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National Symphony Orchestra

There were moments in Kiri Te Kanawa's concert with the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap on Friday when the soprano sounded miraculously like her younger self -- her gorgeously floated pianissimos in Strauss's song "Morgen," for instance, or the soaring lines of the aria "Donde lieta usci" from Puccini's "La Bohème," which were made to blossom with ever more refulgent tone as the piece progressed.

But the sad truth is that age is no friend to sopranos. At 64, Te Kanawa must maneuver her voice with great care to approximate the sound we remember from her storied past. Some of the shimmering texture is intact, as are glimmers of her uniquely honeyed timbre. But the voice is more forwardly placed now, the tone more spread. Her once purring lower register barely registers at all, and the creaminess and glow in her high notes have been replaced by a more pinched and ordinary sound.

But her artistry remains intact. As cautiously as she navigated songs by Strauss and Canteloube, her phrasing was unfailingly apt and idiomatic. In arias from the operas "Adriana Lecouvreur" and "Die Tote Stadt" -- which best suited her current vocal estate -- her voice hinted at its past warmth and expansiveness. And, as always, she looked like a million bucks.

Conductor Emil de Cou partnered her with sensitivity, and drew breezy readings from the NSO of "pops" bonbons by Strauss, Auber, Meyerbeer and Ponchielli.

-- Joe Banno


Can opera really be in danger when small companies and improbable ventures are performing it on a shoestring in small theaters and church sanctuaries? The American Center for Puccini Studies presented a low-budget concert version of Puccini's "Tosca" on Saturday night at Rockville Christian Church. The project included the recitation, on the previous evening, of a new translation of the Sardou play that was Puccini's source for the opera.

Soprano Kay Krekow, who is director of music at the church as well as one of the directors of ACPS, brought a puissant, dark voice to the title role. Cavaradossi's high notes were beyond the company's founder, tenor and musicologist Harry Dunstan. And the best vocal work of the evening came from baritone Bryan Jackson, who was a snarling Scarpia, wavering only at his highest note.

Another laudable goal of this company is to give young people the chance to sing opera. Of several heard in the chorus and in minor roles, recent high school graduate Keith Schwartz had a promising voice as Angelotti, a good basis for the further study he plans in the fall. The evening was accompanied by harsh-edged piano, but with clever use of the church organ in the Act 1 procession and some hand bells as the Act 3 church bells.

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