Members of the Wolf Trap Opera Company perform music from
Members of the Wolf Trap Opera Company perform music from "Carmen" in "Murder & Other Operatic Mayhem." (By Scott Suchman)
Monday, July 11, 2005

'Murder & Other Operatic Mayhem'

The Wolf Trap Opera Company has recruited an extraordinary group of young singers this summer. That is hardly a news item; the company recruits an extraordinary group of young singers in its nationwide auditions every summer. But on Saturday night at the Filene Center, 10 members of the company made an especially strong impression.

They sang some of opera's most popular selections, inviting comparison with the greatest stars, past and present, and they emerged with honor. Sharing in the acclaim were the National Symphony Orchestra and Washington Chorus, brilliantly conducted by Emile de Cou.

The program, titled "Murder & Other Operatic Mayhem," opened with Verdi's overture to "La Forza del Destino," and de Cou brought out all its intense drama. The final work was a virtuoso showcase for chorus and orchestra, the triumphal scene from "Aida," performed with high impact. But solo and ensemble singing were the main events and they were handled gloriously. The company's director, Kim Pensinger Witman, gave a witty and informative introduction to each selection. The end of Act 1 in "Tosca," she said, is "one of the best arguments for the separation of church and state." Then it was performed, with the chorus singing a triumphant "Te Deum" while baritone Weston Hunt sang of his lust for Tosca.

Other high points included Dimitri Pittas's "La Donna e Mobile," Lord High Executioner Jason Ferrante's "little list" (which included talk show hosts, senators and "Hillary, but not until '08"), "Not While I'm Around" from "Sweeney Todd," performed by Javier Abreu and Audrey Babcock, and the Sandman's song and evening prayer from "Hansel and Gretel," sung by Evelyn Pollock, Maureen McKay and Kate Lindsey. Elegant ensemble singing was also part of the program, with the quartet from "Rigoletto," the quintet from "Carmen" and the sextet from "Lucia di Lammermoor."

-- Joseph McLellan

Embassy Series: Vietnam

With the possible exception of cuisine, scant attention is paid to Vietnamese culture in the United States. Friday night the Embassy Series helped change that by presenting an evening of traditional music and dance from Vietnam.

The event marked both the 10th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam and the first public arts presentation at the Vietnamese Embassy.

Overall, the audience got just a taste of Vietnam's vast cultural heritage, which ranges over four millenniums, 60 separate ethnic groups and 300 musical instruments.

The dan bau produced a sound somewhere between a pedal steel guitar and a musical saw. With one hand, Le Giang plucked a single string stretched over a soundboard. With the other, she tugged on a bamboo stick, controlling the tension, bending notes expressively.

In a medley of folk tunes, Duc Lien played seven bamboo flutes. The tiniest was pencil-size. Another looked like a corncob pipe. Lien had exquisite control, and a wild sense of improvisation.

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