Arias for Anna de Amicis
‘De Amicis sings beyond comparison’ was the 14 year-old Mozart’s verdict on the Neapolitan soprano for whom, two years later, he wrote the plum role of Giunia in Lucio Silla. At the height of her fame around 1770, she dazzled Europe with her vocal agility and (to quote Metastasio) the ‘fire, boldness and frankness’ of her acting, in an age when singers were largely left to fend for themselves on stage.
In her recital tribute to Anna De Amicis, the young Romanian soprano Teodora Gheorghiu (no relation to Angela) certainly has the requisite glittering coloratura technique. In accompanied recitatives, especially those for Giunia – surely a candidate for 18th-century opera’s most put-upon prima donna – Gheorghiu hints at the fiery temperament for which her predecessor was famed. Yet while her singing of the arias is always accomplished, I don’t detect any urgent individual response to the plight of these assorted heroines in extremis.
You can hardly blame Gheorghiu for sounding other than vapid in an aria by the deservedly obscure Pasquale Cafaro. With its inanely repeated patterns, this is just the kind of music Mozart gleefully parodied in A Musical Joke. But elsewhere, amid volleys of vertiginous scales and arpeggios, she misses too many opportunities for specific characterisation. More pungent Italian consonants and more intensity in her tone would have worked wonders, especially when the music seems too cheerful for the desperate situations: say, in the aria from Jommelli’s Armida abbandonata and in Giunia’s ‘Ah se il crudel’, where she barely suggests the character’s horror and fear. I wish, too, that Gheorghiu had veiled her natural brightness in Giunia’s sombre, minor-key ‘Fra pensier’ and at the opening of her ‘Dalla sponde’, where her lowest notes barely register and (an intermittent problem here) her intonation is suspect. Les Talens Lyriques provide decent enough support, though the repeated-note bass-lines ubiquitous in music around 1770 can chug predictably, with even stressing of the bar-lines. In sum, a recital of mixed pleasures, longer on virtuoso brilliance than on imagination and involvement.