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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Angela & Roberto Forever
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
1. La Bohème: O soave fanciulla [3:48]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
2. Don Pasquale: Tornami a dir che m’ami [4:10]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
3-4. Faust: Il se fait tard! Adieu! [9:06]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
5. Les Troyens: Nuit d’Ivresse [8:24]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
6. Roméo et Juliette: Madrigal: Ange adorable [4:05]
Georges BIZET (1848-1918)
7-8. Carmen: C’est toi! C’est moi! [8:50]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
9-12. Werther: Il faut nous separer [10:49]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
13-18. Tosca: Mario! Mario!... son qui [12:52]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
19-20. Aida: La fatal pietra sovra me si chiuse [11:20]
21. La Traviata: Brindisi [2:55]
Angela Gheorghiu (soprano), Robert Alagna (tenor)
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Covent Garden/Richard Armstrong (1-5); Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse/Michel Plasson (6-8); London Symphony Orchestra/Antonio Pappano (9-12); Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Covent Garden/Antonio Pappano (13-18); Berlin Philharmonic/Claudio Abbado (19-21)
rec. July & September 1995, Lyndhurst Hall, London (1-5); October 1995, Halle aux Grains Toulouse (6); March 2002, Halle aux Grains Toulouse (7-8); August 1998, Studio 1, Abbey Road, London (9-12); August 2000, Studio 1, Abbey Road, London (13-18); February 1998, Jesus-Christus Kirche, Berlin (19-21)
EMI CLASSICS 2145992 [76:18]
Experience Classicsonline

This compilation disc contains a good selection of hits but it is excellent only in parts. It gathers together excerpts from the golden couple’s complete recordings of Roméo, Carmen, Werther and Tosca, together with selections from their 1998 album Verdi per due and their 1995 collection Duets and Arias. EMI have made much of their partnership with this pair and, for a while at the start of the decade, they could do no wrong. That has changed recently since Alagna’s highly publicised walk-out during La Scala’s 2006 Aida; Britain has not seen much of either of them since Covent Garden’s magnificent Faust in 2004. Parts of this album show them at their very best, but parts also point up their weaknesses. With no new material whatsoever on this disc, one wonders why EMI bothers.
The best material is, perhaps not surprisingly, that excerpted from their complete recordings. These recordings of Roméo, Carmen, Werther and Tosca have shot to the top of many people’s lists. When it was released Roméo knocked all competition out of the ballpark and the Act 1 madrigal is a natural choice for inclusion here. The booklet notes - which are pretty awful - make much of how Alagna’s and Gheorghiu’s voices blend so well. That is shown perfectly here, especially the section at the end when they sing in thirds, showing the couple’s first stirrings of love. The Romantic lushness of Werther is lovely too, and they make a compelling pair of lovers. The longest extract, Tosca, is probably the best of all. Gheorghiu is totally believable as the suspicious diva who enters the church in search of Cavaradossi’s lovers. Her hurtful shriek is shrill, and Alagna calms her in the most tender style. Qual occhi al mondo itself, however, betrays the roughness around the edges of Alagna’s voice, and he struggles for the brief top notes. Both rise to the occasion for the visceral passion of the Carmen finale. I have always found their complete recording an excitingly alive performance, especially when Jose turns on Carmen in Act 3. It is good to have the final moments represented here.
The earlier recitals are fine too. Both voices combine delightfully in all the 1995 numbers, though this period of Alagna’s career was a time when he was cutting out virtually all portamento. For this reason moments such as the higher notes in Faust and the end of Bohème can sound a bit clipped when compared to the excerpts mentioned above. The Berlioz is absolutely marvellous, though. Singing as closely as they do, they are perfect for the heady sensuousness of the Carthaginian evening; the whole duet is heady and disarming. They will probably never record the complete opera, but I am glad they have captured this moment.
Traviata is a role in which they have both had success, and it was Violetta that catapulted Gheorghiu to stardom at Covent Garden in 1994. They sound great in the Brindisi and the (uncredited) chorus lend good support. The final scene from Aida sounds frankly bizarre, however! Alagna seems to be intentionally straining his voice as if to make himself sound heroic (unsuccessfully!), and Gheorghiu sounds absolutely nothing like a slave girl: it’s more as if Mozart’s Countess had wandered into the tomb by mistake! This merely confirms that Verdi just doesn’t suit Alagna’s voice. There’s a school of thought that might say that his recent performances of Trovatore in Orange confirmed this even further, something he should perhaps have considered before accepting La Scala’s Aida.
So, on the whole, this disc is good fun, but in terms of quality it’s a mixed picture. It’s a far more satisfying experience to hear them in the complete operas they have recorded together and this compilation is a bit piecemeal in comparison. But if you don’t want to stretch to those and you would like to hear them in this repertoire then this disc will do. The sound is very good throughout and each conductor shapes the music characterfully, but they take a definite back seat to the singers. It’s asking a lot to pay full price for this disc, however, and EMI should find some way of reducing the cost in view of how competitively the complete sets are priced.
Simon Thompson


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