Chamber Opera's 'I Puritani': An Unadulterated Pleasure

As Antony Walker conducts the orchestra, Lawrence Brownlee (front row, from left), Sarah Coburn, Stephen Powell and David Pittsinger perform at the Washington Concert Opera presentation of Bellini's
As Antony Walker conducts the orchestra, Lawrence Brownlee (front row, from left), Sarah Coburn, Stephen Powell and David Pittsinger perform at the Washington Concert Opera presentation of Bellini's "I Puritani." The performance ranks among the WCO's best ever. (By Don Lassell)

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

For a few magical hours Sunday at Lisner Auditorium, soprano Sarah Coburn and tenor Lawrence Brownlee seemed to be the world's best opera singers. As Elvira and Arturo, lovers in Vincenzo Bellini's difficult but beautiful "I Puritani," their sweet and radiant voices climbed to stratospheric heights and sped effortlessly through hairpin turns. It's an accomplishment just to hit Bellini's notes (singers still fear this opera), but to imbue them with the rage, madness and delight the characters live through is an extraordinary achievement.

Undoubtedly, the evening featuring these young singers will rank as a high point in the Washington Concert Opera's adventuresome 20-year history.

Bellini's final opera, from 1835, centers on lovers from opposite sides of the English civil war. When they are apart, Elvira tends to lose her mind, and here Bellini gives his heroine not one but two mad scenes. In "Qui la voce," Coburn's coloratura technique was flawless, each note hit squarely, never ruffling Bellini's flowing line.

Brownlee's Arturo was simply a joy to hear. His voice is supple, strong and seamlessly produced throughout the registers. It would be impossible to improve the performance he gave in the bravura aria "A te o cara," which shifted gracefully into one of the opera's many gorgeously sung ensembles.

The entire team was cast from strength, with exceptional performances from David Pittsinger (as the avuncular Giorgio), whose chocolaty-smooth bass-baritone melded beautifully in the duet "Suoni la tromba" with baritone Stephen Powell as Elvira's would-be lover Riccardo. Magdalena W¿r and David Langan also made worthy contributions.

Artistic Director Antony Walker enticed vigor and subtlety from the orchestra and chorus, again proving that the WCO is one of Washington's most vital musical institutions.

-- Tom Huizenga


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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