Stephen Costello, Elizabeth Futral a pleasing duo at Vocal Arts D.C. recital

By Charles T. Downey
Wednesday, December 8, 2010; 8:07 PM

Stephen Costello and Elizabeth Futral performed a duo recital Tuesday night in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. The American tenor and soprano, presented by Vocal Arts D.C., drew a large audience for a program centered on ear-pleasing romantic opera duets, in alternation with sets of songs, largely in the same stylistic and harmonic idiom.

Costello, in his 20s and making his Vocal Arts debut, sang with rough power, a sound that had enough heroic ping to carry the high notes of Des Grieux in Massenet's "Manon" and Edgardo in "Lucia." A sobbing quality, which gives many tenor voices an affective edge, led him to glide over the pitches imprecisely at times, causing intonation problems, as in the cadenza with Futral at the end of the Act I duet between Alfredo and Violetta from Verdi's "La Traviata." By contrast, Futral was ultra-refined, although a tendency to compress her voice led to a swallowed tone that was little more than a flutter in some soft, low passages. She excelled in the dazzling pyrotechnics of Victor Herbert's saucy song "Romany Life" and was at her open-throated best in a duet from Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore."

Pianist James Harp gave a pearly sheen to the little violet interludes added by Liszt to the "Three Petrarch Sonnets" and the scrumptious piano parts of Poulenc's "Fiancailles Pour Rire,"which also showcased Futral's charm as an actress. The singers offered two encores, the brindisi from "La Traviata" and Adolphe Adam's overwrought "O Holy Night." Although Costello's smirking laugh created hopes that the latter would be a send-up of that well-roasted Christmas chestnut, it was not to be. Downey is a freelance writer.

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