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John Steane
Gramophone, April 2009

Angela Gheorghiu offers full value in a treat of a Traviata from Milan

Nothing is perfect, always some stammer in the divine speech: we know that. But such blemishes as occur in the Scala production are incidental to its general excellence and to the greatness of Angela Gheorghiu’s Violetta. She is a strangely variable quantity in the musical life of our time and has been on my own blacklist for concerts offering, in my view, shamefully poor musical value. But here she is once again a true artist, the voice lovely as ever throughout most of its range, the expressive art in both singing and acting matured so that this portrayal is intensely moving and memorable. Here is a Violetta who rises to the great moments but whose every phrase and movement is intelligently guided and deeply felt. The internal argument in the solo of Act 1, for instance, develops with a marvellously subtle conflict of impulses, and though "pleasure" wins at the end of it there has been just the right degree of forced gaiety to make it no surprise to find in Act 2 that love has prevailed after all. The Germonts, son and father, are maddeningly stupid characters but decent, honest singers, the one (Ramon Vargas) not imaginative but capable of delicacy, the other (Roberto Frontali) clean-cut in his tone and modestly affecting in his aria. Maazel’s conducting is a model of controlled flexibility, and the orchestra respond to him with unfailing precision. Visually, the production is a treat, the chorus handled unfussily as a collection of individuals, with the principal characters and their relationships given thoughtful and sensitive preparation.

I would rank this with the Los Angeles production with Fleming and Villazon (DG, 4/08): we should count ourselves a favoured generation to have both or the choice of either. The production from St Margarethen in South Austria is not in that class but has its own attractions. These lie principally in the spectacle, on stage and off. The party scenes are rich in life and colour, and as parties both may be said to swing. Kristiane Kaiser’s Violetta spends most of Act 1 smiling brilliantly; one feels she might die smiling, and indeed she almost does. Her voice is somewhat thin and infirm in the lower half but pure and pleasing in the upper. Her Germont fils has a fast vibrato, his père a slow one. Some of the sillier points of production concern Alfredo, as when he is made to sing his solo in Act 2 to a silent, but busily miming, drinking companion. But the real scene-stealer is the scenery itself, this extraordinary Baroque façade which opens up on a stage ablaze with candle-light, and all against the background of the evening and night sky eventually to be brightened with a show of fireworks scarcely to be matched west of Beijing. The audience sit in the open air before this vast area of what I believe was the site of a Roman quarry. The Festival is now well established, with a 10-year history, and on this evidence is definitely worth a visit.

Eric Myers
Opera News, January 2009

Now that the home-video phenomenon is pushing thirty, we have reached a point where we can compare and contrast an artist’s evolving interpretation of a single role. Angela Gheorghiu’s Covent Garden Violetta signaled the arrival of a new star when it made its first appearance on videocassette in 1995. We now have her 2007 La Scala performance on DVD and Blu-ray, formats unknown to us in the mid-’90s.

This is the version originally directed by filmmaker Liliana Cavani in 2000, a straightforward staging in Dante Ferretti’s opulent, traditional sets. Gheorghiu and conductor Lorin Maazel were reportedly booed by the audience at the first performance and trashed by the critics; this filming of a subsequent performance in the run shows the audience greeting their curtain calls with cheers and a standing ovation.

In its review, Il Giornale criticized Gheorghiu for singing “the way they used to sing in provincial opera houses a long time ago”. If that critic was referring to her unstinting emotional identification with the role and her powerfully emotive use of chest register, well—would that our new generation of Brand X sopranos took such gutsy, old-fashioned risks. Certainly there are many who will miss Gheorghiu’s more restrained, equally valid approach from thirteen years ago at Covent Garden. But this far more Italianate, veristic style is what often goes missing in opera today, and it can create a stunning effect. Gheorghiu’s current Violetta has a tragic sense of the limited time left to her; she is a character constantly struggling to control her growing hysteria.

In interpretation, tone and technique, Gheorghiu’s version of Violetta is probably as close to the magnificent Magda Olivero as we’re going to get. Though her sound is not so rich and warm as that of Freni, Tebaldi or Scotto, it has a pinpoint thrust and accuracy that enable her to sail with precision through the coloratura shoals of “Sempre libera”, and to soar effortlessly over the Act II ensemble finale. Moreover, her diction is clear, and she shows real declamatory power in the recit leading into “Ah, fors’è lui”. In “Addio del passato”, her pianissimo tones remain lovely even when shot through with Violetta’s weakness and desperation. Gheorghiu is a highly physical performer, and yes, she might have done better to use fewer nervous, fluttery hand gestures, but they are of a piece with her conception of the character.

Ramón Vargas is not the most plausible love object opposite her, but he’s got his own cuddly kind of charm and sings with his customary sweetness of tone, which is never marred by tenorial shouting or sobbing. Roberto Frontali is a gruff-voiced but effective Germont; he makes you feel his remorse and pain, and he does an excellent job of really listening to Violetta during their Act II scene. His rebuke of Alfredo at Flora Bervoix’s party is preceded by a shocking backhanded slap.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, September 2008

This is a recent (2007) recording of one of Verdi's most popular works. With Lorin Maazel at the helm, sparkling and animated orchestral support is assured, and the audio engineers had taken full advantage of it. The show is dominated—as might be expected by soprano Angela Gheorghiu as Violetta. She is simply superb! (One goes through life with certain sound-images stored in memory. One such moment was when I heard Maria Callas in this role. The mere memory of her first act "Amami, Alfredo" conveys such an impact ofutter anguish, that it still sends shivers up and down my spine.) Yet Gheorghiu delivers plenty of drama, even at the risk of losing her decolletage. Ramon Vargas struggles mightily with the role of Alfredo, but had me longing for Pavarotti...The settings are sumptuous, and the ballet scenes exciting. This is as hi-tech a recording as one can hope for, and should rate very high indeed!

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