This past Friday Warner Classics released the first studio recording to be made in six years featuring soprano Angela Gheorghiu. The title of the album is Eternamente – The Verismo Album. Its fourteen tracks survey the repertoire of opera and song by Italian composers of the generation that followed Giuseppe Verdi. This is a period that is roughly framed by Arrigo Boito (who provided Verdi with some of his best libretto texts) at one and and Giacomo Puccini at the other. The conductor is Emmanuel Villaume leading the Prague Philharmonia, for which he is Chief Conductor, and, on two tracks, the Prague Philharmonic Choir.
Releases like these tend to be “all about the diva” albums; so it is worth noting that Gheorghiu is joined by tenor Joseph Calleja on three tracks that happen to make for some of the most compelling listening on the recording. The opening three tracks of the album are devoted to Pietro Mascagni’s one-act opera “Cavalleria rusticana,” the last of which is the climactic duet between Santuzza and Turiddu. At the other end the album concludes with the final duet from Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, in which Chénier and Maddalena de Coigny sing of their love before both of them are summoned to their execution of the guillotine by the jailer Schmidt (one spoken line delivered by Emmanuel von Oeyen). They also sing in the excerpt from the third act of Boito’s Mefistofele, when Faust visits Margherita in her prison cell, only to be interrupted by Mefistofele (bass Richard Novak). The excerpt continues to the end of the act, when Margherita rejects Faust and the Celestial Host (the choir) proclaims her redemption.
Taken as a whole, the album brings to mind that famous remark made by Abraham Lincoln:
For people who like that sort of thing, that is about the sort of a thing they would like.
Those who follow this site regularly know that I spend a generous amount of time at opera performances. However, I tend to focus on the “big picture” of how the score has been interpreted, as well as the suitability of the staging. This sometimes puts me at odds with those in the audience who just want to be blown away from powerful solos and duets.
With that as context, I have to say that I felt that Gheorghiu was singing to the most distant balcony seats even though she was in a recording studio. There are almost always intimate moments in even the most familiar warhorse selections, but intimacy does not seem to be a priority in this album. Nevertheless, “those who like that sort of thing” will probably be more than satisfied with what this album delivers.