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Classical review: Angela Gheorghiu at Roy Thomson Hall - Toronto

Ask any opera fanatic: Good looks and a lustrous voice do not necessarily a top diva make. But they cannot hurt, as Angela Gheorghiu demonstrated Thursday night in a recital with orchestra in Roy Thomson Hall that might be called a solid semi-success.

The first half was phoned in. Handel’s Lascia ch’io pianga and Giordani’s Caro mio ben sounded like the warm-ups they were. Puccini’s O mio babbino caro was elongated to infinity. If Puccini conceived of this aria as a simple charmer, he has been overruled.

Gheorghiu had her eyes glued to the music through Dvorak’s familiar Song to the Moon. A few climaxes got off the page. In all of the above, rhythmic coordination with the COC Orchestra under Steven White seemed more a matter of chance than planning.

After intermission we saw a beautiful new gown and heard, in some respects, a beautiful new soprano. Massenet’s Vive amour qui ręve (from the little-known Chéubin) had wonderful sparkle. Was the tenderness of Schubert’s Serenade applied rather than organic? It was tenderness just the same.

Boito’s L’altra notte (Mefistofele) and Catalani’s Ebben? (La Wally) occasioned an opening of the floodgates, vocally and otherwise. If Gheorghiu’s stage deportment through these Italian potboilers lacked something in specificity – flailing arms doing yeoman duty regardless of context – it still communicated the emotional core of the music.

And the voice was mesmerizingly lovely. Having heard Renée Fleming only ten evenings earlier, I think Gheorghiu has a stronger claim on the middleweight soprano crown.

Alas, like Fleming, the raven-haired Romanian has got pops religion. “Forza!” shouted one fan before the encores began, making what struck me as a perfectly reasonable request to hear some Verdi.

Instead we got light numbers, including Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Are, with White at the piano. Gheorghiu sang this from rear of stage, probably in English. Lara’s Granada sounded more authentic, as the soprano worked the crowd from the apron, stage left.

Lightening up at the end is traditional but obsolete. Pops concerts are tanking in Toronto, and probably elsewhere. Opera is what people want. And opera is what stars like Gheorghiu should deliver.

The COC strings were silky under White, a demonstrative conductor. There were some ragged entries, however, and the brass often sounded fuzzy. The usually silent RTH organ made a rare (and, unfortunately, disagreeable) appearance in the Intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.


Arthur Kaptainis -Apr 8, 2011 – National Post Canada    4/8/2011


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