The music most identified with Italy is opera, and "Italia in Musica," Sunday's program at Lisner Auditorium, was made up mostly of selections sung by eight members of the Opera Camerata of Washington under the direction of Micaele Sparacino. But the world's best violins also come from Italy, and the piano was invented by an Italian, Bartolomeo Cristofori, who merged two words to name it: "pianoforte," or "softloud."
So the program began with a violinist, 12-year-old Brendan Conway, playing Antonio Bazzini's awesomely difficult "Scherzo Fantastico" with verve, technical skill and obvious enjoyment. And it ended with some brilliant playing by Italian pianist Rosario Mastroserio, who began with Italian music (a sonata by Domenico Scarlatti), but went on to Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" (Italianized in the program listing to "Quadri di un'esposizione") and ended with two pieces by Astor Piazzolla. Mastroserio is a complete master of his instrument and of the music's three contrasting styles; his Mussorgsky was notable for grasp of the music's pictorial elements and contrasts and for the sheer power of its slam-bang finale.
The opera selections, except for arias by Verdi and the verismo composer Francesco Cilea, were all bel canto--a specialty of the Opera Camerata. The eight singers--sopranos Raya Gonen and Marje Palmieri, mezzo-sopranos Maria di Stefano and Tatyana Ishemova, tenors Christopher Petrucelli and Daniel Snyder, baritone Darryl Winston and bass Eugene Galvin--are all well versed in the style and sang impressively in their solos and the two ensembles, the quartet from "Rigoletto" and the sextet from "Lucia."
The audience was an unusually congenial group, perhaps because this was a benefit for the scholarship fund of the Italian Cultural Society of Washington, and we sounded collectively great in a sing-along performance of Verdi's great chorus "Va, pensiero."