So apparently this what I do on weekends. I go to the Eastern Suburbs to watch Ramon Vargas watch Angela Gheorghiu die.
With the headband and her hair out in Act Two, she even looks like Veronica Lodge. If she's Veronica then maybe that makes me a weird amalgam of Betty and Archie. As aware of her dangers as the former, as blissfully able to ignore them as the latter. No, that's going an inch or two too far. Angela hasn't completely consumed me and I don't believe she ever will. Nevertheless, she has bewitched, bothered and bewildered me more thoroughly than I thought likely — actually, before last weekend's Bohème, I didn't think she could do those things to me at all. That, to my surprise, has flown out the window and now her Violetta has stopped it, for the moment, from climbing back in.
There is so much baggage and back story with Angela. It is impossible to approach her with total innocence. I've spent years forming opinions of her that are only half related to her musical significance. And I'm not about to apologise for that, or try and back track. Very little that I have seen, heard or read of Offstage Angela has caused me to like her. Even during the Met Bohème moviecast, when I was enchanted by Onstage Angela, her non singing persona did not attract me. But rumour breeds rumour, misperception breeds misperception; we have to assume that some of the negativity is baseless. At the same time, I think it's clear that some, at least, is not. She hasn't the ebullient sweetness of Renée or the generous, immediate likeability of Glorious Joyce. Neither, I imagine, is she completely blackhearted. Is she likeable at all, though? I don't know. Do I like her? I don't know, and it depends what you mean. Incorporating all that baggage and back story, adding my own observations of her backstage antics during that Bohème broadcast and the hard-to-articulate impressions of her during this afternoon's La traviata — I don't think so.
But what if everything extra were cleared away? If I had never heard even the briefest mention of this Angela Gheorghiu until the opening credits today, had never seen her or heard her sing until her "Flora, amici", then maybe I'd write something like:
I've just seen this soprano sing Violetta at La Scala and she was captivating. Not perhaps the most aurally luscious Violetta of my life, better suited to the long lines of Act Three than the froth and coloratura of Act One but that's alright. And I'm nitpicking because her singing, whatever else it was, was always interesting. Her acting varied between devastatingly detailed and offputtingly melodramatic but there was a certain something in her stage presence which encompassed both these extremes, allowed her to flow from one to another without losing her magnetism. Occasionally she was completely over the top — has anyone ever made the "aaar" in "E tardi" so very very very long? But then in other moments — Dio mio, she was exquisite. Had I been in a different mood, had I had reason not to like her, I suspect finding fault would be easy. But I was in the mood I was, and I was happy to enjoy whatever kind of Violetta — and whatever kind of Verdi — she felt inclined to throw my way.
Well what do you know, I've gone and written it anyway. She divides me in two. Good twin, bad twin; rational awareness, irrational besottedness. One the one hand — you can practically see her drawing lifeforce from applause, which is a little disturbing. "Sempre libera" really did seem to tax her and I had the impression she was pushing and pulling tempi all over the place. Violetta's illusory "rebirth" just before she died was appallingly overacted. And on the other — I don't care, I don't care, I don't care.
This was what it was. Angela is what she is, like her or hate her, pursue her or run a mile. And I? I fall into both categories simultaneously, or else I'm somewhere in the middle, toss'd like a ship in a Vivaldi aria. About the rest of world and time, I've no idea and I'm not about to go making rash declarations of anything. All I can tell you is that for the duration of this Traviata, Angela entrapped me. And I knew it, and I loved it.