Thursday, April 13, 2006
While opera houses and musical groups struggle to attract young listeners, the Washington National Opera seems to have found the right formula. The company's sold-out Tuesday evening performance of Gaetano Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore" showed that it is about more than low-price tickets, though that certainly helps. It is about creating a social atmosphere and making sure the quality of the artistry is there.
The opera limited the reasonably priced tickets to university students and members of Generation O, its society for young professionals under the age of 35. Instead of the superstars heading up the cast of the main "Elisir" run, the superb rising singers of the company's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program took the stage. Hearing such rhapsodic singing among an open and appreciative audience made you feel as though you were experiencing the joy of opera for the first time.
Among an all-around knockout cast, there was one standout. Soprano Amanda Squitieri's portrayal of Adina -- the wealthy landowner who gradually grows to love the gullible peasant Nemorino -- had the hallmarks of a resounding breakthrough. Everything about her singing worked, with a beautifully supported instrument floating long, sweet melodies to the upper reaches of the Opera House. She dexterously handled the coloratura flourishes, bringing depth to one of Donizetti's famously cartoonlike characters.
Tenor Greg Warren injected humor and pathos into the part of Nemorino. If his golden-toned voice tended toward the small side, Warren delivered the goods in the big moments, such as "Una furtiva lagrima." Using his burnished baritone to similarly good effect, Obed Urena was the scheming Dr. Dulcamara, who foists off Bordeaux as a magical love potion, while baritone Trevor Scheunemann gave a forceful and funny portrayal of Sergeant Belcore. Erin Elizabeth Smith ladled out doses of richness and vigor into the part of Gianetta.
-- Daniel Ginsburg