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Bewitching -- with no hint of witchy

Alleged tantrums aside, Angela Gheorghiu channels joyous, sad and sexy in concert.

March 19, 2007|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu, who made her Los Angeles Opera concert debut Saturday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, is the diva critics have lately loved to hate.

She's said to throw tantrums. She once walked out of a "Carmen" over a wig dispute. She withdrew recently from Verdi's "Don Carlos" at Covent Garden, supposedly in another huff. Insiders are said to call her "Draculette."

She and her famous tenor husband, Roberto Alagna, who were married by New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in 1996, were once dubbed the Love Couple. Subsequently, because of alleged self-promotion, lavish living and highhanded treatment of colleagues, they've been renamed Bonnie and Clyde, Posh and Becks or, most heartlessly, the Ceausescus.

Alagna, meanwhile, has his own detractors, especially since he made history in December by walking off the La Scala Milan opera stage after getting booed when he finished his opening aria in Verdi's "Aida."

Still, the two deliver, and they've built up a loyal local following singing "La Boheme" and "Pagliacci" for L.A. Opera. And there were few naysayers at Saturday's greatest hits performance. (Alagna, reportedly, was not on hand.) Loud cheers greeted Gheorghiu's first entrance, and the large, receptive audience would have kept her long after five encores if she had not taken L.A. Opera Orchestra concertmaster Stuart Canin by the hand to lead him offstage.

Gheorghiu has a dark, edgy, medium-sized lyric instrument that she used tellingly, husbanding her resources carefully. She could soar at the top but could easily be overwhelmed by the orchestra in midrange. What she lacked in power, however, she made up for in dramatic variety, vulnerability and commitment.

She was thrillingly joyous in the Jewel Song from Gounod's "Faust," sad in Massenet's "Pleurez, pleurez, mes yeux" from "Le Cid" and "Adieu, notre petite table" from "Manon," and sexy in Bizet's "Habanera" from "Carmen."

She was thoughtful in Puccini's "In quelle trine morbide" from "Manon Lescaut," "Doretta's Dream" from "La Rondine" and "Un bel di" from "Madame Butterfly." She sang "Pace, pace, mio dio" from Verdi's "La Forza del Destino" with intensity and anguish.

Still, she did not have the ideal spinto voice for Verdi, and even "Un bel di" sounded underpowered, although she sang it with an appealing youthful faith.

Conductor Eugene Kohn was extraordinarily attentive, watching her breathing and flexible phrasing so closely that the two made a joke of it in the "Habanera" when Kohn appeared to be staring down her cleavage. Otherwise, he was self-effacing almost to the vanishing point. But he knew exactly how best to show the diva off.

He also led sophisticated, stylish accounts of the overtures to Berlioz's "Beatrice et Benedict," Mascagni's "Le Maschere" and Verdi's "Les Vepres Siciliennes." The orchestra sounded wonderfully blended, balanced and transparent, and it was a joy to hear it onstage for a change instead of buried in the pit.

Svelte and gorgeous, Gheorghiu wore three glamorous gowns -- a rich, red-orange caped affair for the first half (the cape came off for the Massenet and Bizet arias); a predominantly white, strapless print for the start of the second; and a spaghetti-strap, black-spangled and embroidered spider design for the remainder.

Her encores were "I Could Have Danced All Night" from Lerner and Loewe's "My Fair Lady," Lara's "Granada," Grigorio's "Muzica," "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi" and Curtis' "Non ti scordar di me."

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