Alagna, Roberto, and Gheorghiu, Angela

▪ 1997

       In 1996 French-born tenor Roberto Alagna and Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu created their own personal operatic libretto with a highly publicized romance that resulted in marriage in May. The pair first met in 1992 while appearing opposite each other as Rodolfo and Mimi in Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, London, and they fell in love two years later while Gheorghiu sang the role of Violetta in Sir Georg Solti's 1994 production of Giuseppe Verdi's La traviata at Covent Garden.

      Alagna was born to Sicilian parents in a suburb of Paris on June 7, 1963, and was discovered while he was singing for tips in a Paris pizzeria. Although he was mostly self-taught, his first audition in 1988 resulted in the tenor lead as Alfredo in Glyndebourne's touring production of La traviata. Alagna went on to enter the 1988 Luciano Pavarotti International Competition and won. In 1990 he reprised the role of Alfredo for La Scala in Milan. He overcame personal tragedy to sing a highly acclaimed Romeo in the Royal Opera's 1994 production of Charles Gounod's Roméo et Juliette only a few weeks after his wife succumbed to a brain tumour, leaving him with a four-year-old daughter.

      While Alagna was considered a consummate performer, with a strong physical stage presence, some critics questioned whether he was overstraining his voice, especially since he had had no formal training. As the first genuine lyric tenor to appear in many years, however, Alagna was continually hailed as the "fourth tenor." He shrugged off all comparisons to the famed trio of Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and José Carreras, claiming he wanted to establish his own style.

      Gheorghiu, two years Alagna's junior, had a much more traditional background. She was born in Adjud, Rom., where her father worked for the railroad. Gheorghiu realized her love for singing early and was supported by her family in her desire for a career in opera. She left home at age 14 to study at the Academy of Music in Bucharest and made her debut in 1992 as Zerlina in Mozart's Don Giovanni at Covent Garden. Gheorghiu, an elegant and compelling artist, was praised in London as one of the great Violettas. Her performance in La Bohème for the New York City Metropolitan Opera in early 1996—a production that marked the U.S. debut for both her and Alagna—was described as "ideal." Like Alagna, she did not work with a teacher, subscribing to their shared philosophy of self-reliance. Gheorghiu had less pressure on her than Alagna, but she did not welcome the comparisons to Maria Callas, preferring to be recognized for her own voice.

      Aggressive marketing, combined with the talented duo's fairy-tale romance, brought them increased attention. Alagna and Gheorghiu were booked jointly for the next few years with recording studios and opera houses throughout the world, and the hope—especially for Alagna—was that they would continue to plan wisely for long and rewarding careers. (AMANDA E. FULLER)

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Universalium. 2010.

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