- The Washington Times - Monday, October 5, 2009

Russian, Italian, and French opera arias were on tap Saturday evening at the Kennedy Center Opera House as the Washington National Opera Orchestra, under the baton of Placido Domingo, presented the Russian dynamic duo of Olga Borodina and Ildar Abdrazakov in concert.

Married to each other in real life, Miss Borodina (mezzo-soprano) and Mr. Abdrazakov (bass) displayed their considerable range of talent in a variety of familiar and unfamiliar opera arias. The evening also gave the WNO Orchestra a chance to climb out of the pit and strut their stuff in two purely orchestral excursions.

The concert opened with the orchestra’s lively interpretation of Glinka’s sprightly overture to his opera “Ruslan and Ludmilla.” A bit later in the concert’s first half, the orchestra also performed the ever-popular “Polovtsian Dances” from Borodin’s “Prince Igor.”

While the overture got the evening off to a dynamic start, the “Polovtsian Dances” clearly suffered from inadequate rehearsal time. The opening bars were muddy, the trumpets were harsh and occasionally sloppy in the fourth number, and some of the strings didn’t catch on to Maestro Domingo’s accelerando for the first several bars of Borodin’s breakneck finale.

But this was, after all, an evening devoted to the artistry of two of the world’s finest operatic singers. The orchestra provided them with fine, understated accompaniment, and the two stars did not disappoint the near-capacity crowd.

The evening’s first half was devoted to a selection of all-Russian arias, popular in some precincts but almost never heard here in Washington. Highlighting the dark, tragic side of Russian national opera, they showcased both singers’ mastery of that country’s sturdy and distinctive vocal tradition.

First-half highlights included Mr. Abdrazakov’s moving interpretation of Susanin’s lament from Glinka’s “A Life for the Tsar” and Miss Borodina’s brilliantly imagined rendition of Konchakovna’s aria (from “Prince Igor’s” second act) in which she expresses her longing for Igor’s son, Vladimir.

Moving to more familiar operatic ground in the concert’s second stanza, both singers selected arias from well-known Italian and French Romantic works, with Miss Borodina choosing to emphasize her most recent roles at the Metropolitan Opera.

These included the Princesse de Bouillon’s passionate aria from Francesco Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur” — a role she sang in New York last spring with Mr. Domingo — as well as La Cieca’s aria of gratitude from Ponchielli’s “La Gioconda.”

Mr. Abdrazakov gave an electrifying performance of the Conte di Silva’s dramatic “Infelice!” from Verdi’s “Ernani,” but also revealed his puckish side in Don Basilio’s witty “La calunnia” (“Slander”) from Rossini’s “Barber of Seville.”

Both singers concluded their program with the revenge duet of the High Priest and Dalila from Saint-Saens’ “Samson et Dalila.” They returned for a pair of encores from “Samson” and “Barber” to accommodate the appreciative audience.

★★½

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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