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Monday, August 22, 2011

Angela Gheorghiu vs. Maria Callas

Technology pits Romanian soprano against La Divina.
"Devo veramente a cantare con lei?"
Maria Callas in Cherubini's Medea.
Photo © EMI Classics/La Scala archive.

Like the late diva Emilia Marty, soprano Angela Gheorghiu has made a bid for immortality with her forthcoming CD release: Homage to Maria Callas.

The disc features the Romanian soprano singing some of Callas' favorite repertory in the verismo genre, including arias from Puccini's La bohème, Catalani's La Wally and "La Mamma Morta", the aria from Giordano's Andrea Chenier made famous in the movie Philadelphia.

But the most controversial addition to the disc is a digitally built duet between La Gheorghiu and the late Maria Callas. The two sopranos, one living, one very dead, will sing "L'amour c'est l'oiseaux rebelle", the Habañera from Act I of Bizet's Carmen.

According to a press release (received today from EMI Classics) the new "duet" was created from the original master tape of Callas' 1961 recording of the aria. The engineers chose this over the '63 recording of the complete opera, because it lacked the usual choral accompaniment.

In the engineering booth, the original orchestra (the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française under the baton of George Prêtre) was scrubbed out. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Marco Armiliato re-recorded the music, with the players using a special click track to match the original. Ms. Gheorghiu also chose to learn Callas' particular sense of rhythm and meter, enabling the two divas to warble together, or seperately.

Leaving aside obvious reservations (the biggest one being that the Habañera is intended for one singer!) the new disc will hit New York's few remaining record shops in October, shortly before Ms. Gheorghiu's scheduled appearance with the Opera Orchestra of New York. In the OONY performance, she will sing the title role in Cilea's Adriana Lecouvrer.

Ms. Gheorghiu has a history of recent cancellations and controversies at the Metropolitan Opera. In an interview this weekend with the Los Angeles Times, conductor Leonard Slatkin blamed the diva for his exit from a disastrous 2009 revival of Verdi's La Traviata.

Earlier this year, the singer dropped out of the company's new production of Faust. Scheduled to sing Marguerite opposite Jonas Kaufmann, Ms. Gheorghiu cited "creative differences" with the new production, which updates the German legend to the 20th centiry and makes Faust into Robert Oppenheimer. Perhaps she will use her free time to prepare another tribute, this time to Catalan soprano Victoria de los Ángeles.

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