At National Gallery, Opera With a French Accent

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Members of Opera Lafayette rewarded the modest audience at the National Gallery of Art on Sunday night with an hour-long concert of excerpts from two French comic operas. Artistic Director Ryan Brown is leading his group away from baroque opera next season, with a foray into opéra comique.

The program opened with a teaser from the work they will revive in concert next winter, "Le Déserteur." A string quartet played an arrangement of Pierre Alexandre Monsigny's score on historical instruments, with the violins of Elizabeth Field and Brown outweighing the meeker viola and cello. In a continuing collaboration with the Maryland Opera Studio program, Opera Lafayette showcased four young singers who are recent graduates. Genial soprano Meghan McCall and resonant baritone Darren Perry were well matched in a pleasing duet. In it, the eponymous deserter discovers that his fiancee has married another man, a story that has all been concocted by her family to test the soldier's fidelity.

Of greater musical interest was the second excerpt, from Félicien David's "Lalla Roukh," an exotic tale of love between the King of Samarkand, the seat of Tamerlane's empire in Uzbekistan, and the princess of the title. As Lalla Roukh, soprano Adria McCulloch was warm-toned and radiant, especially in the melancholy "Sous le feuillage sombre," and McCall displayed some impressive coloratura pyrotechnics in "Si vous ne savez plus charmer." Tenor Eric Sampson, who struggled with his French pronunciation and execution in the first half, was more confident in the concluding patter duet with Perry. Pianist Jeffrey Watson provided an assured, colorful accompaniment to the David excerpts.

-- Charles T. Downey

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