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Angela Gheorghiu: "Eternamente: The Verismo Album"

CD Button Songs, arias and duets by Mascagni, Donaudy, Puccini, Boito, Mascheroni, Refice, Giordano and Leoncavallo. Calleja, Novak; Prague Philharmonia, Villaume. Warner Classics 0190295780241

Recordings Gheorghiu cover 218

THIS IS ANGELA GHEORGHIU'S first foray into verismo roles, and while many of the arias play to her strengths, several others left me scratching my head. As recorded here, her basic sound remains focused, limpid and at times achingly beautiful, though some of the liquid tone has evaporated. She is at her best with the lighter opera arias and especially the songs; Donaudy’s “O del amato ben,” Mascheroni’s “Eternamente” and Refice’s “Ombra di nube” are ravishingly sung and beautifully phrased, and they seem to sit at the sweet spot of her lush soprano. Equally fine are charming arias by Leoncavallo—“Ed ora conoscetela,” from his La Bohème, and a boisterous, delightful “La canzona di Fleana,” from I Zingari—in which the soprano’s fiery temperament and personality shine like beacons. There’s also a colorful version of the tenor aria “Parigi,” from Puccini’s Rondine, filled with longing for the joys of Paris. She even offers a finely spun “Vissi d’arte”; Tosca fits her like a glove. This may be the best track on the album, because she sings it straightforwardly, without mannerism or fuss, spinning out long, arching phrases; the character’s pain and fear come through vividly.

There are also some major missteps. The album begins with three selections as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana, and none are successful. The Easter hymn is sung tentatively and with little expression; she has pitch problems and produces peculiar vowel sounds. “Voi lo sapete” is a slog; Gheorghiu tries to darken her light voice, and it sounds forced and overwrought. (Conductor Emmanuel Villaume’s slow tempos don’t help.) Then she sings the Turridu–Santuzza duet “Tu qui, Santuzza” with tenor Joseph Calleja, who is no more suited to his role than Gheorghiu is to hers. Their parts were recorded separately, and it’s evident. The duet should sound potent and sexually charged, but here it’s bloodless, as if two teenagers were having a spat about the prom. “Vicino a te,” the final duet from Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, works better, but again Calleja seems miscast as the heroic poet. Gheorghiu is much better here, bringing gutsy passion to her Maddalena. But she and Calleja have no chemistry; the duet fizzles.

Gheorghiu’s attempt at “Suicidio,” from Ponchielli’s Gioconda, is just bizarre. Her singing is pushed, forced and darkened beyond recognition. Her descents into chest voice—particularly on the phrase “del mio cammin”—are tortured, almost risible. 

The Prague Philharmonia plays quite well for Villaume, but his tempos are frequently leaden, and his conducting lacks the necessary tension and sweep for the more passionate selections. 

I admire Gheorgiu’s risk-taking on this disc, and her silvery soprano at times still provides great pleasure. But Eternamente has too many “What is she doing?” moments. —Henson Keys 

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