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Washington Concert Opera's "Tosca in Paris"

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Scotto / Domingo / Levine


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Tebaldi / Del Monaco / Capuana


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Olivera / Corelli / Rossi

Washington Concert Opera is at its best when it performs works that have little chance of seeing a staged production: such was the case with its performance of Cilèa's Adriana Lecouvreur, on Saturday night at Lisner Auditorium. Francesco Cilèa (1866-1950) is a composer on the margins of Italian Romantic opera. His operas are often classed with the trend of verismo, but little about their plots -- convoluted and melodramatic, it's true, but hardly ripped from the headlines or even emotionally raw -- fits with that identification. Adriana, the most familiar, suffers from a spectacularly bad libretto, an Italian adaptation, by Arturo Colautti, of a French play by Eugène Scribe and Ernest Legouvé.

The title character is based on a historical person, a celebrated actress at the Comédie-Française, but the multiple confusions that follow -- her lover is actually a Polish count, and he is simultaneously involved with the wife of a patron of the theater, who is herself mistaken for a rival actress at the theater, who never actually appears in the opera -- are all invented, as is Adriana's death by poisoned violets. It may be the only case of an opera in which the characters themselves are just as confused as the audience about who is who on stage. The opera has yet to see a staging at Washington National Opera, but it received a rare production last year at the Metropolitan Opera, with Plácido Domingo again as Maurizio, the role of his Met debut back in 1968. The opera has beautiful music, better for listening to without too much worrying about the silly plot, as in any of the recordings listed on the left.

As usual, the savvy conductor Antony Walker assembled a first-rate cast. Dramatic soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams, who was the best part of a doomed Tosca last year (appropriately enough, as Adriana was premiered two years after Puccini's opera about another tempestuous actress), gave a booming, gut-wrenching, emotionally overflowing performance in the title role. It had just about everything one could wish for, including a regal stage presence and dramatic recitation of the spoken lines: a rare exception was made to have a fainting couch brought on to the stage just for Williams to have a place to breathe her last. The puissant mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop was a perfect foil for Williams as the spiteful Principessa di Bouillon, and tenor James Valenti made an elegant, smooth-toned, and occasionally ringing Maurizio (a demanding role created, let us not forget, by none other than Enrico Caruso).

Other Reviews:

Joe Banno, Washington Concert Opera's 'Adriana Lecouvreur' at Lisner Auditorium (Washington Post, October 26)
First among the supporting cast was the polished Michonnet of baritone Donnie Ray Albert, powerful and nuanced, if not always rhythmically in step. The rest were all up to snuff, especially a fey rendition of the Abate di Chazeuil by tenor Timothy Oliver, and the brash, laughing actresses Jouvenot and Dangeville portrayed by soprano Erin Sanzero and mezzo Cynthia Hanna, respectively. The pick-up orchestra, perhaps a little light on strings, especially violins, for the score, had a rough start and some ensemble issues throughout the evening, but Walker's attentive conducting kept things from becoming too ragged. The chorus has little to do until the divertissement scene, where a ballet on the Judgment of Paris is presented, but sounded strong and on its game, especially in the lead-up to Adriana's Phèdre scene. In the dance music and in the extended orchestral introduction to Act IV, the orchestra sounded at its best.

You will have to wait until late spring for the second -- and only other -- performance by Washington Concert Opera this season: Massenet's Werther (May 22, 6 pm), with Giuseppe Filianoti and Jennifer Larmore, at Lisner Auditorium.

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