To hear them tell it, some operatic sopranos seem destined for stardom from their first breath. So it comes as no surprise when Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu declares over the phone, “I never chose to be a singer. Nobody chose me to be a singer. My voice chose me to be a singer.”
From the age of 6, when she sang her first song, Brahms’ Lullaby, the diva’s voice had a unique operatic quality. From that moment on, she says, “It was absolutely clear to everybody that I was supposed to sing.”
Gheorghiu, who sings a recital in Berkeley on Saturday co-presented by the San Francisco Opera, began her first important singing lessons at age 14.
Two years later, long before she had heard recordings of the repertoire she was studying, she began performing with orchestras. By age 17, she had appeared on TV. Three years later, she sang for Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.
“I remember that in Bucharest, there was no important performance without Angela,” she proclaims. “I was on the stage all the time. I was always thinking about repertoire and my next dress, because my mother made all my dresses during that period.”
During her last year of vocal training, Gheorghiu had but one goal: to audition in the theater of her dreams. “I never wanted to audition in another theater,” she says. “So I made my audition at London’s Royal Opera House Covent Garden, and voila!”
The role she sang for her 1992 Covent Garden début, Mimi in Puccini’s “La Boheme,” was soon reprised at the Metropolitan Opera. She finally brings Mimi to San Francisco Opera in November.
Much sooner, she opens the Cal Performances season Saturday with a special concert. Gheorghiu joins the SFO orchestra conducted by Marco Armiliato to perform a program rich in classical Italian songs and arias. The first half intersperses song with arias from Puccini’s “La Rondine” and “Madama Butterfly,” plus “Pace, pace, mio Dio” from Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino.” The second half includes works by Cuba’s Lecuona, France’s Delibes, Romania’s Grigoriu and several Italian composers.
“All the repertoire is my fault,” she says with laughter, “because I chose it. It’s what I want to share because I like it, and I hope you like it.
“I go onstage because I want to be admired. I want you to like me in each detail: in my sound, in my movements in my repertoire — everything. From the gift I received, I studied and worked so much. But I need the audience. I want to share emotions. Otherwise you can just play a CD at home.”
If You Go
Where: Zellerbach Hall, Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way, UC Berkeley campus
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $35 to $100
Contact: (510) 642-9988; www.calperformances.org