As any Opera fan knows, when a recording is dismissed by the critics, on the whole that means there's many artistic qualities in it. In fact, many recordings that are now considered legendary versions were considered insufficient when they were first released. The same way the legendary Maria Callas suffered from lots of critics during all her career and even after her death, Angela Gheorghiu has nowadays suffered from the over-exigency of her listeners and the malice of her critics. As for this long-expected album, there are lots of artistic and emotional qualities in it and, unfortunately, some disturbing imperfections one should know.
Angela Gheorghiu sings wonderfully here. She's using all the power and versatility of her voice in order to sing some of the most complex heroines ever. Curiously, as we listen to the whole album, it's clear the real highlights of it aren't the worldly famous arias from Madama Butterfly or La Bohème, but the less famous and equally poignant ones. Gheorghiu sings the first aria from Edgar (''Addio, mio dolce amor'') with both gentleness and intensity and, as for her vocal performance, it's impossible to resist to her tearful rounded voice. The second aria from Edgar (''Nel villaggio d'Edgar'') is the most impressive of all arias in the album. First, because it's a big surprise that such an enchanting aria is so rarely recorded; second, because Gheorghiu shows the all the qualities that made her one of the leading sopranos of our times: her steady and dark-coloured middle, her floating pianissimi and her magnificent technique, which allows her to sing wonderful trills. Other extremely beautiful performances the arias from Manon Lescaut, Suor Angelica, Le Villi e Madama Butterfly.
After listening to every tracks lots of times, I could find only two minor drawbacks in Gheorghiu's singing. In the last two years, she has tended to sing the lower notes as if they were spoken, which can either convey more dramaticism or disturb the purity of the vocal line. Besides, I've noticed that her former sweet and crystalline high notes are turning into a more powerful and metallic sound... and also with more vibrato. Maybe that's just the case of a lyric soprano who's turning into a spinto, but I really think she should protect her precious high range.
Angela Gheorghiu, being the most complete singer actress of our days, has a complete idea of how to use the words and the melody to dramatic effect. Her dramaticism isn't screamy or exaggerated at all. Actually, it's subtle and naïve, but nevertheless powerful and impressive. Of course, in an album of excerpted arias she doesn't have the opportunity to give deep dramatic insights to each role. However, if her interpretations are always involved in a deep feminineness and innocence, she's able to express completely different personalities. After all, the icy Turandot, the tragic Cio-Cio-San, the naïve Mimì, all of them are, above all, passionate women. Her most complete characterizations are revealed in the despair of Manon Lescaut's aria (''Sola, perduta, abbandonata'') and in the Heavenly sadness of Angelica's ''Senza mamma''. Her lyric tragic temperament, as well as her dark lyric voice, suits the (apparently) fragile heroines (Mimì, Cio-Cio-San, Liù, Angelica, etc.) better than the fiery roles (Turandot and Minnie) or the sexy ones (Musetta). However, being a true artist, Gheorghiu's performances of both Turandot's and Minnie's arias are not only beautifully sung, but also dramatically effective, though one can easily notice she's not the ideal performer of those roles.
So, what can I say about the conducting? Well, here the conductor seemed as he was against, and not for, the singer. Conductor Anton Coppola preferred the slow tempos in almost every arias, and that sometimes can be disturbing. In the slow arias, like ''Addio, mio dolce amor'' or ''In quelle trine morbide'', everything's right. However, in the faster parts, which requires a lively conducting in order to deliver all the details of the melody, the conducting is so slow, and even monotone, that some wonderful melodies simply don't exist. Fortunately, most of times, Gheorghiu manages to use her voice and dramatic inflections, recovering the subtle details of Puccini's music.
In overall, I recommend this vocally amazing album not only for fans of Angela Gheorghiu, but also for everyone who loves the music of Puccini and wants to know Gheorghiu's artistry. No doubt it has some drawbacks, but there's so much wonderful singing and so many moving interpretations you will listen it only with your heart!