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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 © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Opera Review: Uneasy Lies the Tiara

Angela Meade returns in Parisina d'Este.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Soprano Angela Meade.
Photo from her website.
The 21st century has been one of revival and new vigor in the performance of bel canto opera, that peculiar 19th century Italian subgenre where the beauty of vocal tone reigned supreme. At the forefront of that music has been soprano Angela Meade, whose statuesque presence and creamy, agile soprano instrument has made her seem like a bit of a throwback to the divas of another age.

On Wednesday night at the Rose Theater in the Time Warner Center, Ms. Meade returned to sing the title role in Donizetti's Parisina d'Este with the Opera Orchestra of New York. This has been a hard century for OONY, with its schedule reduced to an occasional opera performance when backers cn be found, and the collapse of the organization's relationship with conductor Alberto Veronese, himself picked to succeed its long-term music director Eve Queler.

Ms. Queler was back on the podium for this concert performance, an opera that the OONY introduced to New York audiences way back in 1974, with Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballe in the lead role. It is a lesser Donizetti piece, sort of a warm-up for Lucrezia Borgia with its tale of a highly dysfunctional family in Renaissance Italy, turning on each other with all the enthusiasm of an episode of Game of Thrones.

The demanding title role (the opera is based on a poem by Lord Byron) seems like it would be like a perfect fit for Ms. Meade, but this concert did not find the singer at her best. She entered cautiously, and that famous bel canto voice of hers has started to develop a pronounced break between its middle register and the upper reaches of head voice that produce those dazzling effect. There was an absence of trill, and the notes, while pretty were ultimately unconvincing.

Even less convincing was what happened in the second act, where her character's big dramatic scena was sung with a tone that sounded gritty, especially when singing at full volume over the orchestra and chorus. She was better in the quartet that rung down the act, but her quick suicide at the end of the short third act sounded hurried. With a singer like Ms. Meade, the show is all about the voice and hers is heading on a downward path.

Tenor Aaron Blake is a little guy with a big voice, a tenor on the rise. Hhis instrument sounded rapier-like, with an impressive, sharpish tip but not much in the way of dramatic presence. That was provided by baritone Yunpang Wang as the Duke Azzo, the villain of the piece. His blusterings made him a bit of a one-note character but an entertaining one. Even better was the enormously tall Sava Vernic as Ernesto. His towering presence and black, sonorous instrument guarantee a long career playing Italian fathers and German villains on the operatic stage.

The OONY Orchestra sounded ragged and under-rehearsed. For three acts, he players looked and sounded bored, plinking away at Donizetti on another stage, and there was an unforgivable off-the-beat boom from the gran casa that nearly ruined the Act II finale. The New York Choral Ensemble, arranged behind the orchestra in the unusual configuration of the Rose Theater, were on the ball under the leadership of Italo Marchini.

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