20 February 2007

Angela Gheorghiu

Verdi SIMON BOCCANEGRA, Met 19.II.2007; c. Luisi; Gheorghiu, Hampson, Giordani, Furlanetto, Gerello.

I enjoy watching Angela Gheorghiu's neck veins and musculature appear and tense up as she holds a piano note up in the air. Spinning perfect sound is a difficult physical feat, and nothing is more beautiful than the sight of a diva deforming for that beauty. Gheorgiu's voice, a mesmerizing mosaic of oriental semi-precious stones, is both lush and expressive at every moment. With less dramatic amplitude than Violetta, Amelia thrives instead on those long arching lines, among Verdi's most devastating (approaching the floating soprano lines in the Requiem), that hover sweetly over other voices. Amelia is squarely Gheorghiu's domain. Her voice is rich without being cloying (cf. Fleming), expressive and soft-spoken, displaying agility and mature technique (cf. Netrebko). Her duets with Boccanegra and Adorno were magnificent, as was her memorable council chamber scene.

Her only problem this time is tempo. (I did a dissertation on her Violetta last season, concentrating on three flaws.) Maestro Fabio Luisi, fast becoming a favorite, has grand ideas about this opera, setting up Amelia's Act I entrance with a spring-air freshness that can rival Abbado's reading. Then the curtain rises, applause, and she commences "Come in quest'ora bruna" on a more aggressive pulse, ruining Luisi's finely crafted sketch and balance. Does she hear any other sound but herself when she's singing? Luisi had to switch gears mid-thought, it wasn't pretty. Oddly enough, during the repeat verse, Luisi found himself slightly ahead of the Diva. Grace meter falls further. It may seem like a minor point, but these things are what you sense when perfection is within reach. Someone take Gheorghiu to the shop: her metronome needs a tune-up. Speaking of Luisi: despite the momentary tempobattle, his brilliance is palpable at every turn. (Vilaine fille sister MLR has an apropos feature about the Maestro here.) Luisi refutes the Boccanegra reputation for being an overbearingly dark, foreboding piece by splashing the active parts of the opera with some extra tabasco and cilantro. In the house, it comes alive, and more balanced than I expected (this being my first live performance of the work).

The men? Let's see. Marcello Giordani was suave and full-bodied. Thomas Hampson applied his customary lieder style to lyrical moments, a lighter than usual Simone, but during his slow death he became a formidable Amfortas, easily grabbing the spotlight. Actually not easy when you're sparring with Ferruccio Furlanetto, who is such a massive sonic presence. The Met is so much greater when he's on its storied stage.