In a welcome and long awaited Australian visit, Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu demonstrated her finely honed artistry and the luxurious beauty of her voice along with the verve of her glamorous bella donna appearance.
Known in Australia for her prolific recording career and her appearances in filmed operas screened in cinemas, Gheorghiu presented some of her greatest hits as well as some carefully chosen lesser known pieces in a thoughtfully curated program. Beginning modestly and almost tentatively, Gheorghiu warmed up mightily as the evening progressed to soar through well-known favourites in the second half.
Fellow Romanian Maestro Tiberiu Soare conducted the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, with a very clear highlight being the scintillating “Romanian Rhapsody” by Enescu in the second half. This epic suite highlighted crisp percussion and bold brass and featured many climactic moments.
The orchestra actually began the evening a little slowly, with a somewhat muddy performance of selections from Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks. More successful was the “Intermezzo” from Manon Lescaut, in which the tune begins by travelling around the strings before building to a lush, atmospheric sound. Jane Rosenson on harp added an extra layer of quality to this piece.
Gheorghiu made her first appearance in a filmy, strapless flesh coloured gown, with delicate matching shoulder wrap, adorned with a glittering silver brooch at the waist.
Beginning with an aria chosen simply to display the sheer beauty of her voice, Gheorghiu followed the orchestra’s Handel prelude with “Lascia ch’io pianga” from Handel’s Rinaldo. Moving on, Gheorghiu gave a clearer picture of the dramatic ambition of the evening, in which she was to immerse herself in dramatic musical scenes.
When absorbed in a role, such as in Manon’s second act aria, “Adieu notre petite table,” Gheorghiu shows great sensitivity, appearing delicate and vulnerable despite her highly attractive appearance. This quality continued through “Pleurez mes yeux” from Massenet’s El Cid.
An aspect that occasionally interfered with Gheorghiu’s intense performance style was her use of her music on a music stand. The singer broke character, so to speak, to adjust the stand or adjust her wrap, particularly during musical interludes. While glancing at the sheet music interrupted visual engagement with the audience, a string bond nonetheless developed throughout the evening.
The first half concluded with “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka (Dvořák), providing demonstration of Gheorghiu’s strength across an impressively wide vocal range. Projecting a demure countenance, Gheorghiu did not speak during the first half, but certainly showed herself extremely gracious towards the maestro and the orchestral players.
Gheorghiu emerged for the second half in a voluptuous light cherry red gown with red shoes, her glossy black hair freed from the immaculate styling seen initially.
Performing well known pieces, Gheorghiu moved about more freely in the second half, unencumbered by reliance on the music stand. Her exquisite rendition of “Un bel di vedremo” gave a chance to hear her sing an aria from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, a role she has recorded in full but has not played on stage. The sultry “Habanera” from Carmen (Bizet) gave the singer a chance to cut loose in a playfully seductive manner.
Emerging finally in a backless, figure hugging black dress with dark grey train of ruffles, Gheorghiu performed one of her top signature arias, Tosca’s impassioned prayer “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca (Puccini).
The formal program concluded with one last dramatic aria, “Sola perduta, abbandonata” from act four of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut (Puccini).
Finally addressing the eager audience during the curtain calls, Gheorghiu introduced favourite aria, “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi (Puccini). Slowly spreading her hands, Gheorghiu seemed to almost physically draw the gorgeous final pianissimo note from her mouth.
Gheorghiu acknowledged the Romanian fans in the audience, and gave an extraordinary a cappella encore. Gheorghiu then concluded with popular standard “Granada.”
Well under the diva’s spell, the audience applauded rapturously at the evening’s conclusion. Gheorghiu had one last cheeky trick up her sleeve, exiting the stage with concertmaster Jun Yi Ma in hand.
A Special Evening with Angela Gheorghiu was held on 13 October 2015 at Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne.