Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Angela Gheorghiu @ Royal Festival Hall, London

10 November 2009

Southbank Centre

Royal Festival Hall (Photo: India Roper-Evans)

Though star soprano Angela Gheorghiu headed the bill for this International Voices concert at the Royal Festival Hall, the contribution of tenor Marius Manea, another Romanian-born singer, should not be underestimated. And each shone as they performed solos in the first half. In ‘Pleurez, pleurez mes yeux’, from Massenet’s Le Cid, Gheorghiu’s voice was rich, deep and thrilling, and perfectly suited to such passionate contemplation.

She also let her voice dictate her acting style, which ensured that her gestures were never overblown. Similarly, Manea’s performance of ‘Salut! demeure chaste et pure’ from Gounod’s Faust was full of understated passion, his firm, but light, voice being shown at its best. There may be far greater tenors in the world than he, but by capitalising on where his voice sounded good throughout, he managed to utterly convince in the role.

In spite of this, the first half of the concert felt oddly insubstantial. This was partly down to the generally popular nature of the orchestral and operatic excerpts on offer, and partly to do with how they were performed. The concert opened with a shallow interpretation of Bernstein’s Overture to Candide, performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Ion Marin, and the first vocal contribution, the duet ‘Parigi, o cara’ from La traviata, felt like perfect material for an encore or opera gala, but not for a concert where top price tickets were £75.

And whilst Gheorghiu and Manea both proved they knew how to put on a performance as individuals, in this piece it was almost impossible to feel any chemistry between them. Far more successful was their ‘Caro elisir’ from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, partly because this jovial piece suited the end of a first half better, and partly because in it there is supposed to be no genuine connection between the characters.

The concert became even more cheery in the second half, as Gheorghiu entered in a bright red dress and Manea in a ‘pinstripe dinner jacket’. It would be churlish to dwell on Gheorghiu’s bout of amnesia during the ‘Cherry Duet’ from Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz, in which the orchestra actually came to a halt, because nobody means to forget their part, but it still marred the performance and contributed to the idea that things were under-rehearsed (whether this is true or not). Nevertheless, Manea came out of the error looking good as he calmly went from his previous cue again, and then became a true Italianate tenor in ‘Quando le sere al placido chiaror d’un ciel stellato’ from Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

From here on in, however, Gheorghiu put all mistakes behind her and made the concert her own. Now dressed in a fairytale princess style dress, she was back to her best in ‘Morro, ma prima in grazia’ from Un ballo in maschera, her voice’s unique brand of resonance being shown in all its glory.

The final listed number, ‘O soave fanciulla’ from La bohème, was entertainingly executed as Manea and Gheorghiu headed off the stage towards the end, but the concert’s real highlights came during the encores. It was a shame that these had to start with ‘O mio babbino caro’, since Renée Fleming had trotted out the same cliché on the same stage exactly a week earlier. Unlike Fleming, however, who left it at that, we were treated to three further encores that brought the house down with their playfulness, passion and flamboyance, and which witnessed Marin singing one line in ‘Libiamo’ as the audience was urged to clap along.

This concert lacked too much in gravity and (at times) polish to rank as a great one, but, on their own terms, the final pieces could hardly have been bettered. And though Gheorghiu stole the show with her shining voice and obvious showmanship, all credit to Manea for standing up as well as he did.

buy Angela Gheorghiu MP3s or CDs
Spotify Angela Gheorghiu on Spotify

More on Angela Gheorghiu
Tosca: Gheorghiu channels Puccini’s temperamental diva to mark the 30th anniversary of her Royal Opera debut
Tosca @ Royal Opera House, London
La rondine @ Royal Opera House, London
Adriana Lecouvreur @ Royal Opera House, London
La traviata @ Royal Opera House, London