Bellini I Puritani Edita Gruberova – Met 1991

Niel Rishoi

sì bella, sì pura, del ciel creatura

This clip provides the rare instance of her voice being captured at its most lovely and congenial. All too often, the close, relentless digital microphoning in studio engineering imparts an unwelcome glare and hardness of tone not apparent in the space of an opera house; her “frontal,” resonant timbre does not lend itself well to the recording process.

Not so here. Rarely has the tone sounded so shining, yet soft, warm, shimmering with radiance as heard here. As she traces through the superbly well-bound line, Gruberova offers a gorgeous, purling sweetness, with exquisite word-painting and gentle, dynamic shading.

Several isolated moments are worthy of mention.

At 3:18, in the “Ah vieni!” she crowns the high C in the scale with an impressive diminuendo, not just showing off technical prowess, but imparting Elvira’s heartbreaking grief.

At 7:30 Gruberova takes the “traditional” option of taking the line up, whereby the soprano rises up to a high D. Bonynge’s long-standing handling of this section is an ingenious one; he allows the soprano to approach it gradually, not rushing it, with the soprano holding the high D. It is a glorious, thrilling effect.

Gruberova here stuns with the security of her upper register, and how effortlessly she soars over the entire chorus. Just as impressive is the deft handling of “coming down” from the upper straits, never losing the focus.

One of the most singular, extraordinary moments I have ever heard from Gruberova, though, comes in at around 8:23. The concluding cadenza, “Vivro d’amor,” has the soprano starting the scale on a b flat marked with a fermata. Bonynge holds the chord for Gruberova; and then, seemingly out of nowhere, she comes in on the b flat with the most soft, but sustained of tones, and then executing an absolutely perfect messa-di-voce; and then does the peculiarly Bellinian, “dying fall” of a scale, all on one breath.

She ends this, departing with the score, at 8:51, with a superb, slow trill, absolutely exact and precise, and tapering off with a beautifully sustained ending, of the utmost loveliness.