The Verismo Album
with Joseph Calleja, tenor; Richard Novak, bass; Emmanuel von Oeyen, spoken voice
PKF – Prague Philharmonia
Emmanuel Villaume, conductor
Warner Classics, 2017
An unusual title, inspired by the last sentence from Angelo Mascheroni’s song Eternamente, has been chosen by soprano Angela Gheorghiu for her personal collection of Verismo arias, which is her first studio recording in six years, after her Homage to Maria Callas, released in 2011.
Such uncommon title reflects the “extravagance” of this album, which, differently from other Verismo collections, focuses on rare songs and scenes from little known operas, as Stefano Donaudy’s Del mio amato ben, Licinio Refice’s Ombra di nube, Umberto Giordano’s Siberia, Ruggero Leoncavallo’s La Bohème and Zingari. Next to them, Gheorghiu records again Vissi d’arte from Tosca, an aria that, in Gheorghiu’s own words «defines me as an artist and as a woman», along the famous scenes from Cavalleria rusticana and La Gioconda (Suicidio!), Spunta l’aurora pallida from Mefistofele and Vicino a te s’acqueta from Andrea Chénier.
The collection appears then as an interesting exploration, but the outcome does not correspond to expectations, not only for what concerns the repertoire, but even for the performance that one hopes on the part of an acclaimed soprano. The conditions of Gheorghiu’s voice have deteriorated in the course of the years and, if it still has traces of its burnished timbre in the middle register, the high notes have lost their brightness and the low register is awfully weak. Hear for example Vissi d’arte, compare it with Gheorghiu’s previous recordings and you will realize how her voice has worn out. There is still a certain softness in her phrasing, but it is not enough to cast a spell on the listener as it breaks at every moment. Suicidio! from La Gioconda is even worse and its tessitura gives prominence only to the weakness Gheorghiu’s of the low register.
When the voice of a singer begins to show signs of wear, the best thing he or she can do is seeking refuge in interpretation and this is something that Gheorghiu tries (desperately tries) to do, from the beginning to the end, but often without improving the situation. There is something artificial in her giving meaning to the key words of the text and her accents are so excessive to be strained. This is something that pursues Gheorghiu and the listener in Cavalleria rusticana, where moreover she faces an unmoved Joseph Calleja, Tosca, La Gioconda as well as in songs as Mascheroni’s Eternamente.
For what concerns the rarities, the arias from Siberia, La Bohème and Zingari in particular, they are of little interest. It seems that Gheorghiu has not find anything really important to express in them and they come and go and do not leave any particular impression.
Overall, this recording is a disappointment. There is nothing here that can be considered really new or noteworthy. The immortality promised by the title (“eternamente” means “forever”) in the end ironically appears as a pretentious ambition that Gheorghiu is unable to fulfil.