Opera singer Angela Gheorghiu on Puccini and her new album

Eva Mackevic

BY Eva Mackevic

15th Jan 2024 Music

5 min read

Opera singer Angela Gheorghiu on Puccini and her new album
One of the world’s greatest opera stars, Angela Gheorghiu, talks Puccini, biopics and the intricacies of her work, ahead of the release of her long-awaited Puccini album
Reader’s Digest:  A te, Puccini  is a tribute to the composer, featuring lesser-known songs, some of which inspired his famous operas. Can you share the background of the album and how it came about? 
Angela Gheorghiu: I already performed a few of Puccini's songs in my recitals before, and I started to discover he had composed many other songs for voice and piano, during his whole life. So the idea for this album came about, because I always had a soft spot for Puccini since the beginning of my career. I think the album is a treat for music lovers and also a new opportunity for audiences to listen to his lesser-known works.
RD: With the world premiere recording of “Melanconia”, a piece with no established performance tradition, how did you approach interpreting it? Were there unique challenges or joys in presenting a piece with a clean slate? 
AG: I approached “Melanconia” similar to how I approach every new score, but with the additional responsibility that I have to convey everything that Puccini wanted to transmit, at the highest level, from the very first take.
It is a thought I always have when performing: what did the composer want to transmit? The challenge for this song were the words (text by Antonio Ghislanzoni), because it is an extremely sad, even morbid song, but a beautiful composition. 
RD:  The album includes songs composed by Puccini when he was as young as 16. Drawing a parallel, your opera career started early. How do you relate to expressing oneself through art at a young age, and how has your artistic voice evolved? 
AG: I am very fortunate that my voice did not change too much, and my vocal timbre has always been very distinctive. When I was young I was already very aware of my voice and of what I can do with it, so I never changed anything about breathing, technique, linea di canto etc.
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Over the years, the voice becomes a bit more mature, just like our bodies, it is a physiological process. The spirit does not change too much and I live everything that I perform at the same intensity. Each month when I was a student, I learned a new aria and new song, in many languages. Very few singers can sing both styles for an entire career. You need a very flexible and pure voice because the voice is accompanied only by piano. My voice is my life.  
RD:  Reprising the role of Mimì in La Bohème  at the ROH, what is it like returning to this role repeatedly, and how has your interpretation evolved over the years? 
AG: I adore Mimì, it is a role anybody can relate to to this day and this is the beauty of it. We were all young, maybe with money struggles, but very happy with our friends and in love, just like in La bohème.
"It's always a pleasure to perform this role"
My interpretation did not change too much, as I said before: I have the exact same spirit, my inner self is the same. It's always a pleasure to perform this role. It will be of course in the new production, which l am very curious to discover. 
RD: How do you adapt to the changing nuances of your instrument in different performances and venues?  
AG: I was born with this great and natural gift, my instrument is my voice and I have always taken good care of it and continue to do so. I don't change anything about my voice, I always sing the same, whether it is in a 4,000 seat venue or a smaller one, whether it is in an acoustic venue, with no amplification, or in an open air stadium, with microphones. l am always the same with my soul, intensity and body.
I am the same also when I am recording in front of the microphone, for a new album. If I would start doing artificialities, I would not be myself, so I never change anything.  
RD: While there have been occasional comparisons between you and Maria Callas, your unique style stands on its own. With an upcoming Angelina Jolie production centred around Callas, what are your thoughts on the portrayal of opera legends in mainstream media, and how do you navigate the occasional comparisons that arise in the world of opera? 
AG: I never liked comparisons, I often think it's wrong and it can also show the lack of understanding of art of those writing these comparisons. Maria for sure felt the same. Every artist is unique in their own way. During my artistic life, I never tried to copy anyone. l was already an opera singer before listening to recordings.
"One of the keys of succeeding in the opera world is originality"
My very first was a Romanian LP with La Traviata with Virginia Zeani. Later I always listened to everybody, to see how they resolve a certain musical fragment, but I always perform my way. One of the keys of succeeding in the opera world is originality. I prefer to be original, even if I am wrong. And we should never forget: music, like any type of art form, is subjective, because we are people with different preferences and tastes. I will tell you my opinion about Angelina playing Maria after l see the movie.
RD: Who would play you in a film about your life?  
AG: I am not sure. If anybody will be playing me in a film, I would like to still be alive so that I can pass on to the actress playing me everything about my personality and my artistry. I would not like being portrayed in a way that is far from reality.
RD: Looking ahead to 2024, do you have any personal goals or aspirations, either professionally or personally?
AG: I am looking forward to 2024, continuing to perform around the world. I am not blasé or jaded, I am living everything like for the first time and get excited about everything even if I've seen it for a thousand times.
RD: What's  your favourite part of your job these days, and how do you find relaxation amid a demanding career?
AG: I like everything about what I do, of where I go, of the audiences I meet. The greatest satisfaction is seeing the audience emotional after my performances, and of meeting them, sometimes after they have waited for a long time, sometimes even in the cold, just to give me an honest compliment. I believe there's nothing more gratifying.
I find relaxation in movies (I am a real cinema lover), in books and in being with my family. 
RD:  Is there a particular opera role that you haven't performed yet but dream of taking on in the future?
AG: It would probably be Puccini's Manon Lescaut or Giordano's Fedora, which I only recorded. I searched for different opportunities, but there always was something that did not work, whether a dull, ridiculous production or an unsuitable cast. For Fedora I keep hearing that the title would not sell, which is wrong, because the leading artists are the ones that sell, not the director, not anybody else.  
Angela Gheorghiu’s album A te, Puccini is available on CD and vinyl as well as to stream and download from January 26 on the Signum Classics label and she will reprise the role of Mimì in Puccini’s La bohème at the Royal Opera House in London from January 25 to February 11 2024. 
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