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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Opera Review: Crusading Tenor Busts Out

The Opera Orchestra of New York performs I Lombardi.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Tenor Michael Fabbiano and soprano Angela Meade appeared together in
I Lombardi, but not in this PhotoShopped image.
Source photos from the artists' websites. Collage by the author.
The arrival of a great voice on the New York opera scene is no small matter. Three years ago, it was Angela Meade, whose performance in a Bel Canto at Caramoor performance of Bellini's Norma caught the attention of critics and aficionados. Last night, it was tenor Michael Fabbiano, who appeared with Ms. Meade in the Opera Orchestra of New York's concert performance of Giuseppe Verdi's I Lombardi.


Mr. Fabbiano has been heard on New York stages before, most recently as Cassio in the Met's 2012-13 runs of Verdi's Otello. But it was this outing as Oronte, (the Antioch prince who falls for the daughter of some irate Northern Italians during the First Crusade) that may have cemented his reputation as an important tenor of this young decade. With Avery Fisher Hall  packed with journalists, bloggers, Met staffers on a "dark" night and opera lovers both in and out of the music industry, this was the young singer's big moment.

I Lombardi is Verdi's fourth opera, with a creaky libretto by Temosticle Solera aimed squarely at the La Scala audience that ate up his previous hit Nabucco. Although Oronte does not appear until the second act (and is killed at the end of Act III) this role falls in the tricky middle ground between bel canto heroism and later Verdi roles that demand chest voice and ringing high notes. But when the orchestration is Verdi's sparse, early style there is nowhere for the singer to hide.

Mr. Fabiano passed the test in the Act II double aria, singing the long legato passages of "La mia letizia infondere" with a tone that compressed for a moment before opening and blooming above the stave. He was better in the following "Come poteva un angelo," which drew demands for a curtain call from the singer. when paired with Ms. Meade in Act III, for the demanding duet and following death scene, a trio which also featured baritone Kevin Short. The character gets one more aria as a ghost, and the audience was delighted to see Mr. Fabbiano return to sing and take one more bow from the second tier of the house.

As Giselda, Angela Meade shows signs that she continues to develop into a star. The soprano has worked on her acting and eye contact with the audience (probably aided by a recent Washington DC run as Norma) and sings with a voice that stuns the listener when it soars into her upper register. Dramatically, she followed the (ridiculous) arc of the libretto with a straight face, traveling from chaste virtuosity in Salve Maria to a full-on diva dementia in the rip-roaring Act II finale. With bright, bell-like notes and a fire in her eyes, she continues to thrive in ensembles, cutting nimbly through a chorus, orchestra and banda going full blast.

The plot of I Lombardi (such as it is) revolves around the enmity between two brothers, the tenor Arvino (Noah Baetgle) and baritone Pagano (played by Mr. Short.) Pagano is a complex figure, flip-flopping between good and evil. He murders his father and then repents by leading the Crusaders to victory in the sack of Jerusalem. Mr. Short sang with firm, noble tone, reaching down into his impressive lower range for Pagano's descent into evil and with heroic notes in the scenes in the Holy Land. As Arvino, Mr. Baetgle overcame his relegation to a smaller part, bringing firm, noble tone to this cardboard hero.

The performance was led by Opera Orchestra of New York founder Eve Queler, a longtime specialist at resuscitating rarities for the delight of New York audiences. Ms. Queler's orchestra was in excellent rum-ti-tum form, with a dazzling violin solo from concertmaster Erica Kiesewetter serving as lead-in to the big Act III trio. Even better: the New York Choral Society as crusading Lombards, cowering Muslim harem girls and whatever else was necessary for this sweeping, yet curiously compact opera. This may not be Verdi's best work, but it was the OONY's best show in a long time.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.