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La Gheorghiu Hams It Up

When Angela Gheorghiu makes her Washington National Opera debut, it should be a big deal. So it seemed to be, when a capacity crowd turned up at the Kennedy Center Opera House to hear the capricious Romanian soprano. They had paid extravagant prices ($50 to $190) for tickets to the latest in the Plácido Domingo Celebrity Series, one of the final legacies of the company's former (celebrity) artistic director. Gheorghiu is a diva in every sense of the word, and she upheld the title by taking the stage in three different gowns to sing a total of eight arias on the official program. She even sang some of them relatively well.

Some things one expects La Gheorghiu to do well, music that benefits from the power of her projection and the dramatic zing of her presence, sometimes a little over the top but with sizzle. A recital's worth of such pieces are brought together on her recent "Homage to Callas" disc for EMI, released last year, and in those pieces -- like "Pleurez, mes yeux" from Massenet's Le Cid and "Ebben?...Ne andrò lontana" from Catalani's La Wally (music used to such memorable effect in Jean-Jacques Beineix's crazy 80s film Diva) -- and others like them, Gheorghiu soared. She could spin out an alluring cantabile line, too, as in the melancholy "O nume tutelar" from Gaspare Spontini's La Vestale and the other Massenet piece, "Adieu, notre petite table" from Manon.

available at Amazon
Homage to Maria Callas, A. Gheorghiu, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,
M. Armiliato
Most of the music on the first half, on the other hand, did not suit her voice, and she often seemed to have had little preparation on either the diction or the musical line. "Vive amour," from Massenet's Chérubin, was a fluffy trifle of a piece with harp and pizzicato strings (the text could have been in Romanian, though), and the "Song to the Moon" from Dvořák's Rusalka did not really sit comfortably in the sense of ensemble with the orchestra. Whoever told Gheorghiu it would be a good idea to sing Handel (a disastrously uncoordinated "Ombra mai fu," from Serse) and Mozart (an undistinguished "Deh vieni" from Le Nozze di Figaro) should have his head examined. Gheorghiu's insecurities were only made worse by the ham-handed conducting of Eugene Kohn (an opera accompanist turned conductor, he is apparently another parting gift from Plácido Domingo, who has worked with Kohn on many occasions). His swirled gestures, lunging cues, and bizarre beat were largely ignored by the musicians of the Opera House Orchestra. This meant that when Gheorghiu dropped a beat, which happened most obviously in the Handel but in other places too, or moved the tempo ahead without much warning, the orchestra usually fumbled to get back on track.

Other Articles:

Anne Midgette, Gheorghiu, Washington National Opera put on a less-than-coordinated performance (Washington Post, March 5)

Terry Ponick, Angela Gheorghiu dazzles in Washington National Opera debut (Washington Times, March 4)

Patrick McCoy, A Diva's Debut: Glamorous soprano enraptures audience in DC (Washington Examiner, March 4)
[Also see the commentary on the above at Parterrebox]
Kohn did little to sharpen the scatter-shot renditions of opera overtures covering Gheorghiu's wardrobe changes either. The "Dance of the Hours" from Ponchielli's La Gioconda held together the best. Mozart's overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio almost came apart at the seams due to a breathless tempo choice: Ferdinand Hérold's Zampa and Berlioz's Le Corsaire also had misalignments across the orchestra, with some lovely solos along the way. Gheorghiu decided to postpone the beloved aria "O mio babbino caro," from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, making it instead the second of her encores, and the only interesting one at that. The less said about the other encores -- Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are" (with microphone in hand!), Frederick Loewe's "I Could Have Danced All Night," and Agustín Lara's "Granada" (a perennial Domingo favorite) -- the better.

For an even less substantial concert than this one, the Plácido Domingo Celebrity Series will inflict Deborah Voigt on its audience, singing nothing but Broadway songs. We do not recommend it.


JRD said...

With all due respect, Mr. Downey, it is clear that you don't like Gheorghiu as a woman and as an artist. So why, may I ask, did you elect to attend the concert in the first place let alone review it?

Was it to become a member of the small bandwagon of Gheorghiu detractors, mostly print critics, who derive some sort of guilty pleasure by putting a magnifying glass on her imperfections?

How many times have I read this "tone" of review in the past.

It sounds rather rehashed.

jfl said...

Obviously, if multiple critics, across countries, and repeatedly have less-than-flattering things to say about Mme. Gheorghiu, then the logical conclusion is that there must be a conspirative cabal out there, taking it out on the lass out of sheer spite. It's simply the only possible explanation.

Anonymous said...

For me the biggest complain about Ms. Gheorghiu is that she *could* have been a great singer, but she chose to be a star (these two things are not necessarily incompatible as Domingo shows us.) It is not too late, and I don't mind at all her diva behavior, if it's put in the service of music and not of the image. There are a lot of things that she does right, for example she does not forces her voice and she's careful with choosing her opera roles - though obviously not too careful when it comes to recitals. But even here, I would rather hear her singing Handel and Mozart rather than the no-descript bland HIP specialist. And she does have musicality and technique. Again, I am frustrated because I feel Angela never reach her possibilities. I still cherish the Solti Traviata, which gives a glimps of what the promise was...