The title of Angela Gheorghiu’s first studio album for six years may be Eternamente – “eternally” – but the truth is that most things don’t last forever, voices especially. At 52, Gheorghiu has lost the soft, velvet-and-steel brilliance of her early years, but not yet found quite what to do with what remains. Her solution – to lower the tessitura and spread the weight more thickly – isn’t a happy one, as this erratic collection demonstrates.
The disc opens with three of the weakest tracks. Santuzza feels a stretch, even for a soprano with a natural darkness to her tone, and both the Easter Hymn and Voi lo sapete, o mamma have a querulous, quavering intensity that seems like an attempt to compensate for a lack of meat on their musical bones. Tu qui, Santuzza? (apparently recorded at a distance of both date and time from Joseph Calleja’s Turiddu) lacks spark, with Gheorghiu sounding more like his auntie than his lover.
A grainy Vissi d’arte raises cruel comparisons with Gheorghiu’s earlier self, and Gioconda’s Suicidio is overworked and underfed tonally as Gheorghiu strives to fill the emotional void left by the flabby playing of the Prague Philharmonia under Emmanuel Villaume. Best are the lesser-known lollipops – Mascheroni’s swooning Eternamente and Refice’s indulgent Ombra di nube, but it’s still not enough to even the scales. By the end of this effortful slog through the highways and byways of verismo it feels like this album has been going on, well, eternamente.