Placido Domingo conducts Washington National Opera in concert version of 'Turandot' at Baltimore's Lyric Opera House
It was great to hear operatic voices filling the Lyric Opera House again Tuesday night. Such sounds have been sadly missing for months now in the theater that opened with the iconic voice of Nellie Melba more than a century ago. The folding of the Baltimore Opera Company earlier this year left a void that was vividly filled, if only for one night, by Washington National Opera, presented by the Lyric in a concert version of Puccini’s Turandot that drew a good-sized crowd.
WNO general director Placido Domingo, the tireless tenor superstar, led the performance – his first turn at conducting Turandot, as it happens. A few passages could have been a little smoother, but Domingo brought admirable passion and sensitivity to the proceedings. Although he had not conducted the score before Tuesday (his first and only rehearsal came that afternoon), his long experience appearing in the opera onstage as Calaf obviously served him well. It didn’t hurt that his company has been performing Turandot for a couple weeks now at the Kennedy Center (with another conductor). Still, there was an effective air of spontaneity about Tuesday’s effort, not to mention a sense of occasion.
Even without the advantage of the sets and costumes that WNO audiences have been enjoying in Washington, this Turandot hit home. In the title role, Maria Guleghina had even more impact than I remember from her opening night in D.C. Her formidable voice was given such a boost by the Lyric’s welcoming acoustics that I wouldn’t be surprised if ...
For consistent beauty of tone, the performance had the advantage of Sabina Cvilak, whose portrayal of Liu was characterized by melting lyricism. As she did in Washington, she spun some remarkable pianissimo high notes and sculpted phrases with poetic power.
Dario Volonte disappointed again as Calaf. The hardworking tenor sounded stretched to the edge of his abilities and rarely bothered with dynamic nuance. All the same, he came close enough to the mark when it counted most – his Nessun dorma was applauded, which didn’t happen on opening night at the Kennedy Center.
Morris Robinson, as Timur, used his sumptuous bass to telling effect. Nathan Herfindahl (Ping), Norman Shankle (Pang) and Yingxi Zhang (Pong) brought abundant personality to their vocalism. The chorus and orchestra did impressive work.
Reminders of the Baltimore Opera were impossible to miss during the evening. For one thing, Domingo sang for that company more than 40 years ago on the Lyric stage, as he recalled in remarks to the audience after the truncated curtain calls. (To much applause, he said he would like to come back and sing with a new Baltimore Opera.) In the WNO chorus were singers. among them Robert Cantrell and Brendan Cooke, who performed with the Baltimore company. And out in the house could be spotted former patrons and staffers of the now liquidated organization.
Judging by the audience's enthusiastic response to this performance, it may be that many people would be happy to welcome the Washingtonians back, whether for more concert opera or, after the renovations of Lyric’s stage, for full productions. There certainly was no mistaking the sound of quality on Tuesday. I hope we won’t have to wait too long before we hear something on that level again, whether imported or homegrown, in this treasured venue.
PHOTO BY YOUR HUMBLE BLOGGER OF PLACIDO DOMINGO CHATTING WITH PATRONS AT A RECEPTION AFTER THE PERFORMANCE OF 'TURANDOT' AT THE LYRIC OPERA HOUSE