Flamboyant opera couple keep controversy flaring
T.J. Medrek, Boston Herald, 30 August 2002

How do you solve a problem like the Alagnas - tenor Roberto Alagna and
his soprano wife, Angela Gheorghiu, that is? The couple possess healthy,
beautiful voices in their primes. They travel the world, mostly
together, giving sometimes inspired, sometimes inert performances in
major opera houses around the world - and giving interviews that vary
between insightful and insufferable.

In an era when the classical recording industry is on life support and
companies are abandoning contracts with musicians left and right, Alagna
and Gheorghiu enjoy a contract with EMI Classics that has them featured
in a steady stream of recital discs and complete operas. They star in a
recent movie of Puccini's ``Tosca'' (opening locally at the Kendall
Square Cinema Sept. 20). And an abridged version of Gounod's ``Romeo and
Juliet'' - of course - will receive its local broadcast premiere Sunday
at 9:30 p.m. on WGBX-TV (Ch. 44) as part of Labor Day weekend's
so-called ``Opera Orgy'' on WGBX-TV (Ch. 44) and WGBH-FM (89.7).

Alagna and Gheorghiu may be loved by their fans, but their battles with
opera house managers throughout the world are regular fodder for the
international music press and gossip columns. Whether it's Gheorghiu
refusing to wear an unflattering wig or Alagna canceling a performance,
it's big news.

But say what you will: Aside from obvious talent, Alagna and Gheorghiu
have about them the old-fashioned, larger-than-life glamour that, before
ordinariness was a virtue, was the mark of the true diva or divo.

Like many Alagna-Gheorghiu projects, this ``Romeo'' is vain. In less
than 90 minutes, producer Chris Hunt and director Barbara Willis Sweete
give us almost all of Alagna's and - er, that is Romeo and Juliet's -
music and almost none of anybody else's. Filmed a bit drably on location
in the Czech Republic last year, it's clearly meant exclusively as a
star vehicle.

As such, it's surprisingly successful. True, the stars look closer to 40
than 14, and theirs is an adult, not adolescent charisma. But it's hard
to complain about Alagna's forthright if occasionally inelegant delivery
of Romeo's music. And if Gheorghiu's voice is a tad too dark for the
role, the melancholy in her vocal timbre makes her a sympathetic, even
moving heroine.

Alagna and Gheorghiu also have released new recital CDs this year. ``Bel
Canto'' (EMI Classics) features the tenor in arias from Italian and
French operas by Donizetti and Bellini, with the soprano assisting in
two tracks. The disc is a good example of why Alagna's work is so
frustrating. The basic sound of his voice is steady, clean and
attractive, and his diction is expert. But there's not a trace of
character or shape in his singing, so every track sounds the same. Some
awkward lunges at high notes and a creepy falsetto substituting for soft
singing should have been vetoed by conductor Evelino Pido and producer
David Groves.

Are tenors from Mars and sopranos from Venus? ``Angela Gheorghiu Live
from Covent Garden'' (EMI Classics) - starring guess who - is an
exquisite disc that documents a 2001 London concert with orchestra
conducted by Ion Marin. The material runs the gamut from Handel to
Bellini to Puccini to ``I Could Have Danced All Night'' from ``My Fair
Lady.'' Even when she's less than ideally suited to a particular aria,
she fills it with deep musical and dramatic understanding.

Her delivery of ``Depuis le jour'' from Charpentier's ``Louise,'' for
example, starts in a mood of contemplative wonder, building
ever-so-gradually to its radiantly ecstatic climax. By refusing to
reduce music to a mere star turn, she proves herself a musical artist of
the highest order.

Aside from showcasing its stars, the ``Romeo'' program also serves as a
memorial to its conductor, Anton Guadagno, who died just two weeks ago
of a heart attack at age 79. A regular on the American regional opera
circuit, at major international opera houses and on recordings,
Guadagno's warm, sensitive touch will be missed.


This page was last updated on: September 2, 2002