Angela Gheorghiu press reviews
Gheorghiu triumphs with a performance of thrilling intensity
By Richard Morrison, The Times
All is forgiven – all the offstage malarkey, the rows, the cancellations – when Angela Gheorghiu sings like this. And not just sings. She inhabits Verdi’s consumptive heroine as a beating heart and breathing lungs inhabit a body. It’s surely the most charismatic performance of the season. I just hope she keeps it up for four shows.
There’s nothing understated about any of it. Indeed, much is pure Victorian melodrama – which, I suspect, is what Verdi would have expected. From her agitated gestures in Act I to her mad-eyed stares and wild, doomed dance in the moments before expiring in Act III, this is an interpretation to send shivers down spines at the back of the upper circle.
In the 16 years since the famously leapt to fame in Richard Eyre’s still cogent and touching Royal Opera production, her Violetta has gone from girlish waif to a woman who knows too well what it is to love and to lose. You sense that Alfredo’s spineless betrayal of her is the last of many. That only adds to the pathos.
Gheorghiu can rarely have delivered the notes with such intensity, boldly varied timbre or ethereal beauty. There’s a glorious freedom about her phrasing, about the time she takes to infuse drama into every note, and, particularly, about her daring drop to a scarcely audible sotto voce – more a flutter than a vocal line – to symbolize Violetta’s fragile hold on life.
To his credit, Yves Abel, the conductor, sticks to her like glue, and there is much to admire about his general pacing. But the chorus scenes need pepping up. I’ve been to livelier funerals than the Act II salon scene, where even some risibly camp Gypsy dancers don’t inject much excitement.
It’s a pity too, that Gheorghiu is matched with a tenor who seems like a rabbit (admittedly a very lanky rabbit) caught in the headlights: nervous, overawed and stiff. James Valenti has the vocal range to sing Alfredo, but some of his contributions are tepid enough to put out small fires. There’s no obvious reason why any girl – let alone the impassioned courtesan – would want to spend her last minutes with this plank.
The Serbian baritone Zelico Lucic is a memorable Germont – stern, stiff and stentorian at first, then producing a stream of sustained lyrical power in his great Act II aria. He gets a fine ovation at the curtain, but hundreds stood and roared for Gheorghiu.