Since her professional debut in 1990, she has performed in leading roles of several operas at New York's Metropolitan Opera, London's Royal Opera House, the Vienna State Opera, Milan's La Scala, and many other opera houses in Europe and the United States. She has a substantial discography primarily with EMI Classics and Decca and is especially known for her performances in the operas of Puccini.
Gheorghiu was born in 1965 in Adjud, Romania. Along with her sister Elena Dan, she sang opera music from an early age. At age 14, Gheorghiu began to study singing at the National University of Music Bucharest, primarily under Mia Barbu. Her graduation in 1990 followed the overthrow of Nicolae Ceaușescu the previous year, enabling her to seek an international career immediately. Her professional opera debut took place at the Cluj-Napoca Romanian National Opera as Mimì in La bohème in 1990, the same year she won third prize in the Belvedere International Competition.
Gheorghiu made her international debut in 1992 at the Royal Opera House as Zerlina in Don Giovanni. She debuted at the Vienna State Opera as Adina in L'elisir d'amore and at the Metropolitan Opera as Mimì in La bohème. In 1994, she was auditioned by the conductor Sir Georg Solti for a new production of La traviata at the Royal Opera House. Her debut as Violetta led her to international stardom.
Gheorghiu has concentrated her repertoire on several different roles: Violetta, Mimì, Magda, Adina, and Juliette. In 2003, she debuted as Nedda in Pagliacci and as Marguerite in Faust. A soprano with a large range and a dark coloured voice, Gheorghiu is also able to sing spinto roles. She has recorded Tosca (also made into a film in 2001, directed by the French director Benoît Jacquot) and Leonora in Il trovatore for EMI and sang in her first Tosca at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 2006. Her performance was an overall success, although because the famous Zeffirelli production of 1964 was replaced by a new production (which premiered with her), there was comparison between the Toscas of Gheorghiu and Maria Callas, for whom the Zeffirelli production was designed.
Gheorghiu took part in many concerts, singing alone or together with her colleagues. Among the most important ones, the reopening of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden (1999) and Teatro Malibran in Venice (2001) and at the opening the new Opera House in Valencia, in the presence of the Queen Sofia of Spain (2005). She sang at the Prom at the Palace (2002), the event that marked the Golden Jubilee of Elizabeth II, a concert that is available on DVD. In 2012, Gheorghiu was the guest of honor at a London Royal Opera House gala which was also attended by Elizabeth II. The Romanian soprano sang at the event, which was organized to raise funds for the Royal Opera House Foundation. She also sang at the Queen Beatrix's Jubilee Gala in Amsterdam (2005), at the New Year's Eve Concert at Palais Garnier in Paris (2006), at the Met Summer Concert in Prospect Park, New York (2008), and at the Memorial Concert for Luciano Pavarotti in Petra, where she also performed an unconventional duet of "Là ci darem la mano" from Mozart's Don Giovanni with Sting (2008).
In 2009, Gheorghiu was invited to honor Grace Bumbry during the 32nd Annual Kennedy Center Honors, in Washington, DC. She performed "Vissi d'arte" from Puccini's Tosca in the presence of Barack Obama.
In December 2000, Gheorghiu performed the title role in the film Tosca, directed by Benoit Jacquot, together with Roberto Alagna and Ruggero Raimondi. One year later, in 2002, Gheorghiu interpreted Juliette in the movie Roméo et Juliette, alongside Roberto Alagna and Tito Beltrán, also released on DVD.
In November 2010, Gheorghiu made her debut in Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, a new production of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The Observer wrote, "It's hard to imagine anyone bettering Angela Gheorghiu in this part. Her voice, feather-light and creamy yet with a core of steel, matches the liquid way she moves on stage. She's a natural actress and made the improbable death scene heartbreakingly believable and her signature aria 'Poveri fiori' simply unforgettable." The Telegraph wrote, "Adriana is known as a nice, easy sing for ageing or challenged prima donnas (no difficult top notes, and a tame orchestra), so Gheorghiu, in her vocal prime, should have found it a doddle. But her first aria was bumpy and nervous, and she fudged the end of the second. Elsewhere, in duet and declamation, she often sang exquisitely."
In July 2011, Gheorghiu sang the title role in Tosca at the Royal Opera House conducted by Antonio Pappano, and the following September returned there for the revival of Faust, which was broadcast live in cinemas all over the world. In April 2012, she appeared for the first time at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, in a concert of duets with Roberto Alagna.
In February 2012, Gheorghiu was the special guest at the Vienna Opera Ball, where she performed accompanied by conductor Georges Prêtre and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra.
In June 2012, Gheorghiu celebrated 20 years since her debut on the stage of the Royal Opera House, London, by performing in La bohème with Roberto Alagna. In July 2012, she held her first master class at the Georg Solti Accademia in Castiglione della Pescaia, Italy. She returned to Tuscany for a second masterclass at the Georg Solti Accademia in 2016. In November 2012 she returned to San Francisco Opera to perform in Puccini's Tosca. In an interview with Kurier from February 2014, Gheorghiu expressed interest in performing the role of Norma and in recording the role of Desdemona (Otello). Her most recent role debut was as Charlotte in Massenet's Werther in March 2015 at the Vienna State Opera, to great critical acclaim. Gheorghiu also performed the role of Charlotte in August 2015 at the Salzburg Festival in a concert version with great success.
In July 2015, Gheorghiu made her debut at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland with guitarist Miloš Karadaglić in a special recital at The Église.
In October 2015, Gheorghiu appeared for the first time ever in Australia, performing in two exceptional gala concerts at the Sydney Opera House and at Hammer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne. In November 2015, Gheorghiu performed at the Richard Tucker Opera Gala, "opera world’s most highly anticipated event of the season", at David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts,in New York City. The gala was broadcast on February 5, 2016 on PBS. Gheorghiu also sang at the Richard Tucker Opera Gala in 1999. In November 2015, Gheorghiu sang at the Elena Obraztsova Opera Ball at Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia. On the 29th of November 2015, Gheorghiu held a humanitarian concert at the Romanian Athenaeum to raise funds for the victims of the Colectiv nightclub fire. The concert was organized in partnership with the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir and conductor Tiberiu Soare. In December 2015, Gheorghiu sang together with Ramón Vargas and Ghiță Petean in a gala concert at Opéra de Monte-Carlo. All proceeds from this concert went to the Foundation established in the disappearance of Ramon Vargas's son, Eduardo, at the age of six ("Fund in memory of Eduardo Vargas").
In 2016, Gheorghiu returned in the title role of Puccini's Tosca at the Royal Opera House and received great critical acclaim. Gheorghiu was scheduled to appear in 5 performances, but sang in a total of 7 performances. She also returned as Tosca at the Wiener Staatsoper alongside Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel in April 2016. In September 2016, Gheorghiu performed in Tosca at the Staatsoper Berlin with "loud and prolonged ovation".
2017 marks 25 years since Gheorghiu's international debut at the Royal Opera House in 1992. She performed in Adriana Lecouvreur at the Royal Opera House in London in February 2017.
Gheorghiu has recorded many recital albums and complete opera recordings and often appears on television and in concerts. Although Gheorghiu has not won an individual Grammy award, the EMI recording of Jules Massenet's Manon with Gheorghiu in the title role won the 2001 Gramophone Award for "Best Opera Recording" and was nominated for "Best Opera Recording" in the 2002 Grammy Awards. The EMI recording of Tosca with Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna and Ruggero Raimondi in the title roles brought her the Deutscher Schallplattenpreis award in 2002.
Gheorghiu has won 5 Gramophone Awards, most recently for Madama Butterfly in 2009. She has also won Gramophone Awards in 1997 for Puccini's La rondine (Record of the Year), in 2000 for her album "Verdi Heroines" (Decca): Best Recital and Classic fM People's Choice Award in 2000 and 2001.
In 2002, Gheorghiu won the Echo Klassik Award for "Female Singer of the Year".
She also won Diapason d'Or Awards, Choc du Monde de la Musique in France, Cecilia Prize in Belgium, the Italian Musica e dischi, Foreign Lyric Production Award, the United States Critics' Award.
Gheorghiu won the title of Female Artist of the Year at the Classic Brit Awards in 2001 and 2010.
In 2004, Gheorghiu won the Victoires de la musique classique award for the best opera recording for Bizet's Carmen (EMI Classics).
She was honoured with "La Medaille Vermeille de la Ville de Paris" and she was appointed an Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture and by her native country Romania.
In December 2010, Gheorghiu was named Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Arts in Iași (Romania) and the Star of Romania, the highest decoration given by the President of Romania.
In October 2012, Gheorghiu received the Nihil Sine Deo royal decoration from King Michael I, honoring her contribution to promoting Romanian culture in the world.
In 2013, the DVD of Adriana Lecouvreur released by Decca where Gheorghiu plays the title role won at the International Classical Music Awards for Best DVD Performance.
In October 2014, Gheorghiu received the honorary title of Doctor Honoris Causa from the Gheorghe Dima Music Academy in Cluj-Napoca.
In 2014, Gheorghiu was included in the Gramophone Hall of Fame that celebrates the men and women whose contributions to classical music recording have proved the most influential and inspiring.
In October 2015, Gheorghiu was awarded the European Cultural Award in a special gala ceremony in Dresden, Germany
On occasion, Gheorghiu has had difficult relationships with opera house managements and directors. Some, but not all, of them have stemmed from her opposition to directors who, as she put it in an interview with ABC "want to express their own fantasies, forgetting about the characters. At times, she says, what they put on stage goes against both the story and the music." She has attributed her outspokenness to her upbringing in Romania under the totalitarian regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu:
"Because I grew up in a country where there was no possibility of having an opinion, it makes me stronger now. Lots of singers are frightened about not getting invited back to an opera house if they speak out. But I have the courage to be, in a way, revolutionary. I want to fight for opera, for it to be taken seriously. Pop music is for the body, but opera is for the soul."
Gheorghiu had a problematic relationship with former Metropolitan Opera General Manager Joseph Volpe after her debut there as Mimì in 1993. In 1996, Gheorghiu was cast as Micaela in a new production of Bizet's Carmen, opposite Waltraud Meier and Plácido Domingo. The production by Franco Zeffirelli called for Micaela to wear a blonde wig, which Gheorghiu disliked. When the Met toured the production in Japan in 1997, she refused to wear it on the first night to which Volpe famously declared, "The wig is going on, with you or without you" and replaced her with an understudy.
She appeared at the Met again in 1998 for six performances of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette with her husband, tenor Roberto Alagna as Roméo. Volpe had planned to engage Gheorghiu in Violetta Valery for a new production of La traviata, to premiere in November 1998 and directed by Zeffirelli. Alagna was to sing the role of Violetta's lover, Alfredo Germont. According to Volpe, Gheorghiu and Alagna argued with the staff and the director over production details and continually delayed signing the contract. They eventually signed their contracts, and faxed them to the Met one day past their deadline. Volpe refused to accept them. The production opened with Patricia Racette and Marcelo Álvarez as the lovers.
Despite these issues, Gheorghiu and Alagna returned to the Metropolitan Opera for five performances of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore in 1999 and for four performances of Faust in 2003. Gheorghiu also performed at the Met as Liù in Puccini's Turandot in 2000; as Violetta in La traviata opposite Jonas Kaufmann in 2006 and 2007; as Amelia in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra in 2007; as Mimì in La bohème in 2008; as Magda in the 2008/2009 season in the ROH/SFO production of La rondine, the Met's first performance of the opera since 1936; and for the 2009/2010 season she appeared as Violetta, replacing her previous engagement as Marie Antoinette in a rare revival of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles, which was replaced due to the recession.
In September 2007, Gheorghiu was dismissed from Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of La bohème by General Manager William Mason, for missing rehearsals and costume fittings, and generally "unprofessional" behavior. Gheorghiu said in a statement that she had missed some rehearsals to spend time with her husband, who was singing at the Met in Roméo et Juliette and rehearsing for Puccini's Madama Butterfly and added, "I have sung Bohème hundreds of times, and thought missing a few rehearsals wouldn't be a tragedy. It was impossible to do the costume fitting at the same time I was in New York.
Six weeks later, Gheorghiu made her debut at San Francisco Opera receiving favorable reviews for her Magda in that company's new production of La rondine. The San Francisco Opera production originated with London's Royal Opera House, where it premiered on May 7, 2002 with Gheorghiu and Alagna as Magda and her lover Ruggero. It is one which she particularly admires: "When the curtain opened on La rondine at Covent Garden, the audience gasped and applauded. People want to dream. If directors want to do something new with operas, why not do something beautiful?"
On December 31, 2008, Gheorghiu premiered the new production of La rondine at the Metropolitan Opera, together with Roberto Alagna, Marius Brenciu, Lisette Oropesa and Samuel Ramey. The opera was last performed at the house over 70 years ago. She received some favorable reviews for her Magda: "Gheorghiu embodies the part, as actress and singer, with her natural charisma." The New York Times opinion was more mixed: "Vocally, both leads are somewhat disappointing. Ms. Gheorghiu, as Magda, sings with gleaming sound and wonderfully dusky colorings in the strong top register of her voice. But the earthy richness of her mid-range singing sometimes turns breathy, and her low voice is curiously weak."
In August 2009, Gheorghiu canceled all her scheduled 2010 Met performances of Carmen, for "personal reasons". It was to have been her first public performance of the title role (written for and normally sung by a mezzo-soprano). This was later attributed to her separation from her husband, Roberto Alagna, who was scheduled to sing opposite her. She also cancelled other Met performances scheduled near the end of 2010. In March 2011 she cancelled all her scheduled performances of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette at the Met, citing illness. Only days later she cancelled all her performances in the scheduled new production of Faust during the Met's 2011/2012 season. According to her manager, "She felt uncomfortable in the concept". Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager, said that her frequent cancellations had become "an increasingly difficult problem for (the Met)." Gelb went on to say that, as of then, plans were still in place for Gheorghiu's return to the Met stage. He also said, "This has nothing to do with wigs.".
Gheorghiu returned to the Met in December 2014 to perform to great critical acclaim as Mimì in La bohème, opposite Michael Fabiano.
Gheorghiu performed her first Met Tosca in the Luc Bondy production in the 2015/16 season with great reviews: "the famous "Vissi d'arte" was easily the most poignant moment of the night from every angle...At the climax of the aria, her voice soared through the theater in painful anguish and her final notes were held out with seemingly endless breath"; "The color of her voice is gorgeous—her tone is smooth and full, mellow but with a hint of lemon"; "Her idiosyncratically alluring, sometimes maddening, always fascinating Floria Tosca inevitably became the evening’s unmissable raison d'être!".
Divorced from her first husband, from whom she retained her surname, Gheorghiu married tenor Roberto Alagna in 1996. The couple have sung together often on stage and on studio recordings. She was once chosen the 74th "sexiest woman in the world" by the magazine FHM. In October 2009, Alagna said in an interview in Le Figaro that he and Gheorghiu had separated.
Following the separation, she declined to appear opposite Alagna in Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera in December 2009. The divorce, however, was called off in December 2009. In a March 2011 interview with the Daily Express she stated that she and Alagna were back together, and they were seen together in March 2011 backstage at London's Royal Opera House where Alagna was performing in Aida. She also stated in the interview that although she still wanted to sing separately from her husband for a while, she was looking forward to the day when they could retire together and have their own pets. Later that year, they jointly opened a Greek amphitheatre in the Emirate of Qatar. In June 2012, they sang together in two performances of La bohème at The Royal Opera House to commemorate the 20 years since they had met in the very same production. They also sang at a joint concert in Buenos Aires, and planned to perform together in Manon Lescaut and Adriana Lecouvreur in future seasons. Gheorghiu said of their separation, "It was stupid of us to be apart." However, in January 2013, she announced that they had agreed to divorce.