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15.5.05

Olga Borodina

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Olga Borodina, Arias, Carlo Rizzi, Welsh National Opera Orchestra (1997)
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C. Saint-Saëns, Samson et Dalila, José Cura, Olga Borodina, London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Sir Colin Davis (1998)
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F. Cilea, Adriana Lecouvreur, Olga Borodina, La Scala (2004)
Russian mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina is here in Washington, to star in the Washington National Opera's final production of the season, Samson et Dalila (1877) by Camille Saint-Saëns, which opened on Saturday night. (Ionarts will see it Tuesday night.) She came out of Russia, where her career was launched by Valery Gergiev at the Kirov Opera (Mariinsky Theatre) in Saint Petersburg, by appearing with Plácido Domingo in this opera at Covent Garden in 1992. (She and Domingo starred again in the opera, in the live telecast from the Met in 1998: you can buy the DVD of that telecast here.) This is her first appearance in Washington, although we have heard her on the Metropolitan Opera broadcast recently, as Isabella in L'Italiana in Algeri in 2004. (Although she lists it as a credit, Borodina withdrew from the role of Dido in the Met production of Les Troyens in 2003, prior to the radio broadcast, because she was pregnant. She was replaced by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who sounded spectacular.) Borodina was part of the Kirov Opera's recording of Boris Godunov, but did not come with the travelling production reviewed here in January.

An acquaintance, who is a serious fan of La Borodina, lent me a couple of recordings that I have been listening to and enjoying. Her CD of arias is spectacular, from the accurate, whirring melismas of "Nacqui all'affano/Non più mesta" from La Cenerentola to the rich tone and power of three selections from Samson et Dalila, which has become something of a signature role for her (her recording of the opera with José Cura has been well received). Her French pronunciation on the CD is quite good (except for the hilarious mispronunciation of "poisson" with a sibilant s instead of "poison" with a voiced z: "pour the fish into his breast" instead of "pour the poison"). Judging from the selections from Handel and Purcell on the CD, the poor creature does not have a Baroque bone in her body, but that won't matter in Samson, will it?

I also really enjoyed getting to know Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, which is sort of the spiritual cousin of Puccini's Tosca, another verismo opera about a diva. In this case, the heroine is a famous French actress, and the setting is Paris. Borodina's is my kind of mezzo-soprano voice, rich and mocha dark but without the crippling hypervibrato that is the crutch for many singers who lack natural power. She has stunning agility and accuracy in all styles of music, but it is this opera she comes to Washington to sing that is one of her specialties.

If you are planning to go to see Samson et Dalia (performances remaining on May 17, 20, 23, 29, June 1 and 4), here are some other things you can do to get ready. If you read French, get familiar with the opera's libretto. There are also two profiles of tenor Carl Tanner, a local singer originally, who will sing the role of Samson: T. L. Ponick, Samson et Tanner (Washington Times, May 14), and Tim Smith, Breaking the bonds (Baltimore Sun, May 14).

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