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Vincenzo BELLINI
Norma: Casta Diva … Ah! Bello a me ritorna
Gioacchino ROSSINI
Guglielmo Tell: S'allontanaro alfin! Selva opaca
Vincenzo BELLINI
I puritani: Qui la voce sua soave - Ah! Rendetemi la speme … Vien, diletto
La sonnambula: Ah! Non credea mirarti
Gioacchino ROSSINI
Il barbiere di Siviglia: Una voce poco fa … Io son docile
L'assedio di Corinto: L'ora fatal s'appressa … Giusto ciel! In tal periglio
Anna Bolena: Piangete voi? Al dolce guidami castel natio
Lucia di Lammermoor: Regnava nel silenzio … Quando rapito in estasi
Angela Gheorghiu (soprano), Chorus of the ROH, Covent Garden, London Symphony Orchestra/Evelino Pidò
Recorded at No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road and Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, Hampstead, London, 4/2000 and 3/2001
EMI CLASSICS CDC 5 57163 2 [61.26]
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Not long ago I was reviewing a couple of items by Gheorghiu in a compilation called "Essential Verdi" and I was worried about a "fundamental unsteadiness" in her production. Singing Rossini, Donizetti and especially Bellini can be a wonderful way of sorting that out if you go about it the right way, and this disc is an improvement on everything I've heard from her so far. More than "Casta Diva" itself it was the other Bellini items, from "Puritani" and "Sonnambula", which alerted me to the fact that some things here, at least, are very special. Her voice is ideally suited to the slow arias, a beautiful sound (and it is now a steady sound) perhaps more romantically modulated than we often hear in this repertoire, but capable of holding the listener in thrall and at times very moving. It is not a dramatic voice and there is a hint of the Sutherland swooning style (which, when linked to a good legato, is no bad thing) but she bites on her words a little more than Sutherland. Fast arias tend to be a mite slower than we usually hear. In Bellini and Donizetti this is actually rather attractive since she also gives us much legato so the voice flits up and down in a very birdlike way. But she does make heavy weather of "Una voce poco fa". This aria in particular brings me to the one point which I find rather perplexing. At any note from the F above middle C downwards she is liable to break into the chest register. While it is excusable enough for a soprano making a rare sally below middle C (she makes none such here) to have to rely on her chest tones it does seem that Gheorghiu still needs do some work on her lower notes.

Another possible reason for some slightly slow tempi may lie in the rather sleepy conductor. Nothing at all bad (how could there be with this orchestra?) but hardly a galvanising presence either.

Not a total success, then, but at least some performances will join my favourites of that particular aria, and note that the not-so-well-known prayer from "L'assedio di Corinto" is an exceptionally beautiful piece.

Texts and notes by John Steane (which means they're virtually self-recommending) but oh dear, it seems that some vindictive-minded executive in EMI, maybe reprimanded by his superiors for suppressing the texts too lightly (I'm far from being the only critic to protest most vigorously) has said between clenched teeth: "All right, let them have these bloody texts but, my God, I'll see they can't read them, or if they do they'll get a headache and be off to the optician for new glasses the next morning. I'm going to print them in the smallest type-set we've got, and I'm going to print them a dull white on a blue background. And to hell with them." Joking apart, they're almost impossible to read at a normal distance, especially under artificial light (I suppose most of us do our listening in the evening). Fearful that I should be checking my eyesight I canvassed a few other opinions and the consensus was that the small print might be acceptable but in normal black on a white background. So please, EMI, enough of these gimmicks.

Christopher Howell

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