Singing with love's sweet harmony

First night: La Traviata Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
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The Independent Culture
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Last week, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman made thousands of teenage hearts beat faster as they smooched in London; and last night, opera's own dream team, Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu, appeared at Covent Garden together for the first time since their much publicised romance and marriage.

"To sing love duets with the person you love is magnifique," said Alagna before the performance in a line that marketing departments fantasise about.

Throw in the fact that both are young and attractive, that Alagna has been described as "the fourth tenor" and that Gheorghiu is one of the most acclaimed new sopranos, and this was a very hot ticket indeed.

Theirs was not quite the Romeo and Juliet-style story it has been painted. They were married to other people when they met four years ago in La Boheme at Covent Garden. Alagna's wife tragically died of a brain tumour two years ago, leaving him with a young daughter, and Gheorgiu divorced her Romanian husband.

But their memories of those rehearsals four years ago added to the anticipation of seeing them on stage last night.

Alagna, 32, born in France of Sicilian parents, recalled: "In my mind - because of the sound I was hearing - she had to be fat. I certainly didn't expect her to be beautiful ... It was love at first sight. As I took Angela's hand in mine, I felt an actual shock ... [After that] I felt so jealous each time I'd read that she was singing with someone else."

Gheorghiu recalled that "when he burst into the rehearsal room at Covent Garden, the atmosphere changed. It was so exciting. Like electricity".

In the poignant and tragic love story of La Traviata, it would be hard not to generate any romantic sparks. However, undoubtedly this pairing did exude an acute tenderness in their scenes together.

Alagna's tenor voice is not yet in the class of the big three, yet it is compelling. But it was Gheorghiu as the consumptive Violetta in this Richard Eyre production, which made her a star two years ago, who once again triumphed. This was a performance both assured and controlled while teetering on the edge of emotional turmoil, accompanied by singing which drew gasps from the audience.

The "fourth tenor" showed his delight at the curtain calls, the triumph being enjoyed by his bride of two months. He did not mind being eclipsed - Greater love hath no opera singer.