Sunday, May 23, 2004

The Washington Concert Opera concluded its brief but exciting season Friday with a sparkling concert performance of Gioacchino Rossini’s rarely heard opera “La Donna del Lago” (“The Lady of the Lake”) at Lisner Auditorium.

Based loosely on Sir Walter Scott’s famous 1810 poem, “La Donna” was composed at breakneck speed. Consequently, it suffers from dull spots and undistinguished recitatives, many, apparently, composed by Rossini’s assistant. It opened to tepid reviews in 1819 but gained great favor as time went on, largely because of the dramatic arias that make it well worth reviving.

The star of this production clearly was the stunning young American tenor Lawrence Brownlee, who sang the role of King James V. Experiencing the otherworldly sweetness and perfection of his pearlescent bel-canto voice was a mind-expanding experience. He opened the second act radiantly, singing without a flaw one of Rossini’s most cruelly taxing and heavily ornamental arias in a performance as heart-rending as it was inspired. The audience seemed to think so as well, bringing the performance to a halt with fervent shouting and applause.

The opera’s leading lady, Greek soprano Irini Tsirakidis, also had a fine evening. New to area audiences, she sang the equally challenging role of Ellen enthusiastically, employing her darkly burnished voice skillfully throughout several lengthy and tricky arias. Ellen sings the opera’s joyous concluding rondo, and Miss Tsirakidis dueled successfully with the ensemble’s outstanding chorus here, particularly in the stretta, where her confidence and polish drove the work toward its highly successful close.

The rest of the cast had a bit less to do, but they did it well. Particularly surprising was the fierce performance of bass Matthew Lau as the warlord Douglas. Mr. Lau’s knife-edged and authoritative voice was impressive as it soared above the large, percussive forces required by the work.

In the “trouser” role of Malcom, mezzo-soprano Gloria Parker was somewhat restrained, yet expert in the ways of the composer, presenting a believable foil to her rival, Roderick, who was somewhat less effectively sung by tenor George Dyer. Tenor Joseph Haughton and mezzo Michelle Rice sang nicely in the opera’s smaller roles.

The orchestra and chorus under the baton of Antony Walker performed with passion and polish save for a brief passage near the close where some of the woodwind playing seemed a bit weak.



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