The day I learned that EMI was putting out a disc with my name on it came hardly as a surprise: they do it all the time. What came as a surprise, however, was the knowledge that my name was going to be placed underneath someone else's. I never imagined such an outright violation of "decency" laws would occur in my other life. I, who topbilled every opera I ever appeared in, was not going to take this one sitting down! What's worse, the name that hovers directly above mine is the very name that has shamelessly capitalized on my fame more than any other soprano, living or dead. The impostor's name is none other than the so-called "definitive diva of the 21st-century": Angela Gheorghiu. A pretty enough name, yes, but you have to admit it lacks the familiar ring and alluring nuance of mine. Further, it's not even her own name: it's her ex-husband's. No, dear, not the fellow who stormed off the stage, but her first husband's name. Really, I have no problem at all with her name or in her dubious choice of men. The one thing that sent my blood pressure rising into the rafters was when I actually received the CD in the mail the other day.
While I'm flattered beyond words to be hyped and celebrated in such a way, what burns me is that Gheorghiu does it horrendously. From the first track to the last, she is downright imitating my style, my voice, my personality in the worst possible manner. It isn't even campy: it's worse than mere camp. It's one thing to do an "homage," it's another story entirely when someone does an utterly tasteless imitation of the person one is giving an homage to. I must admit that she does an admirable job of selling herself—her breasts appear to get bigger and BIGGER every time I see her on T.V.—but she is not an artist in the truest sense of that frequently misused and misapplied of words. For one, true artists never imitate. They may, on occasion, show up late for rehearsals or not show up at all, but they never—and I include myself among this elite group of artists—imitate someone else's vocal style or mannerisms. As for her choice of repertoire: well, it seems to me that when choosing prospective arias to include on the CD, she simply roamed around my vastly opulent garden of a discography and plucked the ones she liked without examining the roots to see if they had anything whatsoever to do with me. I mean, hello, I never even sang Dalila on stage, nor have I made something out of Carmen. I sang Adriana, Mimi, and La Wally on record (and a few times on stage) but these roles never became my signature roles. "Homage" my foot! What was she thinking?! To be perfectly blunt, her voice in the atrocious "Carmen" track, the one where she "duets" with me, is just about the single worst thing I've ever heard in my entire life—and believe me, I've heard my share of atrocities over the years. Listening to it gave me nightmares for several nights. Whoever had the idea of merging our voices into an incohesive duet ought to be fired immediately. (A trusted source tells me that it was not one of those stuffy British EMI executives as I had originally suspected but Gheorghiu herself who broached the monstrous idea.) Pairing our voices together was a proposition as disastrous and ill-advised as Mrs. Kennedy's Grecian nuptials! It just made me sick in disgust. Oh, don't get my blood pressure rising again by mentioning her absolute train wreck of a "Sempre libera". I thought it would never end: all that screeching and howling and barking. She sounds as if her Violetta is about ready to expire right then and there, doing so without fornicating with the sexy Alfredo of one James Valenti. Oh, the sheer horror of it all. Don't get La Divina wrong, I think Gheorghiu a fine artist, but only when she becomes herself. Her silly little tribute to my artistic legacy is nothing more than a clever plot to further her career by selling a few million records. Nothing less, nothing more. But then what can one expect from a self-centered, self-righteous, and self-promoting diva that is Angela Gheorghiu?
Clearly I am a delinquent. In that I haven't written down a single word about the current Lyric Opera of Chicago season which began some nine or ten weeks ago—practically a lifetime in the world of opera blogging. Whatever the reason(s) may be for my hiatus now seems irrelevant to rehash, for the one crucial thing required of people who intend to "move forward" is to bravely let go of the past and all its excess baggage—let's leave it at that. I will, however, revisit a most memorable performance that I was fortunate enough (really fortunate!) to have witnessed at Lyric this autumn. It made me forget the frustratingly dismal Lucia I saw earlier in the season with Giuseppe Filianoti, as well as a tedious Hoffmann with Matthew Polenzani. That performance was Ariadne auf Naxos, with Amber Wagner in the title role (replacing Deborah Voigt), Anna Christy as Zerbinetta, Alice Coote as the Composer, and Brandon Jovanovich as Bacchus. The production was very Gilbert and Sullivan. The singing, on the other hand, was not. Soprano Wagner, making her Lyric début, was a revelation. A consummate performer, her voice swirled and flowed in the air like French chiffon, majestically and technically secure in all registers. Her soprano soared thrillingly across a flawless Straussian sky. Coote was just as impressive, as was Christy's stratospheric Zerbinetta. Jovanovich was a vocally and visually arresting Bacchus. Like Voigt, the scheduled Ariadne, conductor Andrew Davis has never excelled in Italian operas, but his Ariadne was a sheer delight from beginning to end, as the music of Richard Strauss should be.