Just as he did on July 1, 1971, Julius Rudel last night picked up his baton to lead the National Symphony Orchestra in the opening of the Wolf Trap season. The program included lots of brass and big vocal sounds on stage and around the theater, most notably in the concluding Prologue to Boito's "Mefistofele," which also closed the debut concert 11 seasons ago.
A noisy jet that did not divert its course offered a reminder of the more pleasant past when plans changed paths in deference to the music. Rudel waited out the interference, and wisely so. Soprano Lucine Amara, substituting for an ailing Martina Arroyo, was then able to mold a soft, expressively shaded line over a delicate orchestral accompaniment in the aria "Pace, pace," from Verdi's "La Forza Del Destino."
Flying in literally at the last minute -- airplanes in this case being a blessing -- Amara handled the excerpts from "La Forza Del Destino" with the confidence of experience, projecting boldly and nobly the role of Lenora. Her voice was particularly well-matched with that of bass Justino Diaz, who possesses a similarly rich and vibrant sound. Though more restrained than Amara in the "Forza" duets, Diaz sang with dignity and conviction. Mezzo-soprano Ann Goodson caught the spirit, if not always the pitches, in the lively "Rataplan," from the opera's third act finale.
In that excerpt and throughout the evening, Paul Traver's University of Maryland chorus displayed a delightful verve and precision. Joined by a children's chorus up in the catwalk, ably directed by Robert Shafer, the Maryland singers brought a well-balanced full sound, and sensitive phrasing to the final Prologue familiar "Mefistofele." Thoroughly familiar with the opera, Diaz in the title role gave a forceful performance, sustaining an exceptionally resonant tone through even the lowest range.
The program, a long one, included a polished and immaculately clear interpretation of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. In this work and the others, Rudel evoked animated playing from the orchestra. The brass section handled its many demands with commendable accuracy and warmth.