Even if you want to avoid the word “diva,” the word inevitably attaches itself to Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu.
True, she began her recital Sunday at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica with dainty, demure 18th-century warm-ups. But soon enough, the dark-toned singing-actress came into her theatrical own, and toward the end of the two-part program she was revelatory both in introducing songs from her homeland and releasing inner fire, with occasional sly hip-swags, witty laughter and even a slink-around the onstage Steinway grand.
Everyone went wild, and it was hard to keep track of the number of bouquets laid at her feet.
The first part began modestly, with Gheorghiu wearing an elegant purple and black gown that was matched in color in the dim stage lighting. Rameau’s “The Cricket” and Martini’s “Plaisir d’amour” cleared the diva throat of a little raspy edginess, as she expertly judged the measure of the intimate Broad theater. With Bizet, Fauré and Debussy, she grew more ardent; with Rachmaninoff, more expansive. She floated long lines and ended in hovering, disappearing pianissimos.
But the best came in the second half, with the stage more brightly lighted, Gheorghiu in a stylish, close-fitting black gown, and repertory less familiar to many ears.
Romanian poets and composers, it turns out, are as hapless in love as anyone, and Gheorghiu traced their unrequited or lost affection with degrees of yearning, regret, despair and cold acceptance.
But songs by Tiberiu Brediceanu proved the most wonderful. “Who Hears Me Singing” might be a Gheorghiu Credo, bewitching, thoughtful, alluring, surprising. His “Bade, for Your Eyes” allowed her to subtly convey a woman ready to risk all for love. On the other hand, Gheorghe Stefanescu’s “Mandrulita From the Mountains” was a sexy come-on song.
Pianist Jeffrey Cohen proved a sympathetic, affectionate collaborator, and on his own offered thoughtful Chopin (Nocturne No. 20) and virile Bartók (Romanian Folk Dances).
Gheorghiu sang four encores: Bellini’s “Vaga luna, che inargenti,” Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro,” De Curtis’ “Non ti scordar di me” and Kern and Hammerstein’s “All the Things You Are.”