For years Angela Gheorghiu has been one of the reigning divas in the opera world. Her interpretations of roles like “La Traviata,” “Adriana Lecouvreur” and “Tosca” have been sought after by every major theater and she has been hailed as one of the great sopranos of our time.
She collected numerous awards for her musical accomplishments, including an honorary doctorate, a Gramophone award, an Echo Klassik Award and received multiple Grammy nominations. Her discography is immense and features her singing with some of the world’s leading tenors, conductors and orchestras.
After years away from the studio, Gheorghiu returns this year with a new album entitled “Eternamente.” The CD is dedicated to the verismo repertoire, which she has dominated on the stage and features not only favorites but also rarely performed arias.
OperaWire had the chance to speak with the soprano on her collaboration with conductor Emmanuelle Villaume, her return to the recording studio, and her experience with verismo.
OperaWire: It’s your first studio album for Warner Classics since 2011. What was the experience of returning like?
Angela Gheorghiu: From 2009 to 2012 I suffered a lot in my private life which nobody knew about. I did not want to discuss this subject because it didn’t do me any good. After recording “Madama Butterfly,” I did not want to record anymore but I did the “Homage to Maria Callas“ album in 2011.
“Madama Butterfly” was scheduled with EMI Classics, now Warner Classics and I had a lot of operas and recitals to do. For my contracts, I have always decided the conductor, my partners, the title, so I told the recording studio that for “Madama Butterfly” I had to record with Jonas Kaufmann and Antonio Pappano. For Tony, I have fought since the first recording, “La Rondine,” in 1996, then for the “Tosca” movie, and many other operas. We have a significant discography together and he is ideal for Puccini. He was coming with a new orchestra, in Rome, and I liked the idea very much. Roberto Alagna had left EMI and I wanted to have a new figure, in which I believed in; Jonas Kaufmann. After a few years, while I was singing “Tosca” at the Royal Opera House, Maestro Emmanuel Villaume and Alain Lanceron, from Warner Classics, approached me and convinced me that it would be a crime not to record anymore.
I am happy that I accepted because I had a sublime experience with the Prague Philharmonie, which I had known for years. I wanted to do new repertoire and I was very happy to record a duet which I dreamed to sing since I was little, the one from “Andrea Chénier.” I first heard and saw this duet with Franco Corelli and Renata Tebaldi, sung live in a televised show in America. A splendor!
OperaWire: Tell me about your decision to record verismo repertoire and why was it the correct time to do so?
AG: It was never the case that I will not record verismo because I have already sung and recorded verismo already before. It just came at the right time, just as any other detail of my career for the last 28 years.
OW: Your album is made up of popular arias and duets as well as rarely performed works. How did you go about choosing the repertoire?
AG: The verismo repertoire is heavy, and not always easy to digest and listen to. It is like an orchestrated drama, an orchestrated play, or like the soundtrack of the movie. My voice and the orchestra are in a permanent dialogue, it is not just an accompaniment.
This is the reason I wanted to introduce songs from that period, so I listened to Caruso, Maria Cebotari, Claudia Muzio, Rosa Ponselle, and Renata Tebaldi. It was hard to choose because the repertoire is huge. A dear Romanian friend, Andrei Tudor, composer and orchestrator, a very good musician, like Morricone in Italy or Cosma in France, fabulously orchestrated these songs for me. “Eternamente” is the word that drew me in, because, deep inside my soul, like any artist, we dream to last and be remembered forever, eternally, eternamente through the music that we give life to.
OperaWire: How did Joseph Calleja get involved? What is it like to perform with him and how do your voices work together?
AG: I wanted to sing well-known arias and duets, and as I needed to sing the duet from “Andréa Chenier,” I also wanted to sing the dramatic and theatrical duet from “Cavalleria Rusticana.” I find that Joseph Calleja has one of the most beautiful and special voices. We sang in “La Bohème” together and I was fascinated. His voice has the sparkle of Luciano Pavarotti’s voice, it’s like a laser with an impressive volume. Joseph has a musicality that we rarely see now, especially in tenors. I knew him since he was 18 and I followed his evolution. I asked him if he was willing to sing this repertoire on my album. He answered not only yes, that he is happy and honored, but he also asked me to sing the duet from “Otello” on his new album. I was ecstatic. I finally wish we could have a real Otello on the world stages in the future.
OperaWire: How did conductor Emanuele Villaume help you with the repertoire and what did you learn from working with him?
AG: Emmanuel Villaume is a very dear maestro to me, as we did many performances together, all over the world. We know each other, we appreciate each other and we perfectly understand each other. We share ideas about music and I always feel safe with him. He has an incredibly fine ear for details, he perfectly speaks all the languages and technically knows everything about opera. I do not think there is someone who does not love him and adores his dedication to music which is very important for opera singers. He has a way of asking for things that it is impossible to refuse. He is always prepared and funny.
OperaWire: You have become synonymous with ‘Tosca’ and ‘Adriana Lecouvreur,’ two verismo works. Why is verismo so good for your voice and why do you enjoy singing these works?
AG: I am amused by the fact that I was asked to record “Vissi d’arte” again. It would have been a pity for Warner not to have “Vissi d’arte” performed by me. I have heard being that I am synonymous with the roles for everything that I did in my career, “La Bohème,” “La Traviata,” “L’Elisir d’Amore,” “Faust,” “Roméo et Juliette,” Magda in “La Rondine” etc. I am happy and I thank you for the compliment. I do not have an attraction just to a single musical style, as I would get really bored. It is not creative, so I am always in search of new styles, like baroque music or Mozart, or even musicals.
OperaWire: Do you have any favorite arias that you perform on this album?
AG: Yes, but I will not tell anybody, so I will not influence you.
OperaWire: How has your voice evolved throughout the past few years and where do you see it going?
AG: Of course, everyone’s voice and the body matures. But I always searched and I am always very vigilant to keep my native and youthful qualities to my voice. I think that this is healthier for the voice. This was and is my concern. I have only heard Luciano be preoccupied with this phenomenon. The point is to keep the naturalness and youth of the voice for as long as you can, to be able to sing more dramatic roles, with the same voice, bringing colors in your performance, in the interpretation, and technique. And you never want to force your young voice to sound aged, too big, too round or too outworn. The voice, especially on a CD, has to keep its youthful qualities, so it can be enjoyable. Of course, there are moments when you have to strain your voice, but for me these moments are as rare as possible. There are some singers who are born with a big voice, very somber and dramatic, but this is not my case. Art is subjective and I am a subject.
OperaWire: What’s next for your career?
AG: I have said this for the last 28 years: I would be happy tomorrow if I have what I have today.