Wiener Staatsoper, 12/5/1999
by Peter Jenkins, Sydney, Australia
e mail:

It has been a privilege for me to have seen two of the foremost interpreters of the role of "Lucia" of the 20th century.  I speak of course, of Edita Gruberová and Joan Sutherland.  Unfortunately, I was too young to have witnessed the miracle of Maria Callas!  My fondest memory of Sutherland is of an al fresco concert performance of  "Lucia" in 1984, with about 100,000 others!

Both Gruberová and Sutherland have equally valid interpretations, and any comparison is a useless exercise.  The great Callas described herself and the equally great Renata Tebaldi thus:  "...It is like comparing Champagne and Cognac!"  Mischievous journalists altered the comments of Callas, and the quotation is sometimes given as "Champagne and Coca Cola"!  So much for freedom of the press...

After having cancelled some of the earlier scheduled performances of  "Lucia" in Vienna in May of this year due to poor health, many of the assembled fans from all over the world, some of whom I came to meet in Vienna, were very apprehensive, understandably, about the well-being of our beloved Kammersängerin, Edita!  (My love and best wishes to David from California, Conny from Sweden, Ulla from Sweden, and of course the doyenne of Gruberová fans, Katalin from Hungary!)  Fortunately our alarm was not warranted!  "Die Gruberová" was in sparkling form, both dramatically and vocally!

For me, her interpretation of "madness" was especially remarkable.  Not for her, the histrionics of some Lucias that I have seen.  Rather, we saw a more subtle, fragile "feyness."  It was quite the most convincing portrayal of a delicate spirit, undergoing delusions, that it has been my pleasure  to witness on the stage.  In her first scene, we glimpsed  what was to come:  Gruberová very effectively hinted at the troubled, sad soul, grieving for the loss of her mother in a hostile, male-dominated world.  "Regnava nel silenzio" was sung with a haunting limpidity, and purity of tone.  Naturally, it received thunderous applause!

In her great "Mad Scene", I witnessed, I believe, a minor miracle!  That the aria would be finely sung, I was already confident.  However, Gruberováís greatness as a "singing actress" was astonishing!  The culmination of this was a high E flat of breathtaking beauty.  It filled the Staatsoper so completely, and seemed to hover in the air with a life of its own!

May I share with you a favourite quotation of mine?  The great Scottish/American soprano, Mary Garden, wrote the following about a compatriot of mine, Dame Nellie Melba..........for me it describes, in words better than I can summon, how Gruberová affected me:

Of course, this humble piece of mine is meant to be a review of Gruberováís "Lucia", not Mary Gardenís of Melba!  I could not, however, resist a quotation of one famous singer about another!  For me, hearing Gruberová in Vienna was exactly like it was for Garden to hear Melba:  a phenomenal performance that will always live in my mind and heart.

As Edgardo, Ramon Vargas also scored a major personal triumph.  He sang with force and passion, demonstrating a lyric tenor voice of great beauty.  To follow the "Mad Scene", especially when it is sung by Gruberová, is an unenviable task.   However, Mr Vargas not only furthered the dramatic tension of the opera, but received a well-deserved enthusiatic reception.

My only reservation about the Vienna "Lucia", (also voiced by others present) was the sad, tired condition of this 1978 production.  I have no problems with traditional stagings, but this production is unworthy of the Staatsoper, and especially of the foremost "Lucia" of our time.

There was fine singing from the ladies and gentlemen of the chorus, but in this old, staid production there is no scope for them to move, or show vitality.........they are firmly "glued" to their static postitions!

"Die Gruberová", alone, was worth such a long journey by a fan from Australia.  How well I will always remember her dramatic force, and the sheer beauty of her singing.   As for her "Zerbinetta" from "Ariadne", which I saw twice in the same month, I will leave that to someone else to describe and review ..........

*Comments, criticisms and other correspondence will be gladly received.*

(Page last updated: 13-Aug-2001) 
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