- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 25, 2005

Opening its brief engagement at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House, the Washington National Opera’s production of “Trilogy: Domingo and Guests in 3 Acts” is a tasty smorgasbord of operatic highlights. It’s also a delightful chance to see the company’s general-director-for-life (one can hope), Placido Domingo, at his best.

An amalgam of three operatic acts — Act II of Umberto Giordano’s “Fedora,” the finale of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Otello,” and the bubbly conclusion of Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” — “Trilogy” was Maestro Domingo’s idea to kick off the company’s Golden Anniversary Season. Each excerpt features him in a signature role opposite glamorous guest divas Sylvie Valayre, Barbara Frittoli, Christiane Noll and newcomer Leslie Mutchler.

“Fedora,” which opened the “Trilogy,” has been for several years a favored vehicle for Mr. Domingo and legendary soprano Mirella Freni, both of whom sang the entire opera here in the late 1990s. The opera’s second act gives Mr. Domingo, as Loris, the opportunity to sing Giordano’s justly famous love aria, “Amor ti vieta” (“Love forbids you not to love”). It also provides the soprano — a vigorous Sylvie Valayre subbing as Fedora for Miss Freni due to the latter’s scheduling constraints — with plenty of opportunity to shine. Neither star disappointed.

Unfortunately, the act’s opening pages were marred by overly loud playing from the orchestra pit. This should have been better calibrated by conductor Eugene Kohn. Even Mr. Domingo was drowned out — a rarity. Fortunately, much of the doomed couple’s best moments are accompanied by onstage piano alone, a brilliant stroke by the composer, whose decidedly Chopinesque arrangement was nicely, if somewhat softly, performed by Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist James Lesniak in the non-singing role of the pianist, Lazinski.

While Mr. Domingo provided dramatic and vocal heft to the conclusion of “Otello,” the first part of the act belonged to soprano Frittoli. As Desdemona, she gave the audience a powerfully moving master class in operatic singing, merging her deeply sympathetic character with her unparalleled vocal gifts. One could have heard a pin drop, so rapt was the audience as Miss Frittoli prayed to the Virgin Mary, sensing her impending doom. (Save for the three or four lusty coughers, that is, who seem to plague every magic moment in opera.)

After this powerful “Otello,” Mr. Domingo thoughtfully scheduled the finale of Lehar’s frothy “The Merry Widow” to conclude his “Trilogy” on a lighter note. In this act, the charming widow Hanna (soprano Mutchler, another talented participant in the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program) must fend off undesirable suitors and save a friend’s reputation while winning a marriage proposal from one-time lover Danilo (Mr. Domingo).

Although Miss Mutchler has a lovely voice and stage presence, the act, along with her part, was retooled and cut to provide vocal cameos for Miss Valayre and Miss Frittoli — who indulged in a bit of Mozart — as well as for guest star and popular Broadway singer Christiane Noll, who appeared as the beleaguered Valencienne. In addition to hoofing through a naughty cancan with her six “grisettes,” or dancing girls, Miss Noll also belted out an enthusiastic post-Lehar Broadway medley.

Happily, the company’s editorial staff, in its zeal to customize this stanza, did not snip Mr. Domingo’s dreamily romantic rendition of Lehar’s immortal “Merry Widow Waltz” — as lovely an interpretation as anyone is ever likely to hear.

***

WHO: Washington National Opera

WHAT: “Trilogy: Domingo and Guests in 3 Acts”

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

WHEN: Tomorrow, Friday and Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday and Oct. 9 at 2 p.m..

TICKETS AND INFORMATION: $45 to $290. Call 202/295-2400 or 800/876-7372, or visit www.dc-opera.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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