The Washington Concert Opera wrapped up its 2006-07 season Sunday evening at Lisner Auditorium with a concert performance of Gioacchino Rossini’s interesting but rarely heard tragic opera “Otello.” The result? The singing proved to be every bit as heavenly as the late spring weather outside.
Based very loosely on Shakespeare’s “Othello,” “Otello,” which made its debut in 1816, is not regarded as Rossini’s finest opera. Some of the music is uninspired, and other passages are borrowed from other Rossini operas — a not-infrequent occurrence in the works of a composer who was often as lazy as he was brilliant.
Nonetheless, arias and ensembles in the first and third acts of this performance contained an abundance of lovely music, and the orchestral writing is uncommonly rich and frequently forward-looking in its harmonies.
The bare outlines of Shakespeare’s tragedy concerning a brilliant but flawed Moorish general whose jealousy proves his undoing remain discernable in Rossini’s opera. However, his librettist rather foolishly retooled the story to make it into more of a love triangle, pitting Otello against rival Roderigo and diminishing the role of the evil Iago.
Bowdlerization of the Bard aside, the Washington Concert Opera cast chosen for “Otello” by Artistic Director and conductor Antony Walker provided a high degree of the “wow” factor on Sunday, helping to erase the reductionism of the opera’s weak book.
In a nifty coup, WCO managed to snag star soprano Elizabeth Futral in the key role of Desdemona, Otello’s doomed bride. Miss Futral rewarded the company with a transcendent performance loaded with nuance and sheer emotional brilliance in equal amounts, reminding many of her electrifying performance a few seasons back as the tragic heroine in Washington National Opera’s production of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.”
Miss Futral also was fortunate to have as Desdemona’s suitors bel canto tenors Kenneth Tarver as Roderigo and Bruce Ford as Otello. In Rossini’s work, Roderigo has a significant role, somewhat more substantial than that of the title character in terms of vocal opportunities. Mr. Tarver made the most of these excursions, unveiling a lithe and supple voice that wrapped sinuously and easily around his complex part.
Not to be outdone, Mr. Ford, a noted Rossini expert, contributed the power and heft demanded by his role as Shakespeare’s flawed warrior.
Talented young mezzo-soprano Claudia Huckle proved an interesting choice as Desdemona’s friend Emilia. With her rich, substantial, yet occasionally overpowering voice, she made the most of her moments onstage, singing equally well as a soloist and in the ensembles. Hers is a huge, well-supported instrument, and graduation to larger dramatic roles may be close at hand.
The remaining singers, including tenors Tanner Knight as Iago, Patrick Toomey as the Doge, and Peter Burroughs as Lucio/Gondolier, plus bass David Langan as Desdemona’s tyrannical father, Elmiro, were also fine, although Mr. Knight’s voice seemed a bit thin on Sunday night.
The company’s orchestra and chorus performed crisply and well under Mr. Walker’s expert baton.