Bocelli far from heavenly in Rossini Mass
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)