The Pleasures of Opera in Concert
Opera is about drama on the stage. Much of the attraction of the art form is seeing the singers, often gorgeously costumed and arrayed, in staged sets creating characters and acting the drama. Too often today, particularly in European opera houses, opera has been overtaken by stage directors who see it as their mission to distort the intentions of composers and their librettists by creating productions that are willful, self-indulgent, and often downright offensive.
Bayreuth in particular is plagued by stage directors who see no success unless Wagner’s great creations are distorted out of all recognition. The impenetrable Bicentennial Ring directed by Berlin film director Frank Castorf, which debuted in 2013, is a particularly distressing example.
For those who love the art but are appalled by the stagings we are seeing recently, take heart. Opera in concert may be just the ticket for you. Sometimes opera is “semi-staged,” where the singers sometimes are in costume (but usually not), and some of the drama is staged. The singers are “off-book,” meaning that they have memorized their parts. More frequently the performance is unstaged. The orchestra and chorus appear on the stage. The conductor is at the front of the stage with the singers, who are not “off-book,” meaning that they have vocal scores in front of them on the stage.
For more than 25 years, Washington Concert Opera has been presenting two productions each season, one performance each, of opera in concert at Lisner Auditorium on the George Washington University campus in Washington, D.C. Virtually without exception the performances feature excellent casts with admirable orchestral and choral forces marshaled and conducted by Director Antony Walker. The venue is small and acoustically flattering to the performers.
The performance on Sunday, September 28, of Bellini’s I Capuletti e I Montecchi was no exception. Bellini’s take on Romeo and Juliet is not his best work, but given how little of Bellini remains to us, it is still treasured by lovers of the bel canto. The role of Juliette is a vehicle for a star soprano, and it was sung by Nicole Cabell, a young singer whose star is still ascending. The tenor role of Tebaldo, while a dramatic cipher, calls for some high-voiced lyric singing. David Portillo filled the bill admirably.
But the highlight of the evening was the singing of Richmond’s own Kate Lindsey, who sang the “trouser role” of Romeo. She has a dark mezzo-soprano voice that is even from the bottom register to the top. The voice is not particularly large, but it is rich and vibrant in tone. All of the principals, particularly Lindsey, created credible characters using the voice alone. The lower male voices were sung capably, but the principals, as they should, stole the show. Maestro Walker, as always, provided fine support for the singers and sure-handed direction of the orchestra and chorus.
Give concert opera, especially Washington Concert Opera, a try. You’ll like it!