Verdian voices that love each other
Joy Fleisig | New York, NY United States | 12/08/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although French tenor Roberto Alagna and Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu are each formidable artists in their own right, when they sing together they create something truly extraordinary. Much of this is no doubt due to the couple's real-life marriage, although even many operatic married (or otherwise romantically involved) couples rarely give the sense that their voices and artistries are 'married' the way these two do. Their voices are just astonishing - his warm earth and sun darkening into bronze, hers melting sweetness and starlight. Even more important is their musical sensitivity and complete immersion into the drama. All these qualities make Alagna and Gheorghiu ideal Verdi interpreters even if their voices are smaller and more lyric than what many would think of as right for the composer. To put the icing on the cake, the singers have Claudio Abbado's magisterial support in the pit, full of authority, imagination, finesse and sensitivity. The disc begins with the final Carlo-Elisabetta duet from 'Don Carlo'. This is my favorite opera and I believe that the 'ma lassu ci vedremo' section which concludes this selection is one of Verdi's greatest inspirations. Needless to say, I am extraordinarily picky about the way it is performed, and it is glorious - full of sublimated passion and pain, tenderness and resignation. The title role (in French) is already one of Alagna's greatest stage and recording triumphs, and Gheorghiu is so musically and dramatically intense that you would never believe she learned the duet at Abbado's suggestion 3 days before the recording! Best of all, however, is the great love duet from 'Otello'. Never before have I heard this music sung so beautifully or with such tenderness and nuance, the lyric voices really making the romance between Otello and Desdemona believable. Admittedly this is probably the most lyric section of the score, and whether Alagna is up to the some of Otello's big outbursts, even in a small theater, is debatable, though Gheorghiu is an ideal Desdemona. Still, Alagna's astonishing pianissimo swell on 'Vien, venere splende' is alone worth the price of the entire disc. No less fine is the ravishing high note with which Gheorghiu ends the scene from 'Simon Boccanegra', where the singers easily go from tender serenade to dramatic urgency to seductive radiance. The Tomb Scene from 'Aida' is also very effective, although it is true that Gheorghiu's is a more lyric voice than I would like for Aida, her excellent recording of 'O patria mia' on her 'Verdi Heroines' album notwithstanding. Alagna is about as light as I would go for Radames, but as it is really a spinto and not a true dramatic role, he copes very well, darkening his tone. Both artists, as usual, are totally alert to the drama, and this makes up for them possibly having the 'wrong' voices. I only wish this pair of lyric singers could have sung the final B flat in 'si schiude il ciel' pianissimo, as did Zinka Milanov and Jussi Bjorling - I believe Gheorghiu obliges and Alagna doesn't. Another real treat is the rarities - how many 'love duet' albums include scenes from 'I Lombardi', 'I Vespri Siciliani' or 'I Masnadieri'? Again, all so marvelously sung - especially the rousing cabaletti - that we are convinced these are by no means the 'lesser' works that many critics claim, although it is a pity that the 'Vespri' selection isn't in the original French. Turning back to more familiar music, having heard Alagna sing the Duke in 'Rigoletto' first at the Met under the flaccid Carlo Rizzi and then on the Sony recording under the hard-driving, pedantic Riccardo Muti, I was delighted to hear how fresh-voiced, dashing and impetuous he sounds in 'E sol dell'anima' here. Clearly all he needs is the right conductor! Gheorghiu's voice is a bit more mature than most people would think of for Gilda, but fully conveys her longing for her lover and her growing sexual awareness. The 'Miserere' from 'Il Trovatore' is also splendid, although not quite as intense as the version on their complete recording. A spirited and ravishing rendition of the famous drinking song from ?La Traviata? brings the disc to a delighful close. Besides the luxurious support of the Berlin Philharmonic (as Gheorghiu put it in an interview, 'the Rolls Royce of orchestras'), London Voices makes a splendid choral contribution in their four selections. There is also excellent work from contralto Sara Mingardo, better known in baroque repertory, as Giovanna and Amneris, as well as from the singers who take on Ceprano and Borsa in the 'Rigoletto' excerpt. The documentation has full texts and translations plus excellent notes written by British voice maven John Steane, who points out the considerable musical and dramatic variety that exists among love duets, even ones written by the same composer. Unfortunately, there is no biographical information at all of any of the artists, let alone typical CD gush (so much for 'the overhyped Alagnas'!). The pictures in the booklet's interior are wonderful, with the couple relaxing in a Berlin park, but the cover's attempt to be 'romantic' is hokey - they look like airbrushed mannequins. As with most of their other operatic recordings, Alagna's and Gheorghiu's work here is a must listen to anyone who cares about this music or the human voice. You will rarely hear this music served so well by contemporary artists. It turns out this disc is essential for a less pleasant reason as well - I have just read the horrible news that EMI has decided not to continue making studio opera recordings, making it extremely unlikely that we will ever hear Alagna and Gheorghiu together in this repertory on disc again. What a tragedy not only for the singers but also for Verdi, and all the more reason to cherish the beauty we have here."
A well presented and very listenable album
duisterdoos | 10/25/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Since I first listened to Alagna and Gheoghiu I have always felt that Gheorghiu is the superior artist of the two. This album is presented with gusto and enthusiasm. Both are putting their souls into the music, although Alagna can be a bit brash at times, not unlike Del Monaco a few years ago. In Rigoletto it sounds more like intended rape than seduction! The duet from Otello is beautifully done - it could well be one of their future complete recordings. Overall a well recorded album with favourites as well as lesser known selections. Well worth the buy for admirers of the singers."