New Classical Tracks: From Diva to Diva

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
November 30, 2011

St. Paul, Minn. — On this new collection of arias, one acclaimed opera diva pays tribute to another. Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu reigns as one of today's greatest opera stars. Her new recital disc is a collection of French and Italian operatic masterpieces which pay "Homage to Maria Callas," one of the great coloratura sopranos of the twentieth century. Thanks to modern technology, Angela and Maria are even featured together on a "duet" from Bizet's "Carmen." "I really think she was one of the important opera singers," Gheorghiu explains, "I'm not speaking about her voice, I'm speaking about her personality, her way to be, her way to speak, her way to face her life and career in a very unusual way in that period." Vocally and dramatically, Callas set a precedent in the operatic world. Many would argue Angela Gheorghiu has been courageous enough to do the same.

Angela Gheorghiu made her international debut in 1992 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, with Puccini's "La Boheme." Her new recording opens with Mimi's Farewell ("Donde lieta usci") from "Boheme." She's sung the role so many times it's now become part of her, "I am so Mimi, and I'm so La Boheme," she explains, "I used to have that type of life, because I was in a boarding school in Bucharest and I like this coquetry. And everybody thinks that Mimi is just a girl, innocent. No, she's just exactly like Musetta. She's just flirting with her Rodolfo all the time, only the illness takes her over and we have a very sad story."

Gheorghiu is acclaimed for her role as Violetta in Verdi's "La Traviata," the opera that launched her career with the help of Sir Georg Solti in 1994. Gheorghiu says, "I never recorded 'Traviata' [in a studio performance]. I sang many Traviatas, but all are live. For this first time, I said to myself, EMI must have the biggest, the most difficult aria from 'La Traviata, in the studio." So on the new disc, Gheorghiu closes out her recital with Violetta's scene from Act 1 where she wonders whether it's worth sacrificing her precious freedom to take Alfredo as her lover.

One of my favorites on this recording is the love song from "Samson and Delilah" by Camille Saint-Saens, "It's your favorite? Me too!" Gheorghiu exclaims in our recent interview. "And I love the fact that you were singing it in the bathroom," I mention to her. "It is true --it is my bathroom aria." she confirms. "When I feel the water on my body I feel so sexy, and I love it, I really enjoy it. I said, the day when I have the chance, I must do it. It's so sensual, like Carmen, and Violetta in 'La Traviata'--they are women who do everything to please. But they're cautious. It's like a little joke, it's like a little flirting. I like this type of lyrics and music. It gives me a lot of energy. I feel like a real woman there!"

The arias on this new recording are favorites of both the late Maria Callas and Angela Gheorghiu, and they've accompanied Angela throughout her career. The aria from Catalani's "La Wally," is one she included on her first recital recording, "I remember I saw that first in a reportage with Maria Callas and I heard this with Renata Tebaldi," Angela recalls. "I think all of the sopranos who dream of being an opera singer, they dream of Traviata, they dream of singing 'La Wally' by Catalani. And also. 'La Wally' was composed for a Romanian soprano, like 'Tosca,' in fact. So thanks to Hariclea Darclée, we have this wonderful aria."

On this "Homage to Maria Callas," Marco Armiliato conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Angela says it can be challenging performing for your colleagues in a recording studio because they are the first to judge her work. If everything goes well with them she knows she's a winner. She says whether she's on the opera stage, or in the studio she always offers her best performance, "I'm never different. If I sing in front of one person, with my colleagues, or if I'm singing in front of an audience. I'm always the same, and I always try to convince." On her new "Homage to Maria Callas," which is filled with some of the most beloved French and Italian operatic masterpieces, Angela Gheorghiu demonstrates both vocally and dramatically why she is one of today's great opera divas.

Listen to the entire interview with Angela Gheorghiu

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