A Vancouver Symphony Orchestra presentation. At the Orpheum Theatre on Sunday, April 3
From what I’ve read about Angela Gheorghiu, she hasn’t said a great deal of anything much worth hearing about singing. Another turnoff is the diva’s apparent willingness to go along with a press eager to spill the latest gush on her on-again/off-again marriage to tenor Roberto Alagna.
You almost wonder if her behaviour—hissy fits about costumes and wigs, sudden cancellations, a surprising self-regard shown in interviews—is beginning to eclipse her talent. You have to admit it takes a lot of guts to enter the Kathleen Battle/Kiri Te Kanawa sweepstakes, and nobody wins that one. I suppose you almost have to admire her for her near-single-handed attempt to revive the notoriety of the old-fashioned diva.
On April 3, Gheorghiu made her first Vancouver appearance with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra at the Orpheum, and you could describe it as an initially tense affair. It’s always risky when the backstage stuff pushes the singing aside because one’s expectations naturally go up, the thought being that she must be good for opera companies to put up with the drama—not that all do by any means.
Gheorghiu walked onto the stage to tumultuous applause and was dressed in what you could call haut-folklore (changing later to a filmy gown of glamourous red). I don’t think anybody in the sold-out house came to hear the VSO play selections from Christoph Willibald von Gluck or Charles-Franí§ois Gounod’s ballet music from Faust. These were only interposed as relief for Gheorghiu, who was the only one they wanted to hear, or see.
Did the 45-year-old Romanian baby princess rise to those expectations?
Well, voice buffs are very opinionated, so let me join them and say not quite, at least not to my expectations. That is, not if you measured her against the solid-gold standard of, say, the simple heart-breaking beauty of Renata Tebaldi in Giacomo Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi or her “Ebben?...Ne andró lantana” from Alfredo Catalani’s La Wally.
But she did some things terrifically, such as the “Aubade” from Jules Massenet’s Cherubin and Arrigo Boito’s “L’altra notte in fondo al mare” (which could be taken as a mad aria) from his virtually lone opera Mefistofele, with runs and arpeggios at a wild speed. She has a beautiful sound to her voice and an amazing breath control. What she could use is a gift for simplicity.
What I wasn’t expecting was how much more I liked her than I thought I would. True, you could have called her singing sensational while still wishing it were more. But the audience adored her (five encores ranging from “Granada” to “Estrellita”) and she made it very clear she adored the fact that she was here.