This weekend saw the proper opening of the opera season with a trifecta of performances: Stephanie Blythe at Vocal Arts DC (online-only review), Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena” at the Washington National Opera, and Bellini’s “La Sonnambula” at the Washington Concert Opera (which, having taken place on Sunday, will be reviewed in Tuesday’s Washington Post).
In Sunday’s Washington Post, I talked to Radvanovsky about preparing for “Bolena” — which she said some people thought of as a step back after singing “Aida” and “Tosca.” This is a sad comment on the general understanding of voices: as if everyone were fated to sing bigger and bigger roles until they inevitably end up in the dramatic or spinto repertory. Many a career has sadly foundered on this illusion; it’s one thing for Mirella Freni to sneak in an “Aida” or Pavarotti to essay an “Otello” (neither was a very good idea), but it was downright tragic to hear Francisco Araiza, once a lovely lyric tenor, barking out a Walther von Stolzing in Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg” in Munich some years ago with what was left of his voice.
In the event, it was terrific to hear a big, comfortable voice in the role: this is a big part in a big opera, and it was such a relief not to hear it sounding strained. The rest of the cast, unfortunately, didn’t have it so easy. As I said in my review, I have a few reservations about Radvanovsky’s singing, but the basic sound is pretty wonderful.
Above: Sondra Radvanovsky in excerpts from WNO’s “Anna Bolena,” which continues through October 6: for all its ups and downs, worth seeing.
As for Blythe, Robert Battey enjoyed her while finding the voice a bit large for comfort in the Terrace Theater. On Ionarts, Charles T. Downey dissented, finding her classical approach to the lighter fare on the program a little too straightforward — though Blythe is certainly the closest thing to Eileen Farrell (who could move back and forth between idioms with ease) that we’ve got. What are your thoughts on opera singers and popular song?