Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Verdi Heroines
Angela Gheorghiu, Orchestra Sinfonica Di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, Riccardo Chailly
DECCA 466 952-2 (67 minutes), Full Price

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Otello- Willow Song and Ave Maria. La Forza del Destino - Pace Pace. Simon Boccanegra - Come in quest'ora bruna. Un Ballo in Maschera - Morro ma prima in grazia. Rigoletto - Caro Nome. Il Trovatore - Che piu t'arresti? Tacea la notte placida. I Vespri Siciliani - Merce dilette amiche. Aida - Qui Radames verra! O Patria Mia. Don Carlo - Tu che le vanita.

Very occasionally a disc comes along which defies criticism. This is one of them.

Not only is Angela Gheorghiu in resplendent voice, the tone richer than for some time, but the beauty of her high notes is floated with Elysian, transcendental beauty. I would not usually recommend a disc for a single track, but in this case I would say her performance of Pace, Pace Mio Dio, from La Forze del Destino, alone makes this disc worth it's price. Her first utterance of 'Pace' is absolutely riveting - a single note spun from a silken web and held breathlessly for what seems an eternity. The most gentle pianissimo is sung like a prayer, the velvety depth to the voice as sumptuous as you could ask for. But it just gets better and better - I have never heard the final note on 'Maledizione!' held with such control. It is simply thrilling.

The whole of this disc is full of such treasures. The 'Willow Song' from Otello is an example of how a pianissimo should be caught, like the most delicate and polychromic of butterflies trapped between the hands. There is an iridescent beauty to this voice which almost defies literal description. Hearing the entire disc you could almost say it is like looking at a rainbow refracted through a prism - so colossal is the spectrum of colour in Gheorghiu's voice. Such beauty in the 'Willow Song' makes the distinction between the music's ominous tone-world and underlying bleakness unbearably moving. In the aria, 'tu che le vanita..', from Don Carlo, the sonorous brass chords herald a performance that mixes memory with passion and an absolutely exquisite final pianissimo. The tension is held masterfully. Her Gilda from Rigoletto, her Leonora from Il Trovatore, and her Aida are all finely drawn portraits of some of Verdi's most subliminal creations.

This entire recital reminds me of the first Verdi aria disc which Maria Callas recorded with Nicola Rescigno and the Philharmonia in 1958. Like Callas, Gheorghiu has an uncanny ability to enthral with her vivid characterisation and intensely dramatic imagination. The voices are similarly rich - although Gheorghiu has an uncommonly firmer middle register and vibrantly lower voice. This disc is immeasurably enriched by having a dramatic soprano at the peak of her powers in repertoire in which she really has no rival.

What also sets this disc apart from virtually all others is the orchestral playing. Riccardo Chailly achieves miracles where many others just accompany. This is intensely interactive music-making, with the orchestral colours often as staggeringly bright and multi-layered as those of Angela Gheorghiu's soprano. Decca have given these supreme artists a recording that is of demonstration quality - with superb warmth and resonance. I might also suggest that Decca release more discs under the legend 'Heroines' since they seem to have found themselves onto a winner. The two discs I have now heard (this one and Renee Fleming's Strauss disc) are easily amongst the most cherishable vocal discs I have heard for many years.

It would be a very unusual year indeed if I heard a finer disc of arias than Angela Gheorghiu's spellbinding record. Buy it without delay.


Marc Bridle

Performance and Sound -


and Rob Barnett adds:-

I will not have much to say about this disc before I recommend it to all opera and diva fanciers. I am not an opera buff so voice views gained from an experience which but for this review I am unlikely to have had. Gheorghiu's name is well known to me as one half of a partnership with the dashing tenor, Roberto Alagna. They are both blest with photogenic looks and with voices to match.

Gheorghiu is just glorious in this repertoire: no trace of wobble in her voice, clear diction (the words are in the leaflet), wonderful attention to dynamics and a self-effacing attitude to partnering the orchestra. There are many highlights but all I will mention is that time after time the mutually sensitive duetting between the winds (especially flutes and clarinets) and Gheorghiu left this listener in awe of such beauty. A disc to win over doubters and outright condemners. I will listen to Verdi and Gheorghiu with freshly discovered respect in future. The orchestra is in great form - no trace of being in cruise control. A plush production all round.


Rob Barnett




Marc Bridle

Performance and Sound -


Reviews from previous months

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