Thursday, August 2, 2012

Soprano Angela Gheorghiu on being a 'Diva'.

What does it mean to be a 'Diva'? Over the last few decades the term has gone from being one of unbridled admiration to being another way to say "cantankerous, unprofessional b*tch".

In our great world of opera, the term 'Diva' has become truly synonymous with two names: Maria Callas and Angela Gheorghiu.

Common opera folks, back me up. Am I right, or what?

Trust me, Chiclets: I don't think Gheorghiu minds being paired with Callas ... in fact, it seems that she (or her PR folks) have designed it that way.

As you may remember, late last year soprano Angela Gheorghiu (aka: Mrs. Roberto Alagna ... yes, they're still married.), released Homage to Maria Callas - Favour­ite Opera Arias - a collection of beloved French and Italian operatic masterpieces - apparently inspired by the career and recordings of Maria Callas.

In discussing her 'homage' to Callas, Gheorghiu - who, it seems, has fancied herself as the next Callas for quite some time - says:
Callas was original in everything she did; she was a phenomenon. In every performance she gave her all. She was the most wonderful painter and you can always hear exactly the right color in her voice. Just hearing her sound, you understand all the power or fragility of her emotions. That's a rare talent and a great gift ... EMI was her record label and it's mine too. It feels like a family.
I'm afraid that's right where the "family feel" stops ... that is to say: diehard Callas' fans have not been so quick to embrace Gheorghiu's self-coronation as the next La Divina.

Shortly after the release, Michael White of The Telegraph blogged about his experience at the party celebrating EMI's latest ploy to make money off of Callas' name the launch of Homage to Maria Callas.
A depressing evening last night at the Ivy where EMI were hosting a party for Angela Gheorghiu and her new CD ...

... Most depressing was the rictus-grinning phoniness of the whole thing, as EMI staff fawned over the diva, choked with laughter at her least remarkable remarks, and smothered her with flattery so absurd she should have been offended by it – as any self-respecting artist of integrity could only be. It felt like people humouring a madwoman.

Underneath it all was the sense of desperation that is presumably endemic at EMI these days. Commercially, artistically, this once great company seems to have lost its way. Its modest presence in the recent Gramophone Awards was thanks entirely to Antonio Pappano. The rest of its catalogue doesn't appear to be doing much of interest. And as for this new release, it plants Gheorghiu on dangerous ground – particularly as it comes with a promotional video that splices and superimposes performances of Callas and Gheorghiu singing the same aria from Carmen and making the clear suggestion that they're artists of equal, interchangeable calibre.

That Gheorghiu is a singer of outstanding qualities I don't dispute. But Callas she is not.
One thing that Gheorghiu does have in common with Callas is her propensity for difficult relationships with opera house managements and directors. Some, but not all, of them have stemmed from her opposition to directors who, as she put it in an interview with ABC "want to express their own fantasies, forgetting about the characters. At times ... what they put on stage goes against both the story and the music."

This sounds very similar to an argument between Callas and Sir Rudolf Bing - who was the general manager at the Met during Callas' operatic-reign. Yes, THAT argument... the one that got her fired from the Met.

Gheorghiu's problematic behavior started to become public knowledge back in 1996 when she was cast as Micaela in the Met's new Franco Zeffirelli production of Carmen Singing opposite Waltraud Meier's Carmen and Plácido Domingo's Don Jose, Zeffirelli's vision of the young Micaela called for Gheorghiu to wear a blonde wig, which she adamantly disliked. When the Met toured the production in Japan in 1997, she refused to wear it on the first night to which Joseph Volpe (then, the general manager) famously declared, "The wig is going on, with you or without you". Needless to say, Gheorghiu was replaced by her cover.

She appeared at the Met again in 1998 for six performances of Roméo et Juliette with her husband, Roberto Alagna, as Roméo.

Volpe had planned to engage Gheorghiu as Violetta for a new production of La Traviata, which was to premiere in November 1998 - also directed by Zeffirelli. Alagna was to sing the role of Violetta's lover, Alfredo Germont. According to Volpe, Gheorghiu and Alagna argued with the staff and the director over production details and continually delayed signing the contract. They eventually signed their contracts, and faxed them to the Met one day past their deadline. Volpe refused to accept them. The production opened with Patricia Racette and Marcelo Álvarez as the lovers.

And, her problems were not just at the Met.

In September 2007, Gheorghiu was fired from the Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of La Bohème for missing rehearsals costume fittings, and generally "unprofessional" behavior. Gheorghiu said in a statement that she had missed some rehearsals to spend time with her husband, who was singing at the Met in Roméo et Juliette, and she also stated that she was busy rehearsing for Puccini's Madama Butterfly:
I have sung 'Boheme' hundreds of times, and thought missing a few rehearsals wouldn't be a tragedy. It was impossible to do the costume fitting at the same time I was in New York.
Her reputation wasn't all bad, though. Gheorghiu has pulled together a few triumphs: There was the stellar production San Francisco Opera's La Rondine, which originated at London's Royal Opera House Covent Garden. And not just there, at the Met as well: Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore, Marguerite in Faust, Liù in Turandot, Violetta in La Traviata, and as Amelia in Simon Boccanegra. Most recently, in 2010 she sang Violetta, which replaced her previous engagement as Marie Antoinette in a rare revival of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles - which was replaced due to the recession.

Following a separation from Roberto Alagna in 2009, Gheorghiu canceled all her scheduled 2010 Met performances of Carmen, for "personal reasons". It would seem that Gheorghiu's personal reasons have to do with a certain tenor (Roberto Alagna) who was to sing her same six performances as Don Jose? The only performances that Gheorghiu had remained committed to were the performances which star Jonas Kaufmann as Don Jose. She later dropped those as well.

She also cancelled other Met performances scheduled near the end of 2010. In March 2011 she cancelled all her scheduled performances of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette at the Met, citing illness. Only days later she cancelled all her performances in the new production of Faust during the Met's 2011/2012 season. According to her manager the singer felt that "She felt uncomfortable in the concept". Peter Gelb, the Met's current general manager, said that her frequent cancellations have become an increasingly difficult problem for the Met. Gelb went on to say that, as of now, plans are still in place for Gheorghiu's return to the Met stage. He also went on the record to say "this has nothing to do with wigs."

Whenever she is pressed about her difficult behavior ... about being a 'Diva' in the negative sense of the word ... Gheorghiu continually attributes her nastiness outspoken nature to her upbringing in Romania under the totalitarian regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu:
Because I grew up in a country where there was no possibility of having an opinion, it makes me stronger now. Lots of singers are frightened about not getting invited back to an opera house if they speak out. But I have the courage to be, in a way, revolutionary. I want to fight for opera, for it to be taken seriously. Pop music is for the body, but opera is for the soul.
I can't argue with her last two points. I very much agree.

So now, for your viewing pleasure, I bring you parts one and two of the BBC Documentary Special: Angela Gheorghiu - Being a Diva. You think I'm kidding? Nope.

Thanks, BBC!

Following the Documentary, a bonus feature: Angela Gheorghiu's "Duet" version of Carmen's Habanera with Maria Callas.

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