Washington Classical Review »Blog Archive» Stunning Voices Reach New Heights in Washington Concert Opera’s Clean “Puritani”


Brenda Rae sings the role of Elvira in the WCO streaming concert of Bellini’s “I Puritani”. Photo: Arts Laureate

Among the performing arts, opera has suffered the worst damage from the coronavirus pandemic. Even though other ensembles and presenters return to the platform, opera companies are still bringing up the rear of the reopening.

Washington Concert Opera lost a season and a half to closures, but found a virtual solution by showing Bellini Highlights I puritani, recorded the same day of a canceled concert last month.

At ninety minutes, the selection of arias and ensembles represented just over half of the composer’s final opera, performed in the order of the scene so that the convoluted story remains the clearest. possible. Minor roles and choir parts have all been removed, leaving just the four main characters, sung by a superlative cast on stage at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall in Alexandria.

Brenda Rae’s soprano sparkled in the bel canto fireworks display given to Elvira, the role created for Giulia Grisi. The high notes soared effortlessly to a stellar high D at the end of Act I’s centerpiece, “Son vergin vezzosa,” and the nimble passages rang with clarity. In “Qui la voce sua soave”, the crazy scene from Act II, she deployed an incredible messa di voce, with expertly controlled decrescendo. She added glowing flares in the cabaletta “Vien, diletto, è in ciel la luna”, which ended with a sparkling high E flat.

René Barbera is Arturo in “I Puritani” of the WCO. Photo: Arts Laureate

Like Arturo, tenor René Barbera even surpassed Rae by the softness of his tone, purring with a suave high in “Son salvo”, the opening duet of Act III. He and Rae formed a charming duo in the “Finì… me bored!” Which followed. duet, comprising a rare perfect unison on the treble D. Bellini wrote the role of Giovanni Battista Rubini, a singer with an extraordinary high end. Barbera achieved all of these strengths, starting with a powerful D flat in the trio of Act I, “A te, o cara”.

Of course, the issue with any performance of this opera is the highest treble, the treble F that Bellini gave to Arturo in the set of Act III “Credeasi misera”. Warming up with another D flat, Barbera opted for this high F with bravery and solid technique. Holding nothing back and not turning into a falsetto, he produced a beautifully tuned howl of indignation.

Javier Arrey’s baritone sounded with admirable bite and liveliness in his Act I aria “Ah, per semper io ti perdei”, with the growl and volume necessary for the opera villain. He climbed to a precise A flat at the end of “Suoni la tromba”, the finale of Act II, capping a remarkable upper scale. As Giorgio, bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana struggled to compete with Arrey in the highs of this final, and his bass got a bit rough. His Act II aria “Cinta di fiori” revealed a more polished tone and expressive phrasing.

Antony Walker has conducted a chamber orchestra, working from a reduction he created with WCO Librarian Marcia Farabee. The orchestral sound was rather light, with one each of the paired woodwinds requested in the score, a single horn and a trumpet from the nine brass, and only eleven string players, plus harp and timpani. Beautiful solo work came from Amy Horn on French horn and Eric Sabatino on harp.

Walker excelled at balancing his small but valiant strengths, and the recorded sound flattered vocals well, without sounding artificial. Throughout the evening and especially in the closing extract, the Final of Act III “Ah! Sento, o mio bel angelo ”, the Musical Director of the WCO served as a vital link between singers and socially distant instrumentalists, creating a suave approximation of the full experience of a bel canto opera. This will have to hold us until the next OMD season, which will be announced during the summer.

This free performance airs until July 26. concertopera.org

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