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22.9.10

Keeping an Eye on the Ball


Monica Yunus (Oscar) in Un Ballo in Maschera, Washington National Opera, 2010
(photo by Scott Suchman)


Online score:
Verdi, Un ballo in maschera
(Google Books)
Washington National Opera fielded a second cast for two performances in the middle of the run of its production of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera. (See our reviews of the first cast, by Michael Lodico on opening night and by yours truly on Friday night.) At the second performance on Monday night, the chorus and the few singers who were assigned to both casts -- especially the throaty Elena Manistina as Ulrica and Kenneth Kellogg as Count Ribbing -- made the same favorable impressions, in spite of having just sung with the first cast at the Sunday matinee, which was simulcast to Nationals Park.

The WNO, like many companies, often uses these second casts to give younger singers a shot at the big time. This was certainly the case for the standout performance of the evening, the Oscar of American soprano Monica Yunus, whom you may remember as the Novice in the Metropolitan Opera's Dialogues des Carmélites. In an impressive WNO debut, she had an active, slightly fluttery tone and a higher-octane power than her first-cast counterpart: in the sometimes inane direction of the character by James Robinson, she was also happily just flighty and fun rather than over the top. Bass Timothy Mix, taking over as Count Anckarström, had nowhere near the robust energy of Luca Salsi in the first cast, and the lack of squillo at the top of his voice made for a less thrilling and dramatic performance. John Marcus Bindel, who has done well by many small roles at WNO in recent years, was a distinct improvement over Julien Robbins as Count Horn.

Where the appeal of the second cast went flat, quite literally, was in the two leads. The other typical function of a B cast is to feature more established singers without taking too much of a risk on a longer string of performances. Whatever authority soprano Susan Neves may have had as a Verdi singer was not apparent on Monday night, a series of poorly approached and not always reliable high notes (including at least one that was not even attempted), intonation that was too often a few wobbles under where it should have been, and a shrill tone. Tenor Frank Porretta was better, if paling in comparison to Salvatore Licitra in the first cast, handling some of the difficult passages more smoothly than the sometimes uneven Licitra, but with a type of vocal production more shouted than is desirable in Verdi. We hope for better from the upcoming production of Richard Strauss's Salome.

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