Mariella Devia made a triumphant return in Naples last Saturday. In a recital of bel canto selections, she proved once again an intelligent singer with a powerful, appealing voice which was welcomed with a standing ovation. With the San Carlo Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by José Miguel Pérez-Sierra, the famous Italian soprano performed some of most famous opera arias taken from the works of Gioachino Rossini (Semiramide), Vincenzo Bellini (Norma, I Capuleti e i Montecchi), Gaetano Donizetti (Anna Bolena) and Giuseppe Verdi (I Lombardi alla prima crociata and I vespri sicilaini).

Mariella Devia © Teatro de la Maestranza
Mariella Devia
© Teatro de la Maestranza

The soprano undertook some of the most difficult coloratura passages with elegance, courage and musicality, with a voice which runs smoothly and unstrained all along its spectrum, supported by a flawless technique. There was a bit of harshness here and there, but not a critical problem.

The last pieces she sang, from Donizetti's and Bellini's operas, were impressive. The segment from Bellini’s Norma was wonderful. She performed “Casta Diva" well and impassionedly. Also, she showed full command of the cabaletta that follows, “Ah, bello a me ritorna” where her singing was quite excellent indeed. But most amazing was her encore, the famous Prayer from the last act of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda which she exquisitely sung and where she showed a perfect fiato and legato. After more than 40 year of career, Mariella Devia’s voice is still amazingly fresh and ductile and does not show any sign of deterioration.

The only major disappointment of the concert was the performance by the orchestra, save the string section, the only one which confirmed a good standard, as usual, with several lovely passages and solos. The rest of the orchestra offered a harsh mixture of wrong notes and poor entrances. They started out unsteadily, with phrases often inelegantly broken, high notes excessively charged, and improved only at times. 

Pèrez-Sierra is considered one of the most notable young Spanish conductors of his generation, but did not make a strong impression. He was more a lenient schoolmaster than an exacting musician: tempi were often uninspired, and his attempts to follow the singer often resulted in unpleasant knots in the vocal line. He did not pay great attention to sound of the orchestra, whose sections he was not able to combine into a single harmonious sound, so the stylistic peculiarities of Rossini’s and Verdi’s music got lost in split details.

The San Carlo Chorus was kept busy singing many parts; they did not appear to be at their top, though. They sounded convincing throughout, but not impeccable.

Despite some of these downsides and the ineffectual conducting, it was one of those events in the theatre that will be remembered for a long time. Devia's performance made us forget all the faults: she astonished the audience  and met every musical challenge with an amazingly unstrained voice, and her renowned talent.