Oh, to be a fly on the wall of the love nest Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu shares with her on-again husband, the French tenor Roberto Alagna. That’s nests, plural, to be exact, as the famously tempestuous Gheorghiu is quick to point out when reached by phone from her home in Bucharest.
“I have a house also in Paris,” she purrs in charmingly accented English, all rolled Rs and rounded vowels. “This house and that house are our houses, mine and Roberto’s.” She adds, with a burst of breezy laughter: “We are also at home sometimes, not only on-stage and travelling!”
Yes, it’s true: opera’s most notorious couple is back together. It was just 18 months ago that Gheorghiu declared on her website that she had started divorce proceedings—and abruptly cancelled her title-role debut in the Metropolitan Opera’s 2010 production of Carmen, citing “personal reasons”. (One can only infer that the fact Alagna was to have sung as her love interest had something to do with her decision.)
Today, the 45-year-old soprano is rather flippant about the whole breakup incident. “It’s nothing original to be married or to have good or less good moments,” she says, defensively. “In this matter I think I’m not original at all. I’m a human being, that’s all!”
Human she may be, but there’s something almost mythic about Gheorghiu’s propensity for drama. The diva’s reputation for being difficult began in 1996, when she clashed with the Met’s then-general manager, Joseph Volpe, over a blond wig. Cast as Micaela in a Franco Zeffirelli staging of Carmen, Gheorghiu steadfastly refused to wear the hairpiece and was even replaced for one performance before she finally relented.
Another spat with Volpe followed in 1998, when Gheorghiu and Alagna were late faxing back their signed contracts to take part in a Zeffirelli production of La Traviata, and were subsequently dumped from the show. In 2007, Gheorghiu was fired from Lyric Opera of Chicago’s La Bohí¨me for missing rehearsals and costume fittings. More recently, she cited artistic reasons for pulling out of the Met’s staging of Charles Gounod’s Faust, scheduled for November of this year—even though, a week earlier, she had withdrawn from the company’s entire March run of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, claiming illness.
“I had a cold,” she insists, when the Straight mentions the incident and inquires about her health. “When you have a cold, a serious one, you must realize that it’s good not to have a bad moment on-stage. Why? To make me suffer or the public suffer? I will never understand this point.”
Picking up steam, she goes on: “When a cold comes, it’s not a matter of timing. It’s not somebody who is telling you and sending you a text message: you know, in five minutes you have a cold.”¦Even if you have a bad sleep, if you are unhappy or, you know, something happened in your family, everything goes on your throat. If you destroy a violin, you can buy another one. But I cannot buy my two vocal cords!” she concludes.
Given her fractious history with opera companies, it comes as little surprise that Gheorghiu favours the concert format to the opera stage. “The idea in all my concerts is to do exactly what I want to do, and exactly how I would like to do it,” she enthuses. No blond wigs here: just pure, unadulterated Gheorghiu. And wherever the diva goes, so, too, goes a wardrobe of designer frocks to show off the figure that earned her the 74th ranking in FHM magazine’s 2006 list of the world’s sexiest women. Currently, she says, she favours the work of Romanian model turned fashion designer Catalin Botezatu, whose dresses often feature clingy, transparent bodices accented with strategically placed beading. (The Botezatu creation she sported for her performance at the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors was, in her words, “something wow”. A quick Google image search confirms this.)
Can Vancouver audiences expect a few wardrobe changes? “Always!” comes the emphatic reply, accompanied by a languid sigh. “Ah, I like nice dresses. I will never excuse myself in this matter, to say, ”˜Oh no, it’s nothing.’ No, it’s not! I’m really a real woman who likes to be well-dressed. And Roberto likes it, the public likes it—and why not?”
For her VSO appearance, Gheorghiu is sticking to the classics: “O mio babbino caro” from Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, “Song to the Moon” from Anton Dvorák’s Rusalka, and “Ebben? Ne andrí² lontana” from Alfredo Catalani’s La Wally, among others.
Not that the soprano is averse to contemporary work. She claims that an American composer, whom she declines to name, is penning an opera for her in which she will play a female version of Dracula—a reference to one of her more famous monikers, Draculette. In addition, she says, an unnamed French composer is working on an opera about Bonnie and Clyde—a cheeky nod to the nickname given to her and Alagna by British director Jonathan Miller in 1995, after he had a row with the pair during a production of La Traviata.
Gheorghiu, it seems, adheres to Oscar Wilde’s maxim that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. “Bonnie and Clyde, this is me and Roberto,” she says, happily. “I think it’s funny.” Reflecting on her relationship, she remarks, “In the opera world, never, ever has a soprano and tenor been married and on the highest level possible had such a career. We record and sing together immensely. Nobody ever does even 10 percent like us,” she says with pride, before adding grandly: “I wish to everybody to have a story in their life as I have.”