Two operatic superstars, tenor Vittorio Grigolo and soprano Angela Gheorghiu, returned to the Broad Stage in Santa Monica on Tuesday for a recital of arias and duets by Bizet, Gounod, Donizetti, Puccini and Bernstein. It marked Grigolo's sixth appearance at the venue and Gheorghiu's fourth.
The Broad is an intimate space, close to ideal for vocal recitals. The quality of the pickup orchestras for these recitals can vary, but a buoyant sense of spontaneity often rules.
That was certainly the case with Grigolo, Gheorghiu and the orchestra, ably led by Eugene Kohn, a longtime collaborator with Plácido Domingo. It helped that both singers are natural stage animals, full of energy and reliably in the moment.
Gheorghiu made us forget about age (she's 11 years older than Grigolo) in the Act IV duet "Va! Je t'ai pardonné. Nuit d'hyménée" from Gounod's "Roméo et Juiliette." Yes, these were supposed to be star-crossed adolescent lovers, but after the two kissed, Gheorghiu, subdued and seductive, sang, "your voice ravishes my senses," and we believed her.
Grigolo is fresh from triumphs this season as Mario in Puccini's "Tosca" and Edgardo in Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He can be a bit of a ham, known for his feral intensity but also for a sometimes-over-the-top impetuosity. Yet Grigolo proved once again that he's a terrific actor who can use his effortlessly resonant voice to powerful effect.
In Donizetti's duet "Caro elisir! Sei mio! … Esulti pur la barbara" from "L'Elisir d'Amore," Grigolo swaggered in holding a bottle of the elixir (he clearly loves props), took his jacket off and, in a wonderfully uninhibited comic performance, even sang briefly while sitting on the stage.
After intermission, Gheorghiu delivered a beautifully controlled and affecting "In quelle trine morbide" from Puccini's "Manon Lescaut." And "Mario, Mario, Mario … Non la sospiri … Mia gelosa" from Puccini's "Tosca" highlighted the pair's charisma. One bit of delightful stage business had Grigolo handing her a bunch of wet flowers, which Gheorghiu dabbed like perfume.
For two Broadway selections, the singers used microphones, which seemed unnecessary and distracting. Grigolo's voice was a bit boomy at the start of "Maria" from Bernstein's "West Side Story," which he sang with just the right amount of operatic weight. His voice smoothed out in the song's lovely concluding sustained tones. Joining Grigolo, Gheorghiu sang "Tonight" in a more operatically stylized way, but it was pleasant enough.
Audience responses to the pair remained largely muted, but after a decent ovation for Gheorghiu's first encore, a tenderly shaped account of Romanian Tiberiu Brediceanu's "Doina stancutei" from "La Seceris," Grigolo obviously thought we needed a wake-up call. He powered his way through "Di quella pira" from Verdi's "Il Trovatore," ending on a high note electrifying enough to generate two more encores: Gheorghiu's tenderly shaped "O mio babbino caro" from "Gianni Schicchi," and, with Grigolo, Consuelo Valázquez's love song "Bésame Mucho."
Unexpectedly, they concluded with "Happy Birthday," sung to Jamie Rigler, a major benefactor of vocal artists at the Broad.