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Manca la diva

La Cieca has just heard that Angela Gheorghiu has become indisposed after the first act of Tosca at the San Francisco Opera. Reportedly David Gockley has said the soprano is on the way to the hospital to be treated for intestinal flu; meanwhile, Melody Moore is preparing to finish the performance.

222 comments

  • Cocky Kurwenal says:

    I really don’t understand why people constantly question the sincerity of Gheorghiu and Fleming. They both have their faults, but I find they absolutely deserve their statuses as 2 of the reining divas of our age because of their very beautiful and distinctive voices, and their artistry. Fleming has moved me more than any other singer I’ve seen live, and I agree that Gheorghiu is the best Tosca around. I felt she had mastered the role completely, and found her thoroughly credible and involving.

    • Bianca Castafiore says:

      Having seen Reneigh many times and Gheorghiu live once, what they seem to be doing is: “Look at me, I’m a diva, listen to how gorgeous I make this phrase sound.” Whereas other singers, simply sing it straight. If you have to point out how good it is, then you are not performing, you are demonstrating. That’s where the lack of sincerity is. I’m so sick of Reneigh’s mannerisms, can’t she just sing a phrase straight?

      What you forgot to mention is that these two also have a huge PR and marketing media behind them. When I think of it, their voices are really not that beautiful. Not as much as they (or their handlers) seem to think.

      • Cocky Kurwenal says:

        I didn’t forget to mention it. My whole point was that they deserve their status on their vocal and artistic merits, and that it hasn’t happened because of the over-promotion which they gained through good looks or whatever that people are always accusing certain other singers of around here.

        Gheorghiu did not have a PR machine behind her when she caused an absolute sensation as Violetta to the extent that the BBC changed their TV schedules -- practically the only time that has happened in living memory. She got a record contract and a lot of attention because she was a new, exciting, great singer.

        In any case, I really don’t get the same thing from them that you do -- this notion that they are demonstrating. Although I find it a fairly accurate description of how I feel about Leontyne Price.

        • Bianca Castafiore says:

          Well, I can’t account for the Beeb’s taste, for sure.

          In Leontyne Price’s case, you are right in that there was a certain amount of “showing off” on her part, but in her defense, I’d say she could really back it up. I don’t find the case to be with Reneigh. At one point, she was a resplendent singer (I recall that New Year’s eve gala with the NY Phil., an all-French program many years ago) but mostly when she’d just sing it straight. The things I’ve seen from her in the last few years have just gotten worse and worse (Thais, Rodelinda, Armida) to the point I am just nauseated and turned off.

          • MontyNostry says:

            This is all very subjective, of course, but I always find there’s an essential sincerity with Leontyne, even when she’s coming out with tricks that don’t always work (generally in the latter part of her career). Somehow, she’s always a force of nature and there’s a basic joy in what she’s doing. With Renee, you always feel she’s worrying too much about the effect she’s making, like a hostess tweaking the table decorations,while Ange seems to lack generosity of spirit (which Netrebko, by contrast, seems to have, though I don’t find her singing especially beautiful or interesting).

          • Clita del Toro says:

            Monty--right. I fee the same way as you about Netrebko, G. and Fleming.

            I had to walk out of Rennay’s HD Rosenkavalier.
            “Isn’t that special?”

          • Bianca Castafiore says:

            Montissimo, as usual, you have such good taste — so similar to mine!

            I can see that Netrebko is a very compelling performer, but that overly dark, thick, monotone of a voice — I was wondering, is that all there is? I couldn’t even tell which language she was singing in!!!

            Yes, Price had her mannerisms, but she also had a gorgeous instrument and she had reasons to show it off. Some of these other ladies don’t, but they still try to show off.

          • MontyNostry says:

            Bianchissima -- ‘viscous’ is always the word that comes to my mind when I hear Anna. I’m sure she looked scrumptious in Laurent Pelly’s Manon at Covent Garden (with Dessi in drag, Mr Grigolo), but I do like French opera to at least have some semblance of Gallic verbal style.

          • MontyNostry says:

            To show I’m not a complete old nostalgic grouch, I think this young soprano is a real hope for the French repertoire. The voice won’t be to all tastes, but she has style and something going on.

          • Bosah says:

            Neither Fleming nor Gheorghiu had PR machines for a good number of their first years in the business. They succeeded on the back of hard work and study. They fought to get to the point where they would warrant PR machines.

            Regarding Fleming, I don’t think she’s viewed now simply as an opera singer. She seems to have made it her mission to promote opera and classical music. She’s reached the level almost of a state singer -- the country’s singer laureate, fighting for music education and attention for classical music.

            She doesn’t sing what’s expected. Depending on your point of view, that’s either a big negative or a big positive. I wouldn’t have seen or heard Il Pirata, Armida and Rodelinda at the Met without her, and I would have had less exposure to certain Russian and Czech rep. I suppose all of that is either a positive or negative, too.

            Gheorghiu is similar, in a way -- never doing what others want of her, but leaving a huge impression. She truly is a true diva -- hearkening back to the glory days of opera (perhaps more in attitude sometimes) but always representing that tradition.

            I tend to think that 10 years from now, or longer, people will realize how important Fleming was to opera in America (whether they enjoyed her voice or not), and they’ll miss Gheorghiu’s old-style glamour and attitude.

    • phoenix says:

      They have their good nights and their bad ones, too -- but Fleming’s tone has lost it’s lustre. I think what a lot of people object to is the preposterous overhype they (along with Bartoli & others) get. Those ghastly -for your personal perusal- coffee-table styled dvd/cd recitals avec de grands arts appliqués are ludicrous.

  • Clita del Toro says:

    My take on Gheorghiu is that’s she thinks of herself as a Callas-like performer. But, so does Netrebko, who, at least, has sung, or will sing many of Callas’s bel canto roles.
    Gheorghiu’s voice/singing is not suited for most of Callas’ heavier roles--and not suited for her bel canto roles (Bellini, Donizetti). So what do we have left? A very good Tosca and Traviata. Actually, I think G’s Desdemona would be good (she was ok in Simon).

    • Bianca Castafiore says:

      Clita, Gheorghiu is just the last in a long line of divas trying for the Callas mantle, I mean, divas as varied as Sills, Caballe, and Bumbry, etc. have emulated (or tried to) Maria Kalogeropoulos.

      • armerjacquino says:

        Gheorghiu doesn’t try to sound like Callas, though, the way Suliotis, Sass et al did. I’m still a bit surprised about the fury it unleashed when that ‘tribute to Callas’ album was released. It was essentially a recital of the kind of arias you’d expect Gheorghiu to record, tied together by the fact that she’s signed to the same record label as Callas was. If that idea came from the singer rather than the EMI PR department I’ll eat my laptop. And yet it gets filtered down into ‘She thinks she’s Callas’

        • Clita del Toro says:

          jacquino, I know that G does not ever try to sound like Callas. And that’s in her favor. She has her own sound and own way of singing.

        • MontyNostry says:

          armer, I’m sure Gheorghiu has enough contractual clout with EMI to have sat on that dreadful concept when it was proposed to her. She is surely savvy enough to realise there would be a backlash, but was probably tempted by promises of huge sales. (Did they ever occur?). In any case, she is far more of a poor man’s (queen’s?) Virginia Zeani than a poor man’s Callas.

  • grimoaldo says:

    I have seen both Fleming and Angela G live numerous times, in fact I saw them both as Amelia Grimaldi at Covent Garden,in different runs separated by quite a few years, they were both fabulous in the part, though I think they both dropped it.
    Fleming was glorious at one time, but has become increasingly mannered and ventured into unwise rep, maybe she was a good Lucrezia Borgia or Armida years ago, but not in more recent times -- but thank you Renee for doing Rodelinda (she was very good in the first run,not so much the second, however without her the Met would not have put that on and I loved it, I am grateful to her for that).
    Angela has limited her rep very severely, I agree that is a shame, she was supposed to do Carmen at the Met I believe, and I was very sorry she did not go ahead with Elisabeth de Valois as was originally planned for the new production of Don Carlo at Covent Garden and the Met and we got she-who-will-not-be-named (by me anyhow) instead.
    Fleming and Angela G have both given me beautiful, thrilling nights at the opera house and wonderful memories.

  • Someone mentioned, Amer, I think, that there is plenty of text to support a vain interpretation of the Tosca role. In the surface, I have to agree with it. Problem is, it is boring.

    Phoenix had asked me earlier what was my criteria for a good Tosca and who in my opinion was a decent Tosca. Facts that it seems that Gheorghiu is the biggest name out there singing the role. If that is the best we got, I shudder. Allow me to explain answering Phoenix’s first question.

    As I stated, the text gives a soprano enough to support the whole “look at me, I’m a diva” interpretation. Untimately, i see that as the easy way out. Callas and other singers have demonstrated that the role can be a lot more complex than just taking it at face value. In my opinion (and since Callas is not here to defend herself, we’ll leave it at that) Callas connected with Tosca’s insecurity and that made her interpretation a lot more human.

    By tapping into this insecurity, Callas gave a reason for all the jealousy. With a Tosca like this, the cavaradossi could play the conforting lover, the rock where this very insecure woman comes for reassurance.

    Scotto, being a different woman, tapped into Tosca’s control issues. This might not be an insecure woman, but a woman who was a little older than her lover and who was helping her boyfriend get ahead. A tenor could then play the exasperation and need to get rid of her so he could get his friend out of there.

    Other soprano might tap into the sense of rush and play the whole scene with a “that’s really nice but I need to get going because I was just called last minute to perform.”

    Based on how the soprano plays all this, the love duet could be seen as a light moment, without being played for laughs. It could present a couple who is deeply in love but that have a somewhat co depended relationship and/or like to push each other’s buttons. Or it could be played for the Cavaradossi’s benefit at the drama of what is going on behind that chapel.

    I am not saying that Gheorghiu did it wrong. I’m just saying she took the easy way out. She just saw the big diva show and, being that she likes the whole diva stuff, said, “there it is, my interpretation.” Totally valid, just boring and predictable. For me, it just touches the surface of the role and the several layers that could be extracted from it on the first act alone.

    Of course, there are people who like their Toscas to be big divas because, well, they came to worship a diva and that is what they are going to get, damn it. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    I like my Toscas complex, with layers. I do not want to worship a diva, or a singer, I want to root for Tosca, feel for her, not cheer because the bitch is finally seeing a little payback from all the self serving bitching she put us through while a man who had gone through hell was there fearing for his life.

    I guess that is why I responded so poorly to Gheorghiu and her interpretation. I saw it as one dimensional. I understood it to be valid, but I also got exasperated with her Tosca’s posturing and self aggrandizing. I just kept thinking “If I was Mario I would have not out up with any of this for long, and today would have been the day that I tell her to go get ready for her damn concert and leave me to work the fuck alone; even if I had to do a lot of explaining latter just so I could get some head.”

    • armerjacquino says:

      I like my Toscas complex, with layers. I do not want to worship a diva, or a singer, I want to root for Tosca, feel for her, not cheer because the bitch is finally seeing a little payback from all the self serving bitching she put us through

      Bit of a strawman? I don’t think anyone was suggesting that we want to see a Tosca who is just a raging bitch. Of course the character has to be sympathetic.

      And yes, I think the complex, intelligent Tosca portrayed by Callas and the insecure, controlling one by Scotto (or, for that matter, the noble-to-the-point-of-haughtiness portrayal by Verrett) are all very interesting ones. I don’t see, however, why a more diva-ish portrayal is automatically, as you say, ‘boring’. As I tried and obviously failed to explain earlier, for me that idea of someone who has led a charmed life suddenly being forced into real danger and having to make real decisions is a very interesting one. But of course it’s only one option; you’ve suggested others you like.

      Like all great roles, it’s a protean one. We get into dangerous waters, I think, when we start to say ‘this is how it should be played, and this is how it shouldn’t’.

      • And if you read, I never said “this is how it is played.” I said this is what I respond to. From the very begining, I acknowleged Gheorghiu”s interpretation is valid, but in my opinion (mine alone) it is the easy way out and I find it boring.

        Now, I will point out that I am not the only one here, nor the first one to voice the same complaint.

        • armerjacquino says:

          Give me strength! I am not talking about Gheorghiu’s Tosca. I have never seen Gheorghiu’s Tosca. I have never claimed to see Gheorghiu’s Tosca.

          I was specifically responding to a post about whether the idea of Tosca-as-diva works.

    • Cocky Kurwenal says:

      Here is what I wrote when I saw Gheorghiu’s Tosca, in which I was particularly struck by her approach to the character in the Act I love duet:

      ‘Dramatically, Gheorghiu was also extremely impressive. She entered as a playful young woman, very much in love. All the jealousy was toned down and dealt with lightly so that it seemed more like a ruse to get kisses from Cavaradossi, rather than the unattractive character flaw as which it usually come across. That Gheorghiu was able to succeed with this approach meant that one was not forced to wonder, as is often the case, why Cavaradossi puts up with her. The ease and naturalness of their love, when set up in this way, made one care more deeply for Tosca when she was tricked by Scarpia before the Te Deum and during her Act II ordeal, and it also made Tosca’s journey to the more human woman of Act III, stripped of vanity and other Diva trappings, less of a distance. Between resolving issues of characterisation that even Callas said she struggled with, and dominating all the vocal challenges of this difficult part, Gheorghiu’s Tosca was as fine a role assumption as one could hope to experience today.’

      It was precisely the passage you mention, Lindoro Almaviva, that impressed me because it set up the whole role in a way that I found very interesting, refreshing, complex, valid, and contrary to my expectations of just the kind of Diva take you describe.

      • Cocky, I’ll take a look at it again and read this before. Maybe I’ll see it. I am working from home today so I have to keep my eyes in the work laptop and all the sounds it produces.

        • oedipe says:

          Out of curiosity: when and where was the last time you heard/saw Gheorghiu live?

        • Cocky Kurwenal says:

          We’re looking at different performances of course -- my comment above is based on a live performance in 2009 at the ROH. I bring it up because I feel like you (and others) are condemning her in general. If she does happen to be uninspired on whatever you’re watching on YouTube, it doesn’t follow that her Tosca is wanting in general.

          • I have tried to see here several times and i have ended up with a replacement. Are you telling me the Telecast from the ROH does not capture her Tosca well? In what way?

          • oedipe says:

            So, correct me if I am wrong, your definitive opinions are utube-based?

          • So correct me if I am wrong, youtube is a visual site right? So I guess the acting can be judged from SEEING the performance, right? Because I have never said anything about Gheorghius singing or her suitability for the part.

          • Cocky Kurwenal says:

            No, I’m not- I haven’t seen the telecast, only live in the house.

          • oedipe says:

            Are you saying, then, that Gheorghiu is not a good actress? Well, she IS a singer, not an actress.
            I can think of many good singers who are (more or less) lousy actresses, BTW. Here are some examples, in no particular order: Radvanovsky, Meade, Stoyanova, Stemme, etc. On the other hand, Michael and Poplavskaya are excellent actresses…

          • Bianca Castafiore says:

            I just watched sections of the London Tosca under Pappano. Gheorghiu is better than I expected but I still find her lightweight for this part (Kauffman and Terfel almost overwhelm her); and I still detect a certain “insincerity” (sorry!) in that she’s constantly demonstrating her gifts (pointing, as it were) rather than just letting go and sing/act/perform. Her jump was so anti-climactic. Rather than just letting go, she’s carefully placing her feet around before jumping.

            Sorry, but that’s just what I feel.

          • So at first you were going to criticism me because I was using YouTube to watch the performance and comment on it; thinking that you got me commenting on the vocal atributes if the oerformance. You actually thought you were going to “teach me a kesson” in which you soewed your “wisdom”.

            When that didn’t work, then you are making excuses for her. So which one is it? With she is the best Tosca that we have or she is a poor actress. While they are not oxymoronic, nor are they mutually exclusive, you took great pains to set a trap, what happened?

            You were the one who called Gheorghiu the greatest Tosca we have right now, but somehow NOW she doesn’t measure up?

            Obviously, and I will say it for like the 3rd time, I am not alone in finding her Tosca fake, poorly acted and insincere; actually, let me rephrase that. Based on her choices as an actress, I find her Tosca to be a self serving bitch, I also find it hard to root for her and find myself wanting Scarpia to strap her to the torture chamber and try to make out with Cavaradossi.

            Who’d ever know, the greatest Tosca we have right now in one breath and a poor actress in the other, when it was convenient.

          • I don’t know that Gheorghiu’s CG Traviata is not good operating acting stuff. I’d call it spectacular in the old school, gesture-goes-along-with-the music fashion. The dead look in her eyes transforming into a glimmer of hope when she opens Germont’s crumpled letter, I rather think it is one of the most touching, sincere moments in all videotaped opera.

            And the last moments, “prendi, quest’e l’immagine”, well I think they rank among the best-ever excecuted Verdi I’ve ever heard or have hope to hear. The classic sculpting of the lines, the infinite detail in the shading, the stress on “Sia”, the absolute avoidance of excess, always relying on the line and dynamics to deliver the message. And the intrinsic beauty of the instrument, its inherent ability to project emotion.

          • Cerquetti, I have to say that her Violeta was something special. I have not watched the one she did at La Scala, but I would expect it to be just as good. For some reason, her Mimi also strikes me as very good, although I have not seen the whole telecast.

            I think she would be a killer Donna Elvira as well.

          • grimoaldo says:

            “On the other hand, Michael and Poplavskaya are excellent actresses…”

            Not an opinion shared by all who have witnessed Popsy. Many comments by reviews along the lines of “she was ice cold”, “glacial”, “exhibited only a frosty froideur,” etc.

          • Bianca Castafiore says:

            And I wouldn’t say Stoyanova is a lousy actress.

            Poplavskaya is a very compelling actress though.

          • The Scala Violetta has definite First Act Trouble. On video, the Marguerite is rather special. I wish they had taped her Amelia instead of Popsy’s.

            On record the middle 90s audio legacy is rather special, I think. Top problems (evident in the 1994 Traviata) were more or less solved and pitching was rather good. The top got away around 2002-2004 and on the ludicrous Callas tribute it is all but gone.
            Her Manon IMO is a classic, very much ‘in the style’ (compare Trebs or Fleming or Dessay) and is in rather good French and in a way her Charlotte is genuine and unique too. The Trovatore Leonora is classic musicianship in every way and I care not a whit the voice isn’t up to it (ditto for Price’s Isolde). The audio Tosca is again among the very best on audio and so on. I like the timbre (interesting that people remarking on her quick vibrato have no problems with Meade’s), the care for words, the ‘acting between phrases’ using the breath, and that unexplainable ability to project and differentiate affect in vocal terms. Many singers have this general ability, but with some singers you can actually ‘see’ the expression on the face. Angela was that kind of a singer.

          • oedipe says:

            You were the one who called Gheorghiu the greatest Tosca we have right now, but somehow NOW she doesn’t measure up?

            I don’t know if you are addressing me or someone else. If you ARE referring to one of my posts, could you please quote it? One question I DID ask you is who you consider the best Tosca around (among the living, that is). I thought it was a pretty straight forward question and I asked it out of curiosity. I don’t believe you answered it.

            And BTW, I don’t feel the need to be psychoanalyzed.

    • The_Kid says:

      Well, I love a Tosca who’s mature, maternal, warm and reassuring; in whose presence even Scarpia fails to be terrifying; whose execution of Scarpia is as calm and as dispassionate as an Old Testament heroine (think Judith, Jael et al.), and who finally falls to pieces only after the “Mario, Mario” bit!
      In other words…..

      • Clita del Toro says:

        Well, Kid, you would have loved Zinka’s Tosca--maternal, warm and reassuring--especially when she stuck Jussi’s face into her breasts. You don’t know from reassuring! lol

        • The_Kid says:

          true, but could she have projected that aura of oppressive, monolithic calmness that would have made scarpia a figure of ridicule with all his posturing and his pretensions? could she have carried out the execution not as a cornered rat (which seems to be the most popular interpretation), but with the fanatical stillness and determination of a zealot who is completely convinced that she is doing the right thing? actually, there is another tosca who did this pretty well, too! is it a coincidence that she, too, was a legendary turandot?

  • Clita del Toro says:

    Have we discussed the Tosca film with Gheorghiu and hubby:

  • Lady Abbado says:

    It was suggested earlier that she’s not suited for bel canto. I did like her Casta Diva album with bel canto arias; more recently she went for a bel canto concert in Japan (2011) and I think the one in Moscow December 2012 will be bel canto as well.

    Maybe she’s not as comfortable in this repertoire as Sutherland or Callas, but I think she is much better than either Netrebko or Fleming. Here are two instances of live performance:

    1. Bellini -- Eccomi in lieta vesta 1996

    2. Donizetti -- Verranno a te 2008

  • I’ve come to realize that many people got to know Gheorghiu through the post-Traviata hype, without being acquainted with what it was based ON. The Eyre / Solti / Gheorghiu Traviata came to me notice just at the right time, and by 1995 I certainly knew my Traviata, then again they presented something that rare phenomenon -- another peak in an ongoing tradition.

    For me the supreme Traviata moment is not Amami, Alfredo or the third act. It is the exposed solo during the concerted act 2 finale -- “Alfredo, Alfredo, di questo core”. It is horribly, viciously exposed, and if you’re a conscientious artist you will never ever float those lines, you really have to sing through them with full voice, although mezzo-voce, of course. And the carry-over of the B flat octave leap after “salvi allor” is murderous. Surely one of the most difficult solos ever, yet intensely musical and dramatic.

    For me Gheorghiu is really, really supreme in this section, especially the delayed slurred eighth notes in Dio ti salvi, before the dominant octave leap.

    httvp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqY_gJ_19fk