Gheorghiu, Alagna Dynamic Opera Duo
Ronald Blum, Associated Press, 10 April 2002

NEW YORK (AP) - Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu are a throwback.

Many opera singers speak in platitudes these days, afraid to offend
conductors and colleagues.

Not these two.

While the dynamic husband and wife hit their notes on stage, in
interviews their tongues are sharp. They're not afraid to speak their
minds. If people don't like it, tough!

For instance, what do they think of modernist directors?

"With all this black, you can do anything," she says dismissively. "You
can have just one set for every opera."

What about the Jonathan Miller production of Verdi's "La Traviata" that
put Violetta in a hospital ward for the final act?


How about Robert Wilson's stylized minimalism?

"Awful. Awful," she says. They'd never agree to work with him.

"Everyone goes to the performance to see Angela and Roberto, not Robert
Wilson," she says.

"Nobody goes for a great mise en scene," Alagna says, using the French
term for a production. "It's a pity for the audience."

Their favorite director?

"Franco Zeffirelli," is Alagna's quick reply. "He's the only one when
the curtain opens, you have applause."

It's an odd response, given that the pair wouldn't sign their contracts
for Zeffirelli's 1998 production of "La Traviata" at the Metropolitan
Opera. The previous year, while on tour with the Met
in Japan, Gheorghiu refused to perform one night in Zeffirelli's
production of Bizet's "Carmen" because she didn't like the wig for her
character, Micaela.

No matter. The 36-year-old Romanian soprano and the 38-year-old
French-Sicilian tenor are in great demand these days, wanted by opera
houses around the world. They were married by New York City Mayor
Rudolph Giuliani during a backstage break between
performances at the Met in 1996.

Ever since, they've been a fixture on the great stages, often performing
together. They have issued strong recordings on EMI of Puccini's "La
Rondine," "Il Trittico" and "Tosca"; Massenet's "Manon" and "Werther";
and Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette."

They filmed a "Tosca" movie to be distributed in the United States in
July, have separate recital CDs coming out in the next three months,
have recorded Verdi's "Il Trovatore" (due out in September) and are to
record Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" this summer.

Many of their CDs have been with Antonio Pappano, who becomes music
director of The Royal Opera in London next season. Asked if they'll
perform more often at Covent Garden because of Pappano, Alagna gives a
curious answer.

"Sometimes, when you get to the top, you forget your friends," he says.
"We put Pappano in all our houses around the world. Now, we'll see if he
does the same."

Gheorghiu has a powerful upper register, able to handle coloratura while
still possessing enough strength to cut through the orchestration of
middle Verdi.

Alagna has a sweet, lyric tenor, although he increasingly is taking on
roles requiring more heft. He is to sing Manrico in "Il Trovatore" in
Palermo, Sicily, this December, plans to appear as Radames in "Aida" and
Rodolfo in "Luisa Miller," and has scheduled his first "Otello" for
Saint-Etienne, France, in 2004.

But, ah, their temperament.

Miller dubbed the pair opera's "Bonnie and Clyde." They feuded with La
Scala music director Riccardo Muti and left a production of "Pagliacci"
he was conducting in Ravenna, Italy. They are withdrawing from a planned
engagement in Vienna because Gheorghiu saw the production on television
and hated it.

The couple says they are just trying to ensure a quality product.

"I feel responsible," Gheorghiu says. "It's our fault, all the time,
whether it's the director, the conductor or the opera singer."

At the Met, even though the pair didn't perform in "La Traviata" and
canceled performances of "Carmen" last fall after the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks, they donated their services last month for a pension-fund
concert and have agreed to sing in Gounod's "Faust" next season.

Unlike soprano Kathleen Battle, famously banished by Met general manager
Joseph Volpe, Gheorghiu and Alagna are welcomed back.

She, with her long, dark hair, has a dramatic presence. He, with a ready
smile, seems the more open of the pair. When asked to pose for
photographs for this profile, she politely declines, worried about how
she would look after the long flight from Europe.

The two met at Covent Garden in 1994 when she was in "La Boheme" and he
was in "Romeo et Juliette." They were married two years later, setting
up house in Switzerland with the daughter from his first marriage, now
10, and Gheorghiu's niece, now 12. Alagna's first wife and Gheorghiu's
sister both died young.

As with most opera singers, they rarely are home. To make life easier,
they insist that their schedules be arranged to have them at the same
opera house, although not always in the same production.

Choosing repertoire and schedule has become increasingly difficult,
especially because they are in a position to be extremely choosy. Their
thought seems to be that it's better to say no earlier in the process
than to withdraw at the end.

"We spend a lot of time going over projects," Gheorghiu says, "but to
say yes is a long way off. I need for all the ingredients to come
together. If not, I stay home!"

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