Tedora Gheorghiu: "Arias for Anna De Amicis"
Music by J. C. Bach, Mozart, Jommelli, Gluck, others. Les Talens Lyriques, Rousset. Texts and translations. Aparté AP 021
The idea of a recital of various arias all composed for the same historic singer has become commonplace. (And while we're on the topic, let's renew our salute to Andreas Scholl's Arias for Senesino and Vivica Genaux's Arias for Farinelli, two collections that have rewarded repeated listening for years.) Generally, such projects bring to light not merely arias that are unfamiliar to audiences today but composers whom almost nobody has heard of. Teodora Gheorghiu's selection of music written for Anna De Amicis brings us Giovanni Battista Borghi and Pasquale Cafaro, both of them Naples-trained musicians who had real success in opera, and both of whom here set texts by Metastasio. But an unexpected aspect of this project is a discovery: the mere fact that all the music was written for one singer does not guarantee that another singer will find it all completely comfortable. Gheorghiu gives an arresting account of her Borghi aria, in which the character sings in the accents of Mozart's Konstanze (Entführung being twelve years in the future), and she opens her recital with a rage aria from Jommelli's Armida Abbandonata that anticipates Mozart's Elettra (composed eleven years later). But she is not completely suited to all of the rest of her program.
Not that anyone could be completely comfortable singing Giunia's arias from Lucio Silla, music written by the sixteen-year-old overachiever Mozart. Four arias are included here, huge and ornate things in which the voice is used in an almost instrumental way. Gheorghiu is a game singer, and she has worked hard. She is also young, and while her performances often are impressive, she lacks the last bit of polish. A clipped phrase ending can be a dramatic choice, but there are a few too many of them here for the effect to seem intentional. Long notes, once begun, don't always stay characterized. Yet there are some fine things too. At the moment, Gheorghiu seems happiest in surface display, as in two arias from Myslivecˇek's Romolo ed Ersilia, whose music doesn't go very deep. Often her voice sounds slim and a little pouty, like the young Beverly Sills, making Gheorghiu good at projecting hopelessness. Her Italian words in recitatives are intermittently colorful enough to make listeners hope for more of this in the arias. Ultimately, the material here, which is not uniformly first-rate, requires a bigger personality. But it is always good to hear music by the ever-inventive Johann Christian Bach, represented by two arias (from Zanaïda) in his very personal style. The period-instrument ensemble Les Talens Lyriques makes much of its participation. So much, in fact, that sometimes Gheorghiu sounds happy just to be along for the ride.
WILLIAM R. BRAUN