- Associated Press - Monday, December 27, 2010

VIENNA (AP) - At the dizzying heights of her operatic career, Edita Gruberova has unexpectedly chosen to return to the role that helped make her famous.

In reprising Violetta Valery of Verdi’s “La Traviata” (The Fallen Woman) for the first time in more than a decade, the Queen of Coloratura is in some ways retracing her initial steps to stardom. But when she first sang Violetta 42 years ago, enchanting the audience in the tiny provincial theater of the Czech town of Banska Bystrica, she was barely out of her teens. Now she’s 64 _ but the grandmother of three sees no problem in returning to the role of a 20-something.

“I love Violetta as much as ever,” she told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

A full, scenic performance in November in Hamburg, Germany, was followed earlier this month by concert stagings in Munich and in Vienna in what was billed as her last appearance in the role.

Last week’s sold-out performance in the gilt concert hall of the Vienna Musikverein was repeatedly interrupted by tumultuous applause and brava calls, despite small signs of wear in Gruberova’s lower registers and intonation.

The fact that she makes her love affair with Pavol Breslik in the role of Alfredo totally believable _ even though the Slovak tenor is about half her age _ attests to her magnificent dramatic and vocal skills.

“La Gruberova was in total control of events and breathed life into the role; with just a few gestures, glances and with her amazement-creating voice,” wrote the daily Muenchner Merkur, of her Munich appearance.

Gruberova never looked back from those first performances in Banska Bystrica. The courtesan with the heart of gold who sacrifices her love for honor and dies in the arms of her paramour became one of her signature roles, performed in Vienna, Barcelona, New York, Venice, Munich and Tokyo under Carlos Kleiber, Giuseppe Sinopoli and other conducting greats.

Along the way she added many of the world’s best-loved operatic portraits to her repertoire, among them the Queen of the Night; Thibault; Giulietta; Zerbinetta; Gilda; Lucia; Konstanze, and on and on.

Her discography runs into the dozens _ operas, lieder, recitals. She has been favorably compared to the gold standard _ the late great Joan Sutherland.

But the last time she sang Violetta was in the 1990s. So why return now to a role that for her is so old _ and at an age that some would argue is too old? After all, Violetta was in her 20s when she fell for Alfredo, engendering the turn of events that turn quickly from joy to tragedy.

The petite blue-eyed diva agrees that age does play a factor _ but a positive one.

“I don’t have any problems with creating this role, quite to the contrary,” she said. “I think the more experiences you gather in life that you can transfer into music, into song, the better. And my voice is still there.”

Voice is definitely much of what Violetta is about, calling both for the smoothness of a lyric soprano and coloratura artistry _ abilities that Gruberova has effortlessly combined time and again.

But there is more to one of Verdi’s most complex, intensely sketched characters; she’s a portrait of a short life experienced to the full, a brightly blazing star that flares, then expires, leaving darkness and misery.

In short, a Violetta that is all voice and no drama is woefully one-sided _ and, says Gruberova, that is why a mature artist may be better suited to convey the complexities her character than one closer to Violetta’s actual age.

“There is a whole range of emotions in the music and one can recreate this much better at an advanced age then when one is still very young,” she says. “The difference is how one’s soul has developed, or the feelings … the emotions that one has gathered over a whole life. Good as well as bad experiences are collected … and of course that is reflected in a role.”

Gruberova’s take notwithstanding, her team says the recent performance of Violetta was her last. She, however, is less explicit when pressed, saying the possibility of another reprise “depends on the offer.”

There is still time. She has no thoughts of retiring despite the odiousness of “life in the hotels, and trips, and baggage and airplanes and taxis … because when you are standing on the stage, or a concert podium and the audience breaks out in applause and ovations there is nothing more beautiful ….

“This is my therapy.”

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