Angela Gheorghiu, draped in red taffeta with raven hair tumbling down one shoulder, treats a handful of journalists to a Puccini aria.
The Romanian-born diva is in London promoting a season of Royal Opera House filmed performances, three starring herself. After her media-only recital in a Covent Garden ballet studio, the diva, who has been known to cancel performances and miss rehearsals, tells the master of ceremonies that she constantly needs rest, and “that’s why sometimes I’m a bad girl.”
Moments later, Gheorghiu appears at a champagne reception in borrowed diamonds and more Vivienne Westwood couture, this time a sequined white corset dress. With the TV camera rolling, she defends the cinema venture, though it may shrink her audience.
“I believe in cameras and microphones, and I believe in everything recorded, because this is the only way to leave a testimony, for an interpreter,” says the diva, pursing her lips to even out the gloss. “The most sensual, the most powerful and the most sexy instrument in the world is the human voice.”
The Royal Opera House is striving to build up opera and ballet audiences by piping 10 productions, five of them live, into some 700 movie theaters worldwide. The season opener was last night’s live broadcast of Gounod’s “Faust,” with Gheorghiu. Her recorded performances of “Adriana Lecouvreur” and “Tosca” are set for October and November, respectively.
Gheorghiu sees the venture as a way to educate audiences: make them aware that not all voices are equal.
“People must know that in the opera house we are not using microphones,” she notes. “It’s acoustic sound from the choir, from the singers and from the orchestra -- real, not-playback, not-overdone sound.”
“Imagine in a stadium a concert with the Rolling Stones. They have a big sound. But you know why? Because they are plugged in!” she says with a laugh.
“If you do this, no sound!” she cheers, making a dramatic unplugging gesture. “In opera, we don’t need that.”
The cinema link is also a way to raise the profile. “It’s a new step to have, all over the world, people looking at opera singers,” she says. “We are like everybody. We want to be admired. I really want to make you understand what I’m doing after years of study and work.”
Is opera as an art form thriving or dying?
“Starting with me, living! Long live opera!” she says with another laugh. “Thousands of people are interested in our work. We are speaking about music that was not composed yesterday. We are still here. Classical music is forever.”
Gheorghiu -- who says she shares Tosca’s profession as singer but not her tragic destiny -- seems, like Puccini’s heroine, to live for art. “I like life, I like love. I’m in love with music and art. I’m a real woman who is enjoying everything that’s nice and tasteful and also with a lot of spirit.”
The 46-year-old diva, who had a public falling out with her tenor husband Roberto Alagna earlier this decade, is happily back with him. As she told London’s Daily Express in March, she dreams of relaxing at home with Alagna and finally getting pets. She wants a dog, and he wants three horses.
At the cinema launch she offers few glimpses of her life off stage, listing only “rest” as a priority. Pets are not mentioned. As for sports, she did athletics in school, and it’s helped her breathing. “The rest is my private life,” she says with a smile, “and I think it will remain private.”
So the conversation ends with a mix of the public and the private: She and Alagna will be reunited on stage at the Royal Opera House next year, performing “La Boheme.”
“I made with Roberto my debut here at Covent Garden in 1992, and next year it will be our anniversary of 20 years in the same performance,” says Gheorghiu. “So I’m glad to sing with Roberto again, here in the opera house.”