Angela Gheorghiu in concert

Date and Venue 3 April 2011 , 7:30pm | Orpheum Theatre

Conductor Bramwell Tovey, Featured performer Angela Gheorghiu soprano

Reviewer John Jane

It seems these days the term ‘diva’ is so much misused and overused that almost every female singer in every musical genre has been called ‘diva.’ Being a ‘real diva’ demands more than just having beauty and talent – it’s as much about personal conviction and magnetism – and Romanian born soprano Angela Gheorghiu would appear to fit the term perfectly. Despite well publicised difficult relationships with some opera house managements, directors stand in line to have her perform in their productions. Aside from a vital stage presence, she possesses a voice of both lyric and dramatic quality, suitable for playing larger-than-life opera heroines like Cio-Cio San, Mimi, Marguerite and Carmen.

When Ms Gheorghiu walked on to the Orpheum stage on Sunday evening (3 April) in an elegant black and white floor length gown, there was both grateful applause and collective relief – After all, the raven-haired superstar does have a penchant for cancelling performances at the eleventh hour.

On this occasion everything went according to plan, as the singer dazzled the audience with beautifully interpreted arias of Handel, Giordani, Massenet, Shubert and Puccini. Starting with the melancholic Lascia ch'io pianga (let me weep) from G.F. Handel’s Rinaldo, sung with only light string accompaniment, she continued with Caro mio ben (my dear love) and O mio babbino caro (O my beloved father) from Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. I’ve heard the latter aria sung by many excellent sopranos, but none with as much expression and colour.

After the customary intermission, Ms Gheorghiu returned for a second set, this time wearing a red sleeveless dress. In Jules Massenet’s jaunty Vive amour qui rêve (long live love) and Franz Schubert’s affecting serenade Schwanengesang (Swan song) her identification with the music was total. These hand-picked arias are obviously personal favourites. The vivacious soprano was tonally opulent with the best known aria from La Wally, the deeply melancholic Ebben? Ne andrò lontana (Ah well, I shall go away) - the last in the regular program.

The absence of Bizet was a surprise (for me) as well as a minor disappointment, considering her celebrated triumph in the role of Carmen. But in her vocal acting and emotional expression Ms Gheorghiu has few equals and even fewer superiors.

Maestro Tovey led the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra solidly and gaive Gheorghiu laudable support. The orchestra got each set going prior the featured performer’s entrance; the delicate Dance of the Blessed Spirits, featuring solo flute and the more strident, aptly titled, Dance of the Furies from Christoph Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice at the top end of the evening and Charles-Francois Gounod's seven movement ballet suite from Faust began the second half. Vancouver audiences never seem to learn when it’s appropriate to applaud; clapping between movements was so frequent with this work that Maestro Tovey was prompted to quip that “we got more applause during this than Charlie Sheen had all evening.”

The orchestra also filled in during a couple of Ms Gheorghiu's vocal breaks with Massenet’s Meditation from Thaïs that featured concertmaster Dale Barltrop on violin and the Overture from Guiseppe Verdi’s magnificent opera, La Forza del Desino – it’s sparkling coda brought the overture to a stirring conclusion.

Operatic recitals featuring superstar sopranos are too few and far between in this city, but this was indeed a night to remember.

© 2011 John Jane