When the lights went out in the first few moments of Washington Concert Opera's performance at Lisner Auditorium on Sunday night, one assumed that it was another chance for music director Antony Walker to come to the rescue. The man who recently sang the role of Radames from the podium while simultaneously conducting the last act of Aida, however, simply had to wait for the lights to come back on. As Walker and WCO have done so many times in the past, their latest performance brings to light a neglected opera, Rossini's Bianca e Falliero. In 1819, when this opera was premiered at La Scala, it was the fourth one that Rossini had completed that year. Yes, Bianca sounds like most other Rossini operas and, at about three hours of solid music, could benefit from some judicious cutting. At the same time, it is worth the rediscovery, especially a few memorable numbers.
Bianca e Falliero:
Vivica Genaux has one of those voices, with an inimitable timbre and a ferocious technique (with unforgettable mandibular manipulations). She has been extraordinary on disc (in Vivaldi operas and recital), while on stage, in Baltimore Opera's L'Assedio di Corinto, her dynamic presence outweighs the compressed volume of her voice. In spite of being "stricken with spring allergies," which may have caused a slight uncertainty at the upper and lower extremities of her range, this was an incisive, marble-solid Falliero (in her red jacket and black ponytail, she also struck a wasp-waisted figure). Genaux was paired in the opera's exquisite duets with the well-scaled light soprano of Anna Christy, familiar to Washington audiences from her appearances at Wolf Trap in 2000 and 2001. Christy may not have that large, steely tone that a Rossini soprano occasionally needs, she was vocally and physically a sweet soprano heroine with some killer high notes when she needed them.
No baritone probably wants to replace Teddy Tahu Rhodes, but Daniel Mobbs stepped in robustly as Capellio, Bianca's suitor who ends up saving his rival's life (as the sole dissenting member of the Consiglio dei Tre that judges Falliero). The third lead of the opera is Bianca's domineering father, Contareno, sung here by tenor Charles Workman, with valiant but occasionally forced tone. He was at his best in the extraordinary Act II quartet, embedded as a video from another performance below. Walker conducted with verve and a twinkle in his eye as he drove his forces forward, to which the chorus and orchestra responded effectively, with particularly fine brass swells and flute solo by Sara Stern in the prison scene.
Anne Midgette, WCO's 'Bianca' Is Something To Sing About (Washington Post, April 15)
T. L. Ponick, WCO renders 'Bianca' with brilliance (Washington Times, April 15)
Washington Concert Opera will expand its next season from two to three performances: Donizetti's Maria Padilla (November 9), a recital with Stephanie Blythe and Nathalie Paulin (May 3), and Mercadante's Il Giuramento (May 31).
Rossini, Bianca e Falliero, quartet from Act II,
Rossini Opera Festival in 2005 (see also the finale)
Maestro di color che sanno
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