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Angela Gheorghiu sings at Kennedy Honors ceremony (CBS, Dec 29)

On December 6, 2009, the 32nd annual Kennedy Center Honors ceremony took place in Washington D.C., feting this year’s five honorees: Mel Brooks, Dave Brubeck, Grace Bumbry, Robert De Niro, and Bruce Springsteen.

Eminent artist friends and peers of this year’s five honorees presented entertaining and heartfelt tributes for the special to be broadcast on Tuesday, December 29 (9-11pm, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, with Caroline Kennedy as host for the seventh consecutive year.  The star-studded evening featured speeches and performances highlighting the honorees’ invaluable contributions to American culture.  President and Mrs. Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were also present at the ceremony.

EMI Classics soprano Angela Gheorghiu was tapped to honor legendary opera star Grace Bumbry in a touching segment that included multiple Grammy Award-winner and 1994 Kennedy Center honoree Aretha Franklin, who opened the tribute.   Franklin began, by stating:

“There was a time when you earned your diva-ness.  You could do it by having a voice that started like a gift from God, then developed with the dedicated work of Man; you played all the great opera houses of the world, you broke new ground, you thrilled millions of people.  Now that’s how you get to be a real diva.  Grace Bumbry has done all that. … For the first Honors, 31 years ago, the Kennedy Center knew they had to make a statement in both the selection of honorees and the great artists invited to salute them.  They honored five geniuses – George Balanchine, Arthur Rubinstein, Richard Rodgers, Fred Astaire, and a hero of mine, the most important soprano of her day, the groundbreaking Marian Anderson.  That night an elegant woman appeared on this stage and with heartbreaking beauty sang, from Tosca, ‘Vissi d’arte’ – My Life is Art – in tribute to Ms. Anderson.  That woman was Grace Bumbry and tonight her journey comes full circle.”

Gheorghiu then took the stage to perform “Vissi d’arte” – My Life is Art – from Tosca.  Gheorghiu has recorded the aria for EMI; it is included on her 2008 release “My Puccini” and her albums “Diva” and “Puccini Arias”.  An acclaimed interpreter of Puccini’s arias, Gheorghiu portrayed the title role of Tosca in a 2000 film directed by Benoit Jacqot.  Opera News had this to say:

“She is one of the most sensuous Toscas imaginable… . Angela Gheorghiu’s passion and beauty are ideal for Tosca, as if the best qualities of Callas’ and Tebaldi’s portrayals had come together.”

Next up for Gheorghiu is her return to the Metropolitan Opera in March and April 2010 for La traviata, when she will recreate her famous portrayal of Verdi’s most engaging heroine.  The Franco Zeffirelli production will also feature James Valenti as Alfredo and Thomas Hampson as Germont, with Leonard Slatkin conducting.

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© 21C Media Group, December 2009

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