baltimoresun.com

« Ray Chen, student of the great Aaron Rosand, takes first prize at Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition | Main | Pianist Stephen Hough suggests $2,000 fine for cell phones going off at concerts; let's double that in Baltimore »

June 3, 2009

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 ...

folks in Cockeysville picked up some of her high notes. She didn’t make a particularly pretty sound – not many sopranos do in this assignment – but she got to the heart of the music and communicated it with terrific vitality.

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

Posted by Tim Smith at 5:45 AM | | Comments (10)
        

Comments

Tim,

It was quite strange to be in the Lyric last night with the "away team" but quite exciting to be there again nonetheless. I hope that operatic performances at the Lyric become a regular spot on the calendar very soon. Thanks for your support of all things operatic in Baltimore.

Strange, indeed, but, as you say, quite exciting. That theater and opera just go together somehow (even if the actual shape of the house is antithetical). It will be interesting to see how things develop. TIM

This was a wonderful evening. We MUST bring opera permanently back to Baltimore.

I couldn't agree more. TIM

I was surprised that the audience was so small. I guess people don't have much money to spend on opera tickets in this economy.

Actually, I was surprised that the audiences was so large, given that this was a one-night event, unsupported by a subscriber base. TIM

That tenor has had bad reviews as Calaf all over the place. I would have thought Washington Opera could have found someone more vocally capable.

It is a curious choice. Maybe he sounded better back when was engaged for the role. TIM

Any word if Washington will be bringing other performances to the Lyric ?

Nothing yet. TIM

As more than a 20-year Baltimore Opera subscriber, I had my soul filled by this 'Turandot.' Re.audience size - some of us Anne Arundel senior center opera students were offered free tickets by the Lyric. Because of this generosity we were able to hire a van to transport 10 of us from Severna Park to opera heaven at the Lyric.

Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm. TIM

As the Lyric Treasurer and Board member, the Lyric Foundation is working to engage opera back into the music fabric of this great facility whose acoustical quality is world class. Opera is expensive and to be successful needs a subscriber base, a need for quality, and community support. December 17, Renee Fleming will be helping us to revive Opera just before the Lyric goes dark to make major construction upgrades to the stage and facilities to continue its "home town team" facility for decades to come. Hope folks get the message and come to the December Opera event!!! You cannot pray for opera you have to support the productions.

As the Lyric Treasurer and Board member, the Lyric Foundation is working to engage opera back into the music fabric of this great facility whose acoustical quality is world class. Opera is expensive and to be successful needs a subscriber base, a need for quality, and community support. December 17, Renee Fleming will be helping us to revive Opera just before the Lyric goes dark to make major construction upgrades to the stage and facilities to continue its "home town team" facility for decades to come. Hope folks get the message and come to the December Opera event!!! You cannot pray for opera you have to support the productions.

As a member of the Lyric Board and the Lyric Treasurer, we were elated to attract the Washington National Opera to the great Lyric facility with its world class acoustic quality. Mr. Domingo enjoyed the evening and asked us to schedule him back to sing and we will. The next opera will be Dec 17th with Renee Fleming in a solo recital. To have opera and quality opera requires community support. The Lyric Board is working to engage top quality opera for Baltimore at the best concert hall the Lyric. Note in early 2010 the Lyric will go dark to undergo a major construction upgrade to the stage and facilities so as to improve operations and add modern capacity to handle opera and complex stage productions. We need community attendance at all of your productions to be successful!!!

Folks ought to get the message now. Thanks for posting. TIM

Tim,
Thanks for directing me to your blog review - having failed to find one in the paper itself. NOW, if the Baltimore Sun would have run your fine review in the PRINT edition, then maybe more people would hear about - and be drawn to - opera in Baltimore!
We heard Franco Farina last night as Calaf down here in DC - he is much louder than Volonte but somehow Volonte had the more refined voice -too bad they couldn't have melded the two of them into one! The sound at the Lyric was awesome though. I hope the Lyric Board can attract some major sponsors/underwriters as well because in listening to the crowd around me on Tuesday night there are many who would LOVE to come to opera, they just can't afford the high ticket price. So I think a combination of sponsorship, marketing and affordability would deliver that community support. We need to promote opera to - and inspire - the young (I had an 8-year old daughter in the Turandot Children's Chorus who loved every note of her experience and can sing the whole opera now!) but to do that, there has to be a way to make it financially accessible.
Linda

Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments. And the report on Farina. I would have been interested to hear him against Guleghina; poor Volonte didn't stand a chance. TIM

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

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 baltimoresun.com/artsmash. 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.
View the Artsmash blog
-- ADVERTISEMENT --

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
PHOTO GALLERY
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with baltimoresun.com's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected