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?