Because no production can hope to work very well if the singing is terrible. And when the singers from your young-artist program — Soloman Howard sounding fantastic as Alcade, and Deborah Nansteel making herself heard in the tiny part of Leonora’s maid, plus Valeriano Lanchas, an alumnus of the program, as a resonant Melitone — stand head and shoulders above most of the leads, it speaks well for that program, but your audience is in for a long evening.
Some blame goes to the conductor, Xian Zhang, in her WNO debut. She brought lots of fire and energy to her work (and the orchestra greeted her with stamping feet, a sign of approval), but the coordination between stage and pit was consistently off, and she proceeded through some of the opera’s more poignant moments with brisk efficiency rather than the kind of throbbing heart the music requires.
Zhang didn’t help Aaron, who responded to the matter-of-factness of the conducting with a kind of checklist approach to some of her arias (diminuendo here, climax here, hold this note: check). Aaron has a creditable voice, strong in the low notes, slightly smoky in the middle, with top notes that are jewel-like when she keeps them quiet. Another conductor might have helped her make more effect in her “Madre, pietosa vergine” scene; as soon as the Padre Guardiano, Enrico Iori, came on, singing with earnestness and a reasonable amount of heft, she stepped up her game.
But I’m not sure anything short of a sledgehammer could have stopped Delavan and Monsalve from shouting and blustering their way through the evening. Delavan blustered with the best intentions in the world, putting his heart into his work; Monsalve did so in the time-honored, hell-with-the-rest-of-’em, haul-off-and-aim-for-the-high-notes tradition of bad Italian tenors. The effect they made was equally underwhelming, especially when they combined in “Amici in vita e in morte,” which is supposed to be a duet, and is ostensibly comprised of notes that are set on a staff in a certain order, but on Saturday was simply a sustained blast of two unblending sounds, as if two vacuum cleaners were duking it out for supremacy.
Amber Wagner, Rafael Davila and Luca Salsi will take over the leads for two performances, on Oct. 18 and 22 (and Salsi sticks around for the final performance on the 26th). If you’re thinking of going to the show, you might want to wait and hear them. As for this cast: Somebody owes an apology to Deborah Voigt, or, even more, to us.
“The Force of Destiny” continues at WNO through Oct. 26.