The Washington Opera
Although in its current season the Washington Opera will be giving 80 performances of eight operas, the beginnings of this impressive company were humble. In fact, the first formal performance of the company in 1957 took place in an auditorium in one of Washington’s universities, and rehearsals had to be held in New York.
During the recent season, I attended performances of Don Carlos and The Marriage of Figaro. Don Carlos is one of Verdi’s richest operas, which confronts issues of religious, political and personal conflicts, all played out in the court of Philip II of Spain. The opera premiered in Paris, but Verdi subsequently produced an Italian version in which he omitted the first act. The Washington production opted for the abridged, four-act Italian version with the addition of the Veil Song.
The production, directed by Sonja Frisell, was rather foreboding, dark and gloomy. The central character in the opera is the Marquis of Posa. In this performance, Posa was sung by Dyane Croft who gave a masterful, incisive, vocally imposing and deeply moving performance. Philip, sung by Paata Burchuladze, brought the required pathos and regal bearing to the role. Ella giammai m’amo, and in his subsequent duet with the grand inquisitor, ably sung by Daniel Sumegi. Ramon Vargas, the Mexican tenor, was the hapless Don Carlos. He sang effectively with fluidity and assurance. Soprano Veronica Villarroel, as Elizabeth, possesses a rather small voice and was often drowned out. The Veil Song and O don Fatale, were well delivered. The orchestra under Sir Edward Downes brought to life all the subtle nuances of this complex score, allowing the singers ample freedom for phrasing and expression.
Mozart’s quintessential opera, The Marriage of Figaro, has everything’superb music, witty comedy, intrigues and political overtones exemplified by tension between the social classes. The opera is so great because of Mozart’s genius, as well as the librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, who supplied Mozart with a brilliant plot which he adapted from the second part of the trilogy by the French playwright, Beaumarchais.
Da Ponte is a fascinating character. Because of his numerous romantic escapades, he was compelled to flee from city to city. Landing in Vienna, he became a librettist at the Imperial Court where he linked up with Mozart. Their collaboration with Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cose Fan Tutte represent the greatest operatic partnership in musical history. In this production, the part of the maid Susanna was sung by the Russian lyric soprano, Anna Netrebko, from the Kirov Opera in St. Petersburg. Possessing an extraordinary voice, she is also a superb actress with a wonderful stage presence. Although the rest of the cast was also effective, she absolutely stole the show.