|Roberto Alagna, posing with his wax likeness at Madame Tussaud's.|
The OONY made a welcome return to Carnegie Hall last night with a double-header of Cavalleria Rusticana and the little-known Massenet opera La Navarraise. The ensemble, which specializes in "opera in concert" (performed without scenery and sets) is a treasured New York institution. But financial problems forced the group to "go dark" following a 2008 performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel. Monday night's concert marked the first OONY concerts since the aborted 2008 season, and the Carnegie Hall debut of tenor Roberto Alagna.
Mr. Alagna sang with warmth and power as Turiddu. He sang a lyric, uplifting Siciliana from offstage during the prelude, singing well during this high, exposed music. Although the tenor held on to his score for most of the evening, his finest moments came in the emotional farewell to Mamma Lucia (Mignon Dunn) when the superstar singer left the sheet music behind and remembered to act.
Cav was stolen by Maria Guleghina, as Santuzza. For once able to sing while standing in front of the orchestra, Ms. Guleghina sounded positively liberated. Her duets with Mr. Alagna and Ms. Dunn were highlights of the performance. Baritone Carlos Almaguer shouted his way theough the "Carter's Song", but settled down after the intermezzo to deliver a fine performance as Alfio.
Massenet's La Navarraise is a wartime opera, written as a French response to the verismo craze of the 1890s. It premiered just two years after the first Paris performances of Cavalleria Rusticana. Although it was occasionally paired with Cav a century ago, "Nav" fell out of the repertory because of its short length and heavy orchestral requirements. Among other effects, Massenet calls for offstage percussion, trumpets, and gunshots.
This performance saw the reunion of Mr. Alagna with mezzo Elina Garanca, his co-star from last year's Carmen at the Met. As Anita, a soldier's girlfriend turned into a vicious battlefield assassin in order to get married, Ms. Garanca combined acting ability with a stellar vocal technique. She walked the path: from innocence, to heartbreak, to avenging, knife-wielding angel, with utter fearlessness.
Ms. Garanca and Mr. Alagna continue to share strong onstage chemistry. This, and the fact that this tenor always sounds more comfortable when singing in French helped make their love scenes together moving, and his death scene all the more potent. The presence of stellar Met bass Ildar Abdrazakov and fine baritone Brian Kontes rounded out a fine cast.
Alberto Veronesi is about to be appointed the new Principal Conductor of the OONY (starting in 2011) and it looks like the orchestra will be in good shape. He conducted both operas with vigor and drive. By bringing out the subtle moments in these not-so-subtle works, Mr. Veronesi succeeded in creating a 'theater of the mind' on the bare Carnegie stage. He was helped by the New York Choral Artists. Their fine ensemble singing contributed to that theatrical illusion, one which has been missed on the New York operatic scene.