Washington's music community turned out en masse (at least as much masse as can be crammed into the Terrace Theater) last night. Great expectations were in the air; Chrissellene Petropoulos, a local soprano who has been singing with some of Europe's leading opera companies in recent years, was making her Kennedy Center solo debut. A standing ovation made it clear that the expectations had been solidly fulfilled.
The program was performed, in five languages and a half-dozen styles, with a dramatic flair equal to its high musical quality. Variety was the keynote, with repertoire ranging from Mozart to contemporary Greek art songs -- exquisite, unknown works that, in this performance, called to mind Victoria de los Angeles in her prime singing the music of Manuel de Falla. But her ethnic heritage was only a small part of what Petropoulos brought home from Europe.
When she sang Richard Strauss, her Viennese training was evident. German lieder style is hard for Americans to learn, but no problems could be heard last night. Her mastery was total; the voice used with restrained power, the words phrased with full attention to their subtle dramatic implications, and a special atmosphere (different in each of the four songs) was created from the opening notes. Contrasting with Strauss, three songs by Poulenc and Barber's evocative "Knoxville: Summer of 1915" were performed with equal expertise.
Vladimir Sokoloff, an ideal piano partner throughout, was particularly impressive in the challenging Strauss. There were problems -- top notes not completely warmed up in the opening Bellini numbers and a vocal projection that often favored tone over diction -- but they were insignificant. Designed to showcase international-class Washington artists, the Washington Performing Arts Society's Resident Artists series has been well launched by Petropoulos.