- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

Now ensconced in its new home at the Randolph Road Theatre in Silver Spring — the old Round House Theatre — the Bel Cantanti opera company is improving the quality of its productions as well as providing a better showcase for the up-and-coming young singers who form the company’s core. A case in point is the company’s fine production of Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” which opened its two-weekend run Friday.

Making good use of nifty period costumes rented from the Washington National Opera and maximizing the use of some creaky castle steps, Bel Cantanti has produced a surprisingly effective and extraordinarily moving presentation of what may very well be Donizetti’s grandest bel canto opera.

Based on Sir Walter Scott’s romance “The Bride of Lammermoor,” “Lucia di Lammermoor” premiered in Naples in 1835. Set near Edinburgh around 1700, it’s the story of a family feud, which comes to a rather bad ending for all.

On the brink of bankruptcy, Lord Enrico decides to restore his family’s fiscal well-being by arranging a marriage between his sister, Lucia, and the wealthy Lord Arturo. Unfortunately, Lucia is already in love with Sir Edgardo, whose father has been slain earlier by Enrico. Lucia’s wily brother, knowing Edgardo is away on a diplomatic mission, convinces Lucia, by means of a forged letter, that her lover has been unfaithful.

She reluctantly gives in to her brother’s demand that she marry Arturo, and disaster follows.

In the vocally challenging role of Lucia, soprano Meghan McCall was impressive, navigating her way through Donizetti’s wicked ornamentation with smooth professionalism, although an occasional high note could have used a bit more hang time. She astutely underplayed Lucia’s famous “Mad Scene,” an extended solo that can get a little histrionic. This was a good dramatic choice as it added a great deal of sympathy to her character.

As Edgardo, tenor Yoon Soo Shin displayed an astonishingly powerful and convincing instrument. In the developing post-Domingo age, where booming-yet-expressive tenors seem to be a rarity, his career already shows great promise.

Baritone Bryan Jackson was also at the top of his game as the evil Enrico, projecting a cold authority with his knife-edged voice and excellent diction. And as the cleric Raimondo, bass Kwang Kyu Lee’s full, rounded tones were as effective in his solo excursions as they were crucial in providing the necessary ballast for the opera’s unforgettable sextet.

Good singing was the rule in lesser roles as well, and the small but important chorus provided excellent support.

Bel Cantanti can’t afford a full orchestra, but its primarily string and piano ensemble, directed from the keyboard by the company’s general and artistic director Katerina Souvorova, worked quite well with the singers, helping to showcase each voice in the way that a larger production might have missed.

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WHO: Bel Cantanti

WHAT: Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”

WHEN: Friday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m.

WHERE: Randolph Road Theatre (old Round House Theatre), 4010 Randolph Road, Silver Spring

TICKETS: Students and groups of 10 or more, $25; seniors, $30; general admission, $35

TELEPHONE 301/438-8682 or 703/237-8489, or visit https://www.belcantanti.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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