At 68, Mariella Devia has already more than earned her status as a living legend. More than 40 years into her career, her voice remains remarkably fresh and secure in this Rosenblatt Recital, with stunning technical command and a wealth of bel canto stylistic experience. Despite an announced indisposition that resulted in a truncated programme, Devia remains a formidable singer, particularly in the Italian rep she has truly made her own.

Mariella Devia at Wigmore Hall © Jonathan Rose
Mariella Devia at Wigmore Hall
© Jonathan Rose
The evening started, rather intriguingly, with Ravel’s Cinq mélodies populaires grecques. Brief and charmingly concise, these five songs are Ravel at his most kaleidoscopic. Known primarily for her peerless vocalism, Devia seemed rather at a loss textually, which was not helped by the fact that the songs sat slightly too low for her. Best among the set was the highly atmospheric, Lydian-inflected Chanson des cueilleuses de lentisques, which benefited from Devia’s seemingly endless breath control.

Much more successful were a selection of songs by Liszt, aided greatly by the brilliant (if sometimes overly bright) playing of Giulio Zappa. Although suffering from a similar anonymity in textual engagement, Oh quand je dors featured some of the most exquisite high notes in the entire evening. More at home in her native Italian, the Tre sonetti di Petrarca were performed with clear reference to Liszt’s bel canto influences. Nowhere was this more evident than in the lento section of Pace non trovo, elegantly phrased and pulled about as if it were a slightly more harmonically adventurous Bellini aria.

It is to Devia’s credit that she can still convincingly embody two of the most famous French ingénues, Manon and Juliette, whose arias rounded off the first half. These scenes found Devia far more textually and dramatically alert, especially in Manon’s Act II aria. Devia’s middle register was appealingly vulnerable, with a directness and simplicity that was refreshing despite some rather suspect French. Gounod’s rather overperformed Je veux vivre was a minor revelation, sung not only with technical ease (every grace note beautifully articulated) but also with a vitality and brilliance that would put a 20-year-old to shame.

Giulio Zappa and Mariella Devia at Wigmore Hall © Jonathan Rose
Giulio Zappa and Mariella Devia at Wigmore Hall
© Jonathan Rose

The all-Italian second half began with two rather forgettable Verdi songs, followed by an aria from Giovanna d’Arco. This aria alternates between florid cantilena and militaristic leaps that delineate Giovanna’s complex character, which Devia dispatched with great aplomb, including a blazing high B. Best of all, though, was a set of Bellini songs. Short and simple, they nevertheless showed off her peerless legato and plangent tone to full effect. Though her indisposition did not allow her to close off the recital with the originally announced Casta Diva, there was no doubt that Devia reigns supreme in bel canto.