United Kingdom International Opera Stars 2013: Angela Gheorghiu (soprano), Teodor Ilincăi (tenor), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Tiberiu Soare (conductor), Royal Festival Hall, London, 10.5.2013. (JPr)
Mozart: Recitative & aria, Giunse al fin il momento … Deh vieni, non tar (The Marriage of Figaro)
Verdi: Parigi, o cara (La traviata)
Tu che la vanita (Don Carlo)
Puccini: E lucevan le stelle (Tosca)
Nessun dorma (Turandot)
O soave fanciulla (La bohème)
Gounod: Va! je t’ai pardonné … Nuit d’hyménée (Roméo et Juiliette)
Mascagni: Suzel, buon dì (L’amico Fritz)
Massenet: Aubade: Vive amour qui rêve, embrasse, et fuit (Chérubin)
Spontini: O nume tutelar (La vestale)
Congratulations to Raymond Gubbay who, if he doesn’t have opera in the round or 60 swans on stage during Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall, is bringing some of the biggest names in opera to a celebrity series of gala evenings at the Royal Festival Hall, occasionally as here presented in association with Universal Music. This is the 46th year in which Raymond Gubbay continues to put on a wide range of concerts, opera and ballet in major venues in London and across the country, established as one of the leading promoters of popular classical music in the UK. All this is achieved without a penny of public subsidy. Though I’ve not been there for all of these four decades and more, I have been along for the ride for the major part of that time from his more ‘humble beginnings’ with many memorable Johann Strauss concerts with the splendid Willi Boskovsky as well as ‘A Night at the Opera’ evenings and his annual Christmas Festivals.
I did not review the very enjoyable concert with Joseph Calleja in this International Opera Stars Series last January and missed the recent Jonas Kaufmann concert because of an unfortunate clash with Juan Diego Flórez and Joyce DiDonato performing at the Barbican on the same evening. This is not the right place to discuss the current cult of Kaufmann but reports suggest that however good it all was, people seems to have taken issue with a printed programme with too many ‘pinup’ style photos, lengthy plot summaries and no texts of what was to be sung.
The first words written about Angela Gheorghiu in the glossy souvenir brochure for this gala evening were unashamedly hyperbolic and included that she is ‘the most glamorous and gifted opera singer of our time’ and how her ‘magnificent voice and dazzling stage presence have established her as a unique international opera superstar.’ Even if the photos were more suitable for a women’s magazine I found the information in the programme useful. All the texts were there for the audience to follow and each item was suitably put in the context of the work it was wrenched from. This has the advantage of encouraging the listener perhaps to explore later some of the music with which they are not so familiar. The musical items we heard – as is often the case with these sort of evenings – were presented as though randomly put together and I have gone on for years that this should not be so. In what we heard only Susanna’s aria followed the Overture from Le nozze di Figaro whilst eclectic arias and duets from Verdi and Puccini were sung in no particular order throughout the concert.
I give prominence to my concerns because I hope somebody involved might read this and do something about it. But before I go on too long I must say that by the time Angela Gheorghiu dragged the leader of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Duncan Riddell, from the platform after the fifth(!) encore I was totally won over by the whole occasion and – rarely for me – joined in the standing ovation with those around me.
It had not begun as well as that since Susanna’s Giunse al fin il momento … Deh vieni, non tar was a misjudgement and she sang it tentatively, totally focussed on the music on the stand in front of her and almost conducting Tiberiu Soare and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra herself. I don’t think the elegant sparkly, silvery – but stiffly formal – evening gown helped her in this or in her next two contributions. Parigi, o cara was ardently sung with fellow Romanian Teodor Ilincăi and there was a reflective and prayerful Tu che la vanita from Don Carlo. At the start the mezzo-ish bottom to her voice was more in evidence than the spinto top, it had a lovely silverish quality that matched what she was wearing; her singing was clear, well-focussed and revealed an enviable technique. With her volume reined in, she seemed more than willing to be out-sung by her full-throated tenor colleague in the Verdi duet. Perhaps even such a diva can be nervous and by the end of the first half and the duet from Roméo et Juiliette, La Gheorghiu seemed to suggest this was so by suddenly singing with an engaging smile on her face that helped her radiate more warmth to her audience. In her younger colleague’s arms she now began to connect more with the youthful passions of some of the characters she would be singing about in her remaining items. Some of these were rarely performed music: a joyful duet Suzel, buon dì from L’amico Fritz; a delicately beautiful Aubade from Chérubin, atmospherically accompanied by the sounds from Nigel Woodhouse’s mandolin; and a lovely rendition of Spontini’s plaintive O nume tutelar. A slightly more revealing black gown had come and gone and it was time for Angela Gheorghiu literally to let her hair down and totally relax as she reappeared in what seemed a loose-fitting elegant scarlet kaftan for the Spontini and a passionate O soave fanciulla from La bohème when she flirted outrageously with Teodor Ilincăi, who she frequently sings with now that she is separated from Roberto Alagna.
Tiberiu Soare, who always accompanied his singers with care, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra must share the praise for what became a memorable evening. Never was there any suggestion that there was a lack of rehearsal and the musicians played committedly for their conductor in the various styles of music, some probably more familiar than others, with no discernible missed entries or fluffs. This is highly unusual for these opera gala concerts. There was no sense of the routine in their impassioned Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana and Bizet’s Farandole from L’Arlésienne Suite No.2 was suitably imbued with spirited musical reminiscences of France and Spain, though I did feel the Polonaise from Eugene Onegin was taken a little too swiftly.
Teodor Ilincăi was eager to please and has the fearlessness of youth on his side. His well-schooled and robust tenor made the most of familiar arias such as E lucevan le stelle and Nessun dorma and to Angela Gheorghiu’s credit he was clearly not asked to hold back in their duets. Throughout he revealed a genuine gift for phrasing and some secure, if occasionally clipped, high notes. He is definitely a name to look out for.
There were five generous encores that brought the audience to their feet each time. Firstly – and now totally at ease and evidently enjoying herself – Angela Gheorghiu sang Tosti’s famous Neapolitan song A vucchella and Puccini’s showstopper O mio babbino caro, Ilincăi attacked with gusto the Lanza classic Be My Love (or as sung here ‘Lurve’). When reunited with his soprano they respectively waltzed or attempted some paso doble for De Curtis’s Non ti scordar di me and Lara’s Granada that made this fine partnership now truly irresistible.
For future events from Raymond Gubbay visit www.raymondgubbay.co.uk.