Fresh Voices Showcase Operatic Treasures

By Grace Jean
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mixing a baker's dozen young opera singers with nine composers' arias might sound like a questionable recipe for a concert, but that combination yielded satisfying results on Sunday afternoon at the Music Center at Strathmore.

Presented by Opera International, the 13 artists -- all in the early stages of their careers -- displayed their vocal skills in solos, duets or greater combinations. With pianist Kelly Kuo accompanying, each singer brought different talents to display in the hall. The most successful combined both athletic technique and instinctive expression in their performances.

With a warm, supple tone, mezzo-soprano Guang Yang sang an affecting "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from Saint-Saens's "Samson et Dalila." She showcased her muscular vocal range while making musical sense of the coloratura in "Nacqui all'affanno" and "Non piu mesta" from Rossini's "La Cenerentola." Yang proved a collaborative partner with the sweet-voiced soprano Anna Christy in a charming and well-balanced rendition of the Flower Duet from Delibes's "Lakme."

Nicholas Phan's honeyed tenor lovingly shaped another "Lakme" aria, "Fantasie aux divins mensonges." His beautiful phrasing conveyed the emotions of an amorous suitor as his immediacy of voice fueled the fluidity of the fast, colorful passages in "Ah! Qual colpo inaspettato" from Rossini's "Barber of Seville," sung with the comedic baritone Patrick Toomey and mezzo Zheng Cao.

Soprano Wei Huang wielded a powerful instrument capable of executing leaps and runs in "So anch'io la virtu magica" from Donizetti's "Don Pasquale." But she often lacked variety in expression. She required fellow singers -- Cao in Offenbach's "Belle nuit" from "Tales of Hoffmann" and tenor Chi Liming in "Ange adorable" from Gounod's "Romeo and Juliet" -- to add nuanced dynamics. Liming, whose clear, heroic voice betrayed few limits, took Puccini's "Nessun dorma" at a purposeful tempo. It was almost too determined a stride, to the point that the aria seemingly ended prematurely.

Selections from the composer's "Tosca," however, received protracted performances. Victoria Litherland's "Vissi d'arte" was as imploring and searching as bass-baritone Sun Yu's "La povera mia cena fu interrotta" was ardent and menacing.

Litherland also played a saucy Musetta to Toomey's Marcello during "Dunque e proprio finite," featuring soprano Hai-bo Bai and tenor Jingma Fan.

Yu gave Rossini's "La calunnia" from "Barber" a humorous, if creepy, performance. It had an impish quality that bass-baritone Ding Gao nearly attained in "Vous qui faites l'endormie" from Gounod's "Faust."

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