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Washington National Opera in Concert

Plácido Domingo and Kristin Chenoweth at the WNO Golden Gala, March 19, 2006
Plácido Domingo led the Washington National Opera orchestra, members of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, and others in an evening of Italian operatic selections on Thursday night. Playing to a full house at the Music Center at Strathmore, in North Bethesda, the WNO orchestra, liberated from the pit, was allowed to shine. The program opener was the Overture to Rossini's La gazza ladra, which featured tight playing with rhythmical strength, a persistent snare drum part, and the nicest oboe playing in the region. The brass section of this ensemble had the impressive ability not to over-play the room and yet sound round and beautiful.

Tenor Greg Warren, now in his second season with the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, portrayed Nemorino in “Caro elisir . . . Esulti pur la Barbara,” from Donizetti's L’elisir d’amore (on last year's season), with a confidence that allowed the audience to trust him musically and dramatically. Former Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist soprano JiYoung Lee (heard this season in La Fille du Régiment) portrayed Adina with flair, yet sometimes lacked a beautiful legato.

Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop (recently Fricka in the second cast of WNO’s Die Walküre) and soprano Paoletta Marrocu (recently Lady Macbeth in the WNO’s Macbeth) joined forces in “Mira, o Norma,” from Bellini's Norma. In just an excerpt, with voices making the walls ring, a full dramatic experience was offered by the pair living their roles instead playing them. It was a pleasure to hear Marrocu – as Adalgisa – expressively using portamento as a means of musical expression instead of just a technical necessity.

Other Reviews:

Tim Page, The Cat's Meow: WNO Has Strathmore Purring (Washington Post, June 2)

[Anonymous] Younger talents soar with Domingo (Washington Times, June 2)
Other high points on the program included the serious portrayal of the stubborn King Filippo by bass Vitalij Kowaljow (who was an impressive Banquo in the company's Macbeth) in an Act II scene of Don Carlo. Baritone Lado Ataneli (recently in the title role of Macbeth) joined Paoletta Marrocu in the Act IV duet of Leonora and the Count from Il trovatore, and also sang a bit from Macbeth. Ataneli never seemed to be able to lighten his booming voice for dramatic or musical effect.

To cap off an enjoyable evening, the Brindisi from La traviata was cleverly programmed. The toast directed at the hostess was in this case directed to the Music Center at Strathmore. In his remarks to the audience before this final selection, Maestro Domingo mentioned how happy he was with the hall and stated his intention to certainly bring the WNO back after this first visit. By the end of the selection, all of the singers had entered the stage and Domingo cued the audience to sing along during the Tutti sections about taking today’s pleasure into a new day. After generous applause, Domingo insisted that Concertmaster Oleg Rylatko exit the stage before all twelve singers, and then himself escorted the principal violist. What a charmer!

To close out the Washington National Opera's 2006-07 season, the final performance of Macbeth was on Saturday night (June 2, 7 pm). A report on the company's annual Opera Ball is forthcoming.

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