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September 15, 2011

Patricia Racette shines in Washington National Opera's 'Tosca'

The main reason to catch Washington National Opera's season-opener is the opportunity to savor a genuine diva -- in the best sense of that overused, mostly misapplied term -- in the title role of Puccini's "Tosca."

Patricia Racette, an invariably compelling artist, gave an all-cylinders-firing portrayal on Monday night that combined vocal plushness, intensely committed phrasing and persuasive acting. It was the soprano's show all the way.

Her account of "Vissi d'arte," spun out with excellent breath support, was notable for the rapt phrasing at the start and the way Racette subsequently touched the heart of the matter without overplaying anything.

(Note that Natalia Uskakova is slated to sing one performance of the role, Sept. 23. The production runs through Sept. 24.)

Two tenors are alternating in the role of Cavaradossi. Gwyn Hughes Jones had the Monday slot. His voice ...

had a nice ring on top notes. He also demonstrated a flair for stretching out a phrase, which produced a certain visceral impact, as in his ardent account of "Recondita armonia." Where subtlety was called for ("O dolci mani," notably), Jones did not succeed in softening the tone to a telling degree.

The role of Scarpia is also double-cast. Portraying the arch-villain on Monday was Scott Hendricks. When he could be heard over the orchestra, the sound lacked warmth, but the singer's phrasing was alert and vital. He also had the theatrical chops for the assignment, oozing smarm with particular effectiveness in the second act.

Valeriano Lanchas sang with a good deal of color and force as the Sacristan. Kenneth Kellogg (Angelotti) and Robert Cantrell (the Jailer) did generally sturdy work. Jegyung Yang sang sweetly as the shepherd. The chorus produced sufficient volume and vibrancy for the "Te Deum."

The orchestra sounded a little short on strings, but played with considerable passion. Presiding in the pit was Placido Domingo, WNO's former general director.

Domingo may not have kept things together tightly at every turn, but this was nonetheless one of the most satisfying performances I've heard him conduct, attentive to details of atmosphere in the score and shaping the most lyrical moments with welcome spaciousness.

The old-fashioned and just plain old-looking production gets the job done, more or less, but it doesn't scream "major opera company." Director David Kneuss puts people through their paces in mostly routine fashion; the final act, in particular, could use a flash of theatrical inspiration. 

Not that I was expecting a deconstructionist staging, just something a little more visually distinctive and absorbing.


Posted by Tim Smith at 5:56 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Opera


Great review. Very well written. Ms Midgette needs take lessons from you.

I should just underline that we were at different performances. But thanks. 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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