A Wonderfully Nasty Nassif in 'Clemenza'

Cristina Nassif took over as Vitellia in WNO's
Cristina Nassif took over as Vitellia in WNO's "La Clemenza di Tito." (By Karin Cooper)
Monday, May 29, 2006

The Washington National Opera closed out its three-week run of Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito" on Saturday night at the Kennedy Center, replacing Tatiana Pavlovskaya (in the cheerfully evil role of Vitellia) with young up-and-comer Cristina Nassif. It was an inspired choice: Nassif is a gifted soprano, with a powerful and expressive voice and a stage presence that can only be described as electric.

And that's all for the good, since the plot of "Clemenza" needs all the juice it can get. While the music is sublime -- some of the most beautiful in any of Mozart's operas -- the goody-goody characters have all the dramatic depth of cottage cheese. But Nassif, with her flashing eyes and floating hair, conjured up a convincingly nasty would-be empress -- even if she did have to display a good side in the end.

The supple, detailed performance was conducted by Steven Gathman (sitting in ably for Heinz Fricke), and there was fine singing in every corner. But a special bouquet goes to the stunning Russian mezzo Marina Domashenko (in the trouser role of the love-stupid Sesto), whose creamy, elegant voice and flawless command were riveting throughout the evening.

-- Stephen Brookes

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