Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Angela Gheorghiu Pays Homage to Maria Callas on EMI

Now that the vast majority of operatic recordings made by Maria Callas are in the public domain, EMI Classics needs to figure out how to keep profiting from its #1-selling artist. How do you do that when said artist has been deceased since 1977? Perhaps the answer lies in taking one of the current divas that signed onto your roster in 1998 and create a new tribute album of sorts. That is exactly what the public gets from the latest release from Angela Gheorghiu: Homage to Maria Callas. The soprano is joined by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of conductor Marco Armiliato and the part-time colleague tenor James Valenti for his offstage singing on the Traviata track. The curious part of this project is that Ms. Gheorghiu has always professed that fellow Romanian Virginia Zeani is the soprano she most admires
and practically modeled herself after once deciding to become an opera singer (listen to an audio interview here). Before becoming an exclusive artist with EMI, Ms. Gheorghiu had signed with competitor Decca records. It was for this label that Virginia Zeani herself recorded two full studio albums. One recording was an all-Puccini program of arias from Gianni Schicchi, Turandot, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, La Rondine and more, with conductor Franco Patanè. The second operatic recital with conductor Gianandrea Gavazzeni featured coloratura arias from prime Callas territory including La Traviata, I Puritani, Lucia di Lammermoor, La Bohème and

La Sonnambula. In some ways it may seem that Zeani was Decca's answer to EMI's Callas. Recording repertoire wasn't the only thing they shared. In 1952, conductor Tullio Serafin replaced Maria Callas with Virginia Zeani as Elvira in I Puritani at the Teatro Communale in Florence. The bass that evening was Nicola Rossi Lemeni, future husband to Ms. Zeani. So it seems odd that Decca never took advantage of their exclusive rights to Ms. Gheorghiu when they had her in order to make a dedication album to her homeland heroine. One thing that Ms. Gheorghiu does share with Madame Callas is that this "homage" will feature music that dips into mezzo-soprano repertoire (Samson et Dalila, Le Cid, Carmen), something that the latter began to record once vocal decline began to set in. 2012 will mark the 60th anniversary of Callas joining the EMI family and that just might prompt an increase in sales of her greatest recordings. [Source]
Label Divas: Maria Callas (l) and Virginia Zeani (r) strike similar poses:
"Homage to Maria Callas is a collection of beloved French and Italian operatic masterpieces performed by Angela Gheorghiu, the defining diva of this century. The programme is inspired by the career and recordings of Maria Callas, the greatest diva of the last century. The arias are shared favourites of both Callas and Gheorghiu, and Angela’s new recording demonstrates once again her extraordinary vocal and emotional range. Angela Gheorghiu said recently, 'Callas was original in everything she did; she was a phenomenon. In every performance she gave her all. She was the most wonderful painter and you can always hear exactly the right colour in her voice. Just hearing her sound, you understand all the power or fragility of her emotions. That’s a rare talent and a great gift.' Gheorghiu continued, 'EMI was her record label and it’s mine too. It feels like a family.' Recorded at London’s iconic Abbey Road Studios in London and in New York, the repertoire of Gheorghiu’s first studio recital in six years (during which time she recorded several complete operas, including a multi-award-winning Madama Butterfly), shows her versatility in lyric, spinto and mezzo roles, with each of which she feels a strong emotional connection. These include Mimi (La bohème), Marguerite (Faust), Imogene (Il Pirata), Adriana (Adriana Lecouvreur – an opera which Gheorghiu added to her repertoire in 2010 to great critical acclaim), Maddalena (Andrea Chénier), Nedda (Pagliacci), Wally (La Wally), Medea, Chimène (Le Cid) and Delilah (Samson et Delilah). The new album also includes two arias from the opera that launched her career: La traviata by Verdi, New York Magazine praised at the time that 'Her lady of the camellias is a worthy successor to Garbo and Callas.' [Source]
Did Angela Gheorghiu inadvertently pay tribute to Maria Callas
while still on the Decca label with this 1998 release?

Paul Pelkonen reports, "...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 [sic], 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." [Source]

- Deluxe Edition comprises a CD encased in a hardcover book containing an essay from Angela in three languages, a gallery of glamorous new photos and exclusive access to a video and mini-feature on the making of the CD.
- Standard Edition consists of a CD in a digipack with a booklet excerpting Gheorghiu’s essay. Both Deluxe and Standard editions feature song texts in English, French, German and the original language, if different, as well as booklet text in all three languages.
- Standard Digital Version offers the entire standard CD contents.

RELEASE DATES: USA (9/28),  UK (11/7) and Germany (11/18)
Sample tracks by clicking here.
1. "Donde Lieta Uscì" (Mimì's Farewell): La Bohème, Act Iii
2. "O Dieu! Que De Bijoux" (Jewel Song ): Faust, Act Iii, Scene 6
3. "Col Sorriso D'innocenza": Il Pirata, Act Ii, Scene 3
4. "Qual Fiamma Avea Nel Guardo!...Stridono Lassu": I Pagliacci
5. "Mon Coeur S'ouvre à Ta Voix": Samson Et Dalila
6. "Ebben?...Ne Andrò Lontana": La Wally
7. "L'amour Est Un Oiseau Rebelle" (Habanera): Carmen
8. "La Mamma Morta": Andrea Chénier, Act Iii
9. "Dei Tuoi Figli La Madre": Medea, Act I, Scene 1
10. "De Cet Affreux Combat...Pleurez Mes Yeux": Le Cid
11. "Poveri Fiori": Adriana Lecouvreur
12. "È strano! È strano!...Ah, Fors` è Lui": La Traviata
13. "Follie! Follie!...Sempre Libera": La Traviata - with James Valenti