Alagna, Gheorghiu ring in the new year at the Met
By VERENA DOBNIK,Associated Press Writer AP - 2 hours 50 minutes ago
NEW YORK - At the end of Giacomo Puccini's "La Rondine," an enamored woman jilts her ardent but poor lover, saying she can't give up her old life as a rich man's mistress.
And, she says, she doesn't want to financially ruin her soulmate.
But on New Year's Eve, after the Metropolitan Opera's gold curtain fell, there was a second ending: The two lovers went off together into the Manhattan night.
The stars of the company's first production of Puccini's work since 1936 were soprano Angela Gheorghiu and tenor Roberto Alagna _ married in real life.
"We can say to the audience, 'OK, they will be separated in the story, but not in real life!" Alagna said in a backstage interview.
"And we can go to the New Year's party together!" added Gheorghiu.
The musical power couple has fertilized opera's overripe gossip world over the years _ most recently in 2007, when Gheorghiu was fired from Chicago's Lyric Opera for missing rehearsals, saying she wanted to support her husband during his Met appearances. Months earlier, he had a dustup with Milan's Teatro alla Scala after walking out of a performance of "Aida" because some fickle audience members booed.
But there's no doubt that the two, who first met 16 years ago on the stage of London's Covent Garden, share a vocal synchronicity and an emotional electricity that keeps an international audience riveted.
They proved it Wednesday in a performance of "La Rondine" that would be difficult to match _ singing with ravishing, tender voices and onstage intimacy they say is not feigned. Their 1997 recording of Puccini's work is considered the best by many critics.
Alagna and Gheorghiu were married at the Met in 1996 by then New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
On Wednesday evening, their love story again spilled onto the stage.
First, she appears at a party as a worldly Parisian woman, Magda, who questions her existence with a wealthy older man while reminiscing about a brief youthful infatuation with a handsome stranger at a dance hall. She barely notices one party guest, a newcomer from the countryside named Ruggero _ Alagna.
Reading Magda's future in her palm, a poet friend tells her she will someday fly off like a swallow in search of a new true love _ hence, "La Rondine," meaning swallow in Italian.
In this first scene, Gheorghiu sings the opera's most famous aria, "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" (Doretta's Dream Song) _ a fictional woman's dreamy longing for love lost summed up in two falling intervals: a perfect fifth followed by a tritone. Gheorghiu's soaring, gem-like phrases created some magical moments of music.
Magda returns alone to the dance hall, where she by chance encounters Ruggero. They fall in love and she abandons her role of pampered mistress.
This second act at Bullier's dance hall matched the evening, with an oversized mirror ball dangling from the ceiling as Alagna's thrilling upper register opened up for the love duet. Ruggero invites Magda to dance to the strains of "Nella dolce carezza della danza" ("In the soft caresses of the dance"), with tenor and soprano singing sensuously in each other's arms as though transported.
Knowing one another as husband and wife doesn't make working together easier, Alagna said.
"The problem is, when you go onstage, you must be surprised," he said. "But we know one another very, very well. I know exactly what gestures she'll make."
Surprise is replaced by a more interesting experience for the audience: the feeling of being allowed to peek, unnoticed, at a couple in love _ at home.
For years, Gheorghiu was more "ashamed" kissing her husband onstage than any colleague, "because the whole world sees my intimacy," she said, adding jokingly, "With a colleague, it's 'Mua, mua, mua _ salut, ciao, arrivederci!'"
For the endless kisses on this New Year's Eve, the Met stage must've been filled with mistletoe.
"La Rondine," premiered in 1917 in Monte Carlo, packs some of opera's most beautiful melodies into just over two hours, along with some complex, modern psychology.
In the final act, the deeply-in-debt lovers are living happily together when Ruggero proposes, sending Magda into an emotional spin. She declares herself unworthy of him because of her tawdry past, and despite his pleas, abandons him for the life to which she's accustomed.
Alagna embodied Ruggero's pain with throbbing heartache, his burnished voice blossoming into Gheorghiu's for the ending.
The pleasure of performing the scene together "is double," said Alagna. "I cry because all of a sudden, at that instant, it's no longer Magda who is leaving _ it's as if Angela was leaving."
The current Met production was first created for them at Covent Garden in 2002, and repeated in 2007 at the San Francisco Opera.
Making his Met debut on Wednesday was Gheorghiu's fellow Romanian Marius Brenciu, whose clarion tenor fit the role of the poet with velvety lyricism.
The veteran bass Samuel Ramey's rich, but now rather wobbly, aging voice was also right for the role of Magda's wealthy lover.
Conductor Marco Armiliato led the orchestra, drawing out Puccini's lilting melodies with elegant effervescence.
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The Metropolitan Opera: http://www.metopera.org
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