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November 23, 2008

Bocelli far from heavenly in Rossini Mass


Bocelli et al

I'm not sure why Washington National Opera decided to spice its fall season with two concert performances of Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle (the rather impish title translates Little Solemn Mass), and I'm even less sure why anyone thought that crossover sensation Andrea Bocelli would be up to singing the tenor solos in it. But, hey, I love the work, with its several toe-tapping choral passages and big opera-style arias, so I wasn't about to miss it. And I enjoyed hearing the orchestrated version of the score for a change, although I think Rossini's original concept -- just two pianos and a harmonium -- is still the best. 

On Saturday night at the Kennedy Center Opera House, WNO general director Placido Domingo conducted the company's chorus and orchestra and three of the singers who starred in the just completed productions of Lucrezia Borgia and Carmen. Bocelli was the odd man out, in more ways than one. Although he has sung a few operas unamplified over the years, the tenor is clearly more at home in front of a microphone warbling emotional Italian pop songs. Here, unaided by electronics, he produced an undernourished, often under-pitch tone. Top notes were strained, phrases monochromatic. Bocelli's most loyal fans presumably didn't mind any of the weaknesses, but, frankly, I found most of his singing embarassing. I assume his presence helped sell tickets -- the place was packed -- so I guess that's a plus.  

The other soloists were quite satisfying. Soprano Sabina Cvilak made an even richer impression than she had as Micaela in Carmen, offering great warmth and expressive nuance. Rich-voiced mezzo Kate Aldrich was as vivid a presence as she had been in Lucrezia. And bass Alexander Vinogradov sang with considerable elegance and tonal depth, leaving more of a mark (at least on me) than he had as Escamillo in that Carmen. The chorus did mostly respectable, often dynamic work. Same for the orchestra. Domingo clearly relished the score's abundant tunefulness and dramatic flashes, choosing effective tempos and phrasing with sensitivity, but his tendency to be vague about downbeats caused a few unsettled entrances.

PHOTO BY KARIN COOPER FOR WASHINGTON NATIONAL OPERA (from left: Kate Aldrich, Sabina Cvilak, Placido Domingo, Andrea Bocelli, Alexander Vinogradov)   

Posted by Tim Smith at 2:14 PM | | Comments (2)


In the maybe 5 minutes I have ever heard Andrea Bocelli on MPT begfests I've always wondered, why? With his mouth right against the microphone all you get is a tiny, breathy sound. After hearing the Met's Faust on Saturday, any tenor in the chorus could out sing him.

In this concert all was in the wrong place. The one who conducted should have sung; the one who was backstage, should have conducted, and the one who sang should have been backstage.

Good one. (I first heard that set-up concerning a recital played a violin student of Enescu's in the 1920s. Enescu, who also knew his way around a keyboard, played piano for the guy, but needed a page tuner. Cortot happened to be in the audience and volunteered. A reviewer then supposedly wrote: 'The man playing the piano should have been playing the violin; the man turning the pages should have been playing the piano; and the man playing the violin should have been turning the pages.')--TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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