When superstar soprano Angela Gheorghiu made her La Scala debut with this recording, she chose a recital format, which probably has caused a great deal of head-scratching among the many – you’d think she’d have chosen a much more intimate setting than the cavernous La Scala for a solo voice and piano outing. And indeed, it’s obvious from the first notes of opening applause – if you raise the volume level to anything approaching normal for her beautiful voice, the applause level is darn-near deafening! You do, however get a great sense of the immense atmosphere that is La Scala.
I have to be honest, here – I’m much more of a “bloody chunks” with full orchestration kind of guy – these piano recitals just really aren’t my thing. But Miss Gheorghiu acquits herself quite admirably, and there are numerous memorable moments on this generously-proportioned disc. The recital is divided into four distinct parts; the first selections are offered from “Arie Antiche,” which are Italian arias from the Baroque period. This is followed by a selection of Bel Canto arias, including works by Gluck, Bellini and Donizetti, and some surprisingly good early-career arias by Giuseppe Verdi. The recital’s third part focused on French Chansons, with selections from Gounod, Bizet’s charming “Chant d’amour,” and a stirringly beautiful offering of Jules Massenet’s “Elegie.” For me, the real highlight of the program came in the recital’s fourth section, where Angela Gheorghiu sings six songs from her native Romania, and while very foreign to these ears, they were nonetheless strikingly beautiful to behold. Among the three encores was a briskly-played and sung “I Could Have Danced All Night,” and the evening’s final selection, Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” essentially brought the house down.
Pianist Jeff Cohen offers superb support, and his work is excellent throughout, although I was a bit under whelmed by the timbre of the piano – it really seemed a bit thin and lacking in depth of tone. In all reality, it probably took a great deal of engineering expertise to coax the generally good sound on this disc from the performances in that cavernous acoustic. Angela Gheorghiu is in excellent voice throughout, and only lingers a bit too long in a few places here and there – but the Romanian selections are well worth the price of this disc. Highly recommended.
– Tom Gibbs