The Great Tenor Pretenders
Nick Kimberley, The Independent, 3 July 1998
Granted the chance to interview Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu, I feel
as though I have been thrown to the lions. I am the one who has to watch
what I say, for fear of putting opera's most glamorous couple on the

We talk outdoors on a moderately bright afternoon, and both Alagna and
Gheorghiu are wearing dark glasses (which they keep on throughout our
conversation). It may not be a tactic to keep the journalist at bay, but any
eye contact is strictly one-way.And as if I am not nervous enough already,
Alagna, barely concealing the sneer in his voice, answers my first question
with a peremptory: "You think that is interesting?"

Well, they cannot be expected to make life easy, especially since much of
what gets written about them is steeped in gossip and rumour. When they
married in 1995, some suggested that it was merely a cynical career
strategy, and in the intervening years,every move they have made has been
subjected to close scrutiny, both musically and, especially, extra-
musically, and journalists have gleefully seized every opportunity to take
pot shots at Alagna (most frequently) and Gheorghiu (less frequently).

Fortunately, after the uncomfortable opening, the atmosphere lightens, and
as long as I stick to musical matters, conversation flows smoothly. Alagna
takes the lead, with the less loquacious Gheorghiu amplifying his points,
completing his sentences,and occasionally providing an answer of her own. Of
course, it is a performance - interviews always are - but it seems a natural
one, born of trust rather than from a perceived need to present a united

When I ask about the press coverage they've received, Alagna replies
philosophically, "I don't know: everything is fiction... when you read some
of these stories for the first time, it is a little embarrassing, but after
five minutes you forget aboutit. Sometimes it is ridiculous, but they have
to sell newspapers, I suppose, and whether it is good or bad, we can't
control it. When you have a success, you get this kind of thing all the
time. We're not the first, we won't be the last. We just have to be relaxed
about it."

Although their names are now indissolubly linked, Gheorghiu points out that
"To begin with, it was just a coincidence that our contracts had us singing
together. We were lucky, we sang the same repertoire, in the same theatres,
at the same level. Wewouldn't have met otherwise." Alagna remembers that
first meeting with evident pleasure: "I was booked to sing in La Boheme at
Covent Garden. I turned up at the rehearsal room for the first time and
through the door I heard this voice singing 'Mi chiamano Mimi'. I fell in
love with the voice, then when I opened the door, I fell in love with the
woman who had the voice - it was Angela. As far as working together goes, it
helps that we are tenor and soprano. It would be more difficult if I were
a baritone. Of course, it's not an obligation that we sing together, but if I
have to sing Alfredo in La Traviata, I'm crazy if I choose to sing with
another soprano when I have the best at home... it's like Fred Astaire and
Ginger Rogers: he could dance with other women, but it was something stronger
with her. On stage, we talk to each other: 'Was that phrase OK?' 'Yeah,
sure, it was good.' We get results immediately. That is not possible with
other singers."

Now the ball is back in Gheorghiu's court: "Sometimes, when I talk to
colleagues about this or that phrase, they'll say, 'Excuse me, that's not my
business - do it your own way.' It is not the same with Robert. But mostly
you find that singers areprepared with the same modern ideas, so working as
a team is not so difficult as it used to be." Perhaps aware that they don't
have a reputation as the most flexible collaborators, Alagna adds: "If you
want a wonderful performance, you need all the ingredients: orchestra,
chorus, all the cast, the lighting, the staging. It's a big team."

We move on to discuss Alagna's latest CD, a selection of Verdi arias. One
commentator has suggested that he can only manage all this material, which
includes the role of Otello, one of the toughest assignments in the tenor
repertoire, with the help ofstudio trickery. Alagna rejects the suggestion:
"Everybody says, 'Alagna's crazy. Otello is too heavy for him. It'll finish
him off,' but my teacher Raphael Ruiz had me singing it every day for four
or five years, from when I was 17 years old: it was his favourite role.
There are so many voice categories today, but composers didn't say, 'I want
a lyric tenor here, a dramatic tenor there'. They said, 'I want a tenor'.
These days, you have one tenor for La Boheme, another for L'Elisir d'Amore."

"Tomorrow we'll have one singer for Act One, another for Act Two..." says
Gheorghiu. Might there then, I suggest, be the possibility of Alagna moving
on to Wagner? Alagna foresees no problem: "The difficulty is with the
orchestra. If you have a careful conductor, you can sing anything, but if you
have a conductor who isn't prudent, you can sing L'Elisir, and even that
will be too heavy for you. The problem now is that people think that after
you've sung the Italian and French repertoire, then OK, the voice is
finished, so you sing Wagner, but remember that singers like Jussi Bjorling
and Nicolai Gedda sang Wagner beautifully.'

The couple's plans include performances of Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci which,
as Alagna points out, `is about the relationship between theatre and
reality, and you can certainly transpose that in our life. That makes, it
very interesting, and maybe it's exciting for the audience that I will have
to kill the character Angela is singing, because I'm jealous. Perhaps
because we are a real couple, people participate more when we sing these sad
operas together: that kind of complicity is important in the theatre. You
might say that between us, we are three artists; Angela Gheorghiu solo,
Roberto Alagna solo, and then there is the couple."

By the end of our hour, Alagna and Gheorghiu seem reasonably relaxed. Asked
how he deals with vocal problems, Alagna replies, "When you have a problem
with the voice, it's always a problem of nerves: if a singer can speak, he
can sing. The problem is sometimes you lose your spontaneity." How do you
rediscover it, I ask. "You have to be happy," he responds, "and what we do
is, we make love."


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