The modest auditorium of La Maison Française (check out their snazzy new Web site) is one of the most civilized places to hear a concert in Washington, no small thanks to the glass of wine (and occasionally even cheese or other food) that you know awaits you after the music has ceased. So it was nice to be back at the Embassy of France last night for the first concert of their fall season, the latest program from Opera Bel Cantanti. It is a selection of arias and other pieces from your favorite French operas, going under the name Salut à la France. Literally, almost all of your favorite French operas: we could have done with a little less than a three-hour recital.
From the group's roster of budding singers, as one might expect, some performances were stronger than others. Some of the best work came from soprano Emily Ezzie, whom I admired in Bel Cantanti's Iolanta this summer. She was an earnest Micaëla, a role that seems quite suited to her, and she sang with the best French pronunciation, in an evening that featured some awful French at times. Meghan McCall was a very strong Marie in the group's La Fille du Régiment last year, and she had fine turns as Manon, as well as reprising two of the big Marie pieces. Korean coloratura soprano Keesun Kwon mostly excelled with Olympia's aria from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann and was a petite if not exactly blonde Philine in "Je suis Titania" from Ambroise Thomas's Mignon (her high notes occasionally soured toward flatness). Mezzo-soprano Jessica Renfro, in a slinky red dress (shown above), gave a sexy reading of Carmen's habanera. Her pairing with Kwon on the Delibes duet of Lakmé and Mallika was particularly lovely.
Joan Reinthaler, Bel Cantanti, Singing Superbly in a Place to Call Its Own (Washington Post, September 11)
My only reservation about this concert was that it could have easily been a half-hour shorter. Eliminating the excerpts from Roméo et Juliette, Les Pecheurs de Perles, Samson et Dalila, Faust, and trimming those from Carmen would have streamlined the program and avoided the least pleasing performances. It would also have allowed music director and hard-working accompanist Katerina Souvorova more time to focus on some of those difficult passages, not all of which came off flawlessly. Sometimes, less is more.
Katerina Souvorova, director of Opera Bel Cantanti and a very classy lady, has made a thoughtful and well-reasoned comment on this review. I have replied to her in a follow-up comment.