In Review > Concerts and Recitals

Roberto Devereux

NEW YORK CITY
Opera Orchestra of New York
6/5/14

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Stephen Costello, Mariella Devia and Eve Queler in Opera Orchestra of New York's June 5 performance of Roberto Devereux
Stephanie Berger
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Géraldine Chauvet
© Stephanie Berger

Mariella Devia, the prima donna of Opera Orchestra of New York's June 5 Roberto Devereux, turned Elisabetta's last-act cavatina, "Vivi, ingrato" into an object lesson in bel canto singing. The soprano is well into her seventh decade, but the limpidity of her voice would have been remarkable in a singer half her age. Still, it was Devia's skill as an interpreter and musician that made the moment special. Her subtle application of rubato and coloristic shading allowed her to free the melody from the strictures of bar lines and set it forth unfettered into the Carnegie Hall auditorium as one cohesive lyric statement.  

The performance marked Devia's first local appearance in fifteen years, and as satisfying as the occasion was, you couldn't help but wish there had been many more. To be sure, her work had its limitations. The fiery declamation heard on passages of Beverly Sills's complete Devereux recording from 1969 was not Devia's to summon, and probably never has been. Devia has also never had a commanding chest voice; her refusal on this occasion to push the voice in lower-lying lines no doubt offers a clue to her vocal longevity. But you could only be grateful for what she did deliver: for her command of legato, for the fleetness of her coloratura, for the accuracy, artistry and simple rightness of her singing throughout. Other sopranos in recent years have scored local successes in the bel canto repertoire, but none have excelled Devia in stylistic authority.

The rest was terribly uneven. Eve Queler, OONY's founder, was on the podium. As always, you had to admire her initiative and energy as an impresario, putting together, against considerable odds, a performance that addressed a longstanding hunger among local opera lovers. But the piece was not, by any stretch of the imagination, well-conducted. Orchestral textures were thick and blurry; rhythms that should have danced instead lumbered. Donizetti imbued each movement of Devereux with its own specific emotional weight, but this essential element of his musical dramaturgy emerged murkily: I felt I wasn't listening to the piece as much as decoding it. 

In the title role, Stephen Costello created plenty of excitement, his voice bracingly projected, with the kind of tenorial squillo that hits the ear's sweet spots. But the hint of recklessness in his singing was disturbing. The open-throated abandon of his approach to the voice's higher reaches sometimes caused him to land there flat. By the evening's close, his top deserted him almost entirely: the cabaletta of his final aria was easily the least effective passage of his portrayal.

Géraldine Chauvet, as Sara, offered a sample of her pleasing, claret-tinged mezzo-soprano — and little else. Her head buried in the score, she seemed connected neither to the occasion nor the role itself. As her husband Nottingham, David Pershall was equally dull, showing little imagination in the deployment of his handsome lyric baritone, and singing throughout in an unvaried mezzo-forte. The standout among the supporting cast was Sava Vemic, revealing in Raleigh's few lines a bass of awesome size and weight.

But no question, Devia was the evening's main event, and at the opera's conclusion, she was greeted by a rapturous — indeed, ritualistic — ovation. Singing on this order deserves no less. spacer 

FRED COHN

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Current Issue: August 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 2