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Conversion to Puccini?

Yalí-Marie WilliamsThe Washington Concert Opera takes upon itself the mission to tend to those many operas that are all too rarely performed in the region. The resulting concert performances give opera lovers the opportunity to hear gems like last year’s Esclarmonde that they’d either not be able to hear live at all or would have to travel far to do so. The decision to present a double bill of Puccini’s Il Tabarro and Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana is in keeping with that mission – although those who really want to hear Cavalleria need only go as far as New York in any given year. I could think of a few dozen more neglected and interesting operas I’d rather see performed. But then the WCO must also have one eye on the likely ticket sales.

Their choice ended up being a success on both counts, as the audience in the nearly sold out Lisner Auditorium was treated to Italian opera singing of the first order. Music Director Anthony Walker and his impressive pick-up band made a convincing case for Tabarro being the true gem in Puccini’s Trittico. With good music, a variety of moods, and a plot that is – by operatic standards – mature and believable, it makes for about 60 very entertaining minutes. But it would have been for naught had not the vocal contributions been so outstanding. First and foremost Yalí-Marie Williams’s Giorgetta must be mentioned. Her full voice, seemingly made for Italian opera, was supple and seductive, sultry one minute, despairing the next; it simply left nothing more to be desired. We should likely see her on bigger stages in the near future. Tenor Steven O’Mara (Luigi) impressed with beauty and volume while his rival in the opera – Michele, sung by baritone Anooshah Golesorkhi – needed an aria or two to warm up to find splendid form. Bass James Shaffran made much of his small role, mezzo Laura Zuiderveen sounded shrill on occasion.

Mr. O’Mara continued as Turiddu in Cavalleria where he had left off as Luigi - although his voice hinted at exhaustion in the most forceful of the high passages. The chorus sang with engagement but could have been tighter. Elizabeth Bishop’s clear mezzo in the role of Santuzza filled the auditorium with ease; compared to her, Laura Zuiderveen’s Mamma Lucia sounded hazy. Mr. Goleshorkhi ran the risk of being drowned out by the full orchestra unless he threw himself into the notes. If his performance hit its peak about half-way through Il Tabarro, it was still impressive during Cavalleria. (Of course it really wasn’t his night – having to catch two consecutive wives in flagrante delicto and killing their respective lovers all over the course of two hours…) Audrey Babcock’s short appearances as Lola gave a promising example of the fine things we can expect from this young mezzo.

Thanks to excellent singing and dedicated performances the audience saw a great Tabarro and a very good Cavalleria, which nearly converted me to the cause of Italian opera and left me looking forward to Tancredi later in the season. Still, next season I want The Rake’s Progress and Intermezzo.