We’d never heard Angela Gheorghiu live before (though we’d listened to her impressive Traviata and other stuff on DVD) so we were happy to grab a chance to see her at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion in Los Angeles Saturday night. It was well worth the effort, but in an unexpected—and, one might say, a peculiarly LA--sort of way.
Gheorghiu’s strong suit is her tone—a gift from providence that connects instantly with almost anybody, like Bix Beiderbeck on the cornet. She’s an indifferent actress. So a concert recital, where she can pick and choose her material, is a sensible choice.
On the whole, it worked, but the odd part is that she ended up giving two concerts instead of one. The first was a straightforward concert recital of opera standards chosen, presumably, because they let her look good. The second was a string of five (count ‘em) encores, which morphed into a faux Hollywood Bowl show, under roof.
The first, concert, recital, was straightforward. Gheorghiu was at her best in Pucinni’s “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” (from Rondine) and “In quelle trine morbide” (from Manon Lescaut), with honorable mention to “Pace, pace, mio dio” (from Verdi’s La Forza del Destino). She was okay in “Un bel di vedremo,” the crowd-pleaser from Pucinni’s Madama Butterfly—she sang it nicely, but she was too forceful, not winsome enough in the person of Cio-Cio-San. She had the same problem with the “Habañera,” from Carmen: good singing, but she just wasn’t able to deliver the sense of sauciness and danger that every listener expects (but it was the first time I ever saw a concert soprano waggle her bottom at the audience). She also tackled some Gounod and some Massenet, but I don’t know how she did with it, of which see more infra.
LA audiences are a soft touch: they thought all this was wonderful. They were even more swept away by the “second concert,” the five encores, headlining “I could have danced all night” (from My Fair Lady) and “Granada” (from bullfight central).
The audience loved the down-market stuff, and pretty clearly, so did Gheorghiu: she danced, the bumped, she ground, she flirted—flirted so much with the conductor that he must have wondered whether he would get to go home with her (a man always wonders if he is going to get lucky on a date; a woman always knows). Yet remarkably, she really wasn’t very good at it: her “danced all night” was formless and inspid; “Granada” put her into a state of open warfare against the castanets. Perhaps luckily for everyone, she ended with “Oh mio babbino caro,” (from Pucinni’s Gianni Schicchi)—a number that she could handle, and that has come to signify opera just as much as “Greensleeves” has come to signify the Renaissance.
Fn on the LA opera orchestra: a disappointment. Eugene Kohn is said to be a great conductor of singers. Possibly, but he doesn’t seem to be able to keep 50-60 instrumentalists in ensemble. Made it particularly disappointing when they played so loudly as to drown out pretty much the first half of the concert.