defiance, based on a firm moral stance, clearly shone through, a bit alluding to how Edita had followed strict moral principles all her life and had not deviated from them.
The inspired rendition of Norma's Casta diva created the impression that it was a prayer not to the moon goddess but to Edita.
There was another prayer after the intermission, that of Maria Stuarda. This time I felt that it was a supplication for Edita.
The entrance aria from "Lucrezia Borgia" projected to us the emotions and fears of a mother hiding and watching her secretly kept son ‐ Lucrezia is simultaneously glad at the sight of her son and afraid of what would happen if the son discovers that her mother is the notorius Lucrezia Borgia. I must note that Gruberova, in her whole portrayal of Lucrezia, definitely brought the mother aspect forward, for her this was the central trait of the character. We know that in real life she was a mother of two daughters, plus the grandmother of two grandsons and a granddaughter. (I recall that, in '97 or '98, after an opera performance in Munich, we went backstage to congratulate Her. In her dressing room a photo of a small child was on display. She said happily, in Hungarian, "Grandchild! Grandchild! I am a grandmother!" She was 50 or 51 at the time, and there was nothing grandmotherlike about her. She never made a secret of her age or of her grandchildren.)
After Lucrezia came Queen Marguerite's spectacular aria from Les Huguenots, which, in Budapest, when Kolonits sings the role, is usually the high point of the performance. It was also well received by the French audience. The grand aria that followed was that of Erzsébet Szilágyi from "Hunyadi Lászlá", and it did not miss its goal in the home country of French coloratura diva Anna de La Grange, either, for whom the aria had been written.
The official closing number was Violetta's aria from Act I, with similarly deep characterization as we had grown used to with Edita, complete with the unwritten E-flat at the end.
In the vein of Gruberovan traditions, the enthusiastic audience got an encore, Louise's aria about love.
Great was the collaboration between the two performers, even though they worked together for the first time. The instrumental pieces sounded very nice on the Steinway piano. They were not mere "fillers" but created the mood for or provided the transition to the arias.
After the concert I talked to a Gruberova fan from Geneva, he had driven 400 kilometers to hear the concert. He had already known what to expect (and was not disappointed), as in 2019 he had already heard Klára Kolonits in Budapest, when she was alternating with Gruberova in Lucia di Lammermoor. The fan expressed his hope that this programme would be heard elsewhere, too, at more easily accessible venues.
The above report has been written from the point of view of a Gruberova fan. For the local audience, the concert was more the concert of a wonderful singer, and the reverence for the other, deceased singer (underlined by a small exhibition in a room of the theatre) probably played a secondary role. The French are responsive to the art of Klára Kolonits, I witnessed this earlier in Toulouse at her Norma, too. Now also several people approached her after the concert to congratulate her, ask an autograph or pose for photos with her.
I also have to mention the fantastic team which worked in the background for the concert's success, with great enthusiasm, resolving every problem.

Maxime Neyret and Klára Kolonits
Maxime Neyret and Klára Kolonits
(photo: courtesy of Maxime Neyret)

Magyar változat (Hungarian version)
(Page last updated: 17-Aug-2022)
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