MDLO’s young singers shine and rise in opera concert

Sat Nov 02, 2019 at 12:58 pm
By Matthew Guerrieri

Two of opera’s great love affairs—with its own possibility, and its own attrition—have engendered corresponding showcases. The latter has birthed that elegiac spectacle, the farewell recital; the former, more recently, the young artists’ concert, making public the fruits of apprenticeship programs. 

Such concerts are, by definition, grab-bags and crapshoots, but Maryland Lyric Opera and its training Institute pulled off a mostly felicitous example at Strathmore Friday night, with agreeable repertoire and singing that ranged from good to very good indeed.

Soprano Sarah Joyce Cooper took the lead as Marzelline in an Act I stretch of Beethoven’s Fidelio, spinning “O wär ich schon” with an attractive coloratura—light, agile, with a streak of soft metal. The “Mir ist so wunderbar” quartet—Cooper joined by Alexandra Razskazoff’s Leonore, Mauricio Miranda’s Jaquino, and Michael Pitocchi’s Rocco—had the requisite stillness and confused wonder, Razskazoff’s solid bronze and Pitocchi’s weighted-blanket bass, slightly shadowed but enviably smooth, making judicious counterpoint. Only Miranda seemed off, the tenor showing bright color, but so hesitant to trust or ride his breath that I suspect he was in less-than-ideal vocal health. (Like all this year’s MDLO Institute Artists, Miranda will be back later in the season—as Don Curzio for June’s Marriage of Figaro—in hopefully better voice.)

Next came the Act 3 garden scene from Gounod’s Faust, the titular pleasure-seeker and his diabolical contractor in dueling seductions. Mezzo-soprano Olga Syniakova’s Marthe, pert and vocally piquant, flirted with Pitocchi’s suave Mephistopheles. As Marguerite, Razskakoff’s burnished soprano opened out to splendid posture; around the middle of his tenor voice, Joseph Michael Brent’s Faust was a bit cautious—despite having the devil as his wingman—but Brent let it fly up top with impressive horn-call high notes.

Italian repertoire straddled intermission. The second-act machinations from Verdi’s Falstaff found everyone in good voice and humor, anchored and buoyed by the language. Syniakova, as Mistress Quickly, conned and flattered Falstaff, feasting on the character’s slyness; as Pistol, Miranda ripped off streams of tongue-twisting patter with flair. But competing masculine delusions stole the show: Pitocchi, florid and adroit, delineating Falstaff’s self-regard, as baritone Christian Bowers, clarion-sharp and thrilling, grabbed hold of Ford’s jealousy and shook the rafters. 

Bowers and Cooper then teamed up for the opening of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, her Norina confident and insouciant, dexterously tossing off cascades and cadenzas, his Malatesta an unflappable, enthusiastic schemer, the pair singing and mugging with equal ebullience.

Carmen was Syniakova’s spotlight, finding more focus in her lower and middle range to go with a steely top in the “Chanson bohème,” then taunting Yi Li’s Don Jose with the same fierce edge. Li’s tenor was, like Syniakova’s mezzo, impressive if a bit monochromatic—making Carmen and her quarry equally obsessive and predestined—but his “Flower Song” was well-sung and well-paced, which is no small thing. 

The final trio of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, featuring Razskazoff, Cooper, and Syniakova, proved a miscalculation: the balance between the singers, and between them and the orchestra, was never right, everyone swimming in Strauss’s grand waves rather than surfing them.

Conductor Louis Salemno did give the large orchestra a pretty long leash all evening, producing sound that occasionally swamped the singing but was often splendid, even swanky. His tempi tended toward the brisk—the opening overture to Fidelio had the band scrambling a bit to keep up, but they settled in nicely; the corresponding Don Pasquale overture had snappy panache. 

Salemno did a good job keeping everyone in musical sympathy (despite having to deal with the standard concert-opera perversity, a set-up where the conductor and the singers aren’t facing each other). The whole show, in fact, seemed well-designed to give its singers opportunities to succeed, and they did, often. One looks forward to seeing how many of them make it all the way to a proper farewell recital.

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