Cher Public

Eternal, feminine

For her first CD release in six years, Angela Gheorghiu has chosen Italian repertoire in a recital (Eternamente: The Verismo Album) that showcases her considerable vocal and musical strengths while leaving a few “what was she thinking” moments. 

Unfortunately, the weakest selections lead off the CD, and I will get to those in a minute. Once into the recital, though, the soprano’s sound—intense and dark—remains lovely in effect, and she has a gracious, sweetly voluptuous way with phrasing that enhances what she’s best at (and let’s face it): parlor songs and fluff.

Nothing wrong with charm, though, and she displays plenty in “Ed ora conoscetela” from Leoncavallo’s La Bohème. Her fleet reading of “Vissi d’arte” is surprisingly unindulgent and to the point, with a nice line of thought that communicates easily. There’s a hint of Claudio Muzio in the simple, lovely readings of Mascheroni’s “Eternamente” and Refice’s “Ombra di nube.” (Oddly, the instrumental introductions to both these pieces bear no resemblance in tempo or mood to the singer’s verses, but I suppose no one is paying to hear the Prague Philharmonia.)

“No! se un pensier” from Siberia finds the soprano pacing Giordano’s regularly unfolding phrases like a hymn, with its beautifully murmured conclusion “Amor! Amor!” She easily rides the sweeping phrases of “Spunta l’aurora pallida” from Boito’s Mefistofele (although Richard Novak yells his two lines and Joseph Calleja does not prove an ideal partner for Gheorghiu here or elsewhere on the recital).

For one of her specialties, Puccini’s La Rondine, Gheorghiu appropriates the tenor’s ode to Paris (“Parigi! È la città dei desideri”) boldly, with generous rubato and portamento.

But so much is wrong. Excerpts from Cavalleria rusticana get the disc off to a particularly distressing start. Both the Easter Hymn and “Voi lo sapete” are messy, with Emmanuele Villaume’s leaden tempos taxing Gheorghiu’s slender voice into bleatiness. (And I wish she wouldn’t say “chyell” for ciel, like a lazy British chorister.)

Her instrument isn’t inherently dramatic, even if her temperament is, and she hasn’t figured out the power of rhythm, whether in sharply dotted figures or smoothly flowing triplets, in providing bite and profile. In the duet “Tu qui, Santuzza,” Calleja sounds wooden, the drama fake and forced. Were they even in the same room?

The final duet from Andrea Chenier is marginally better, but Calleja sounds tight and tentative, and the couple are a poor match vocally, with her narrow vibrato and murky timbre, his sound more diffuse and almost bleaty. As in the Mascagni, the octave passages are out of tune.

An even worse miscalculation is “Suicidio,” riddled with blaring chest notes (“del mio cammin” must be heard to be believed) and overdone effects (the vowels in “fra le tenebre” defy the IPA) because there’s not enough dramatic power in the voice itself, although she is trying hard to darken the timbre. Again, soggy rhythms and a haphazard reading (is it just over-edited?) undermine the force of the declamation.

So she’s not an insightful singer. When she trusts the simplicity of sound and delivery, the effect is spacious and lyrical, like her graceful rendition of Donaudy’s “O del mio amato ben,” smooth but not syrupy. I love a box of bonbons. You?

  • Susan Brodie

    “Calleja sounds wooden, the drama fake and forced. Were they even in the same room?” Maybe not…

    • QuantoPainyFakor

      The practice of performers “tracking their parts” (adding them to a recording in post production) has been happening for ages. Some singers (often for reasons of scheduling or personal preference) won’t even appear at a session until the orchestra track has been laid down for the singer to over-dub their music. In such cases it’s really challenging for all concerned.

      • ER

        Wouldn’t the sound quality and acoustic vary then?

        • QuantoPainyFakor

          Generally not. The technicians and producers know how to match the “room tone.”

        • Judith Malafronte

          As QPF points out, they can do it technically but, as we notice, it doesn’t sound like music OR drama!! Never mind art….

      • Dan Patterson

        If I remember correctly, Cheryl Studer’s SUSANNA was completely tracked in after the recording. I believe she was sick and simply recorded her part later. But, as you say, it’s been going on for decades.

        • Anton VonWebern

          Dawn Upshaw was planned but found the role too heavy, too late; the sessions were already underway and Studer was asked to overdub.

          • Cameron Kelsall

            I believe that Stratas was the first singer attached to the recording. Upshaw was brought in after Stratas dropped out, then Upshaw dropped out for the reasons you stated. Ultimately, Studer came in.

            • fletcher

              Curious rather than impertinent question: how do you know this? There are dozens of stories and anecdotes about recordings -- some well known, such as the Solti/Björling/Culshaw debacle on that Ballo or how the Matacic Fanciulla was supposed to be Callas, Corelli, and Gobbi -- is there a good book about this history? Is it all just oral history and gossip, or gleaned from autobiographies of variable reliability? Is anyone tracking this sort of thing? The archives of the recording studios?

  • QuantoPainyFakor

    I suppose that the logic for her singing “Parigi!” is that it was originally the song “Morire?” But if she sings the Donaudy SONG on this “verismo” recording then why not just the original version of “Morire?”
    And why sing the Donaudy with orchestra?

    • Judith Malafronte

      To answer your question: “These are mysteries” :)

  • Greg Freed

    Perversely, I am now dying to hear the Suicidio.

  • Niel Rishoi

    Informative, insightful review.I have always thought she was a fake, blatantly passing herself off as another Callas wannabe. She can be good and effective, but is not a great artist. I actively despise her for her shenanigans and antics, and a silly ass to boot.

    • rapt

      So true and yet, along the lines of Galileo’s “Eppur si muove” (if on a slightly smaller scale), I have t admit that I find her irresistibly, indefensibly compelling.

  • Judith, I haven’t heard this disc. But I do like her and I think you’ve nailed her strengths and weaknesses.

    Her instrument isn’t inherently dramatic, even if her temperament is, and she hasn’t figured out the power of rhythm

    Truer words…

  • Niel Rishoi

    Welp. Here is the “Suicidio.” Filth galore, and Judith wasn’t kidding…well, you can’t kid too much about THIS (it is beyond execrable):

    • Porgy Amor

      Yeah. Neither convincing nor good.

      It also reminds me of one of her characteristic interviews, which I have always found more entertaining and dramatic than her performances. (The whole thing is can be described such — third-person references and all — but I’m specifically thinking of her comments about YouTube and her “bread.”)

    • Cicciabella

      Just finished listening to the whole album. The Suicidio is the worst thing on it, but whoever greenlighted this at Warner Classics is very bad at their job. Gheorghiu’s voice doesn’t fit “verismo” at all, no matter how hard she presses and stretches. I’m not familiar with the rarer excerpts, like the one from Siberia, but they also sound terribly misguided. Calleja sounds too nice as the faithless Turiddu. As Judith writes, the songs are lovely. She should record a whole album of them and steer clear of the “verismo” madness.

      • Arthur

        You must be joking. How can you say something sounds misguided if you’re not even familiar with the work?? So many of you that comment here decided not to like the disc before it was even many trolls. Verismo suits Gheorghiu like a glove and she shines on this disc, her high notes, as well as the gravitas and dark chest-like tones are outstanding. So much emotion and wonderful, rarely heard arias on the disc. FYI she has been singing verismo for many many years (not just on this album). Her timbre is instantly recognizable. Joseph Calleja was a surprise, a very gifted tenor with a distinctive timbre and dramatic vocal power. Gheorghiu remains one of the finest sopranos in the opera world from the past 25 years and leaves (until now) over 80 recordings for classical music lovers to enjoy. It’s true she didn’t do so many roles on stage, but almost everything she did she made her own. When you say Violetta, Tosca, Mimi, Adriana, Magda, you think of her (when talking about sopranos that are alive and still performing)..The choice of what roles to sing on stage is in my opinion also something characteristic to a great artist. Nowadays, opera singers want to do everyhthing, but don’t think about what suits them well or what consequences a wrong role may have on their voice. Anyway, I thought music brings people together… definitely that’s not the case on this site, where ill will, animosity and frustration prevail. I guess art is so subjective after all that we have to agree to disagree, but we can also be nice doing that..This was my honest opinion, whether you like that or not, and it is also my only post here. Best wishes.

        • Cicciabella

          “So many trolls”. Ha ha, FYI I am a big Gheorghiu fan. This album is just not good. Of course her Tosca was memorable, vocally and visually glamorous, and she is a wonderful Magda, but here she takes on heavier roles which are not suitable for her voice. I agree with you about the high notes, but her chest voice sounds forced and ugly. Gheorghiu has made wonderful recordings, including Madama Butterfly, a role which she’d never sing on the stage. But a lot of this album is stuff for which she does not have the dramatic edge. Again, the title song and the Recife are beautiful because they show off her vocal gifts.

        • manou

          Cicciabella is to trolling as Harvey Weinstein is to celibacy.

          • Cicciabella

            I sincerely hope so. Thanks, manou.

  • Opera Teen
    • Arthur

      you do realise that all the arias on Netrebko’s album, except for the ones from Manon Lescaut, Gheorghiu already recorded 6 years ago?

      • Opera Teen

        You do realize that I’m making a joke?

        • DonCarloFanatic

          Actually, it didn’t read like a joke to me. The covers look nothing alike, and divas who record mostly the same songs as other divas surely are nothing new.

          • rapt

            Well, a joke that didn’t quite work, then? (I’m all too familiar with the genre myself….)

          • Armerjacquino

            Also, a chicken would have no need to cross a road.

  • Lady Abbado

    De gustibus non est disputandum -- case in point with this detailed review of Gheorghiu’s Eternamente: the French reviewer seems to like the most exactly the items that the reviewer chosen by La Cieca likes the least (Cavalleria; La Gioconda; Andrea Chenier; they agree on Tosca, however):