Kathleen Battle at the Kennedy Center
Who needs opera? Evidently not Kathleen Battle. Banished from the world's major opera houses years ago for displays of temperament, the brilliant soprano has made a comeback on the recital stage. Monday night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall she opened the Washington Performing Arts Society's season with a program of practically everything but opera: spirituals, gospel, pop and world music and a lot of jazz.
Performing with five jazz-oriented instrumentalists, Battle generously shared the spotlight, a recognition well earned by pianist Cyrus Chestnut, saxophonist Kirk Whalum, bassist Rodney Whitaker, guitarist Romero Lubambo and drummer Cyro Baptista. Each had opportunities to shine, and all got enthusiastic applause, particularly Chestnut (who played a brilliant solo on "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot") and Whalum, who engaged in frequent, piquant dialogue with Battle, particularly on Dvorak's "Going Home," the most classical item on the program.
Battle, who celebrated a birthday last month (56th or 60th; sources differ), has lost none of the creamy smoothness in her tone, the easy agility of phrasing or the expressive power that made her the darling of opera fans from Salzburg to Chicago decades ago. Her high notes sounded fine, too, though nothing on the program tested that aspect as thoroughly as the role of, say, Zerbinetta in "Ariadne auf Naxos."
The program, titled "So Many Stars" after the popular song by Sergio Mendes, included numbers in Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian patois as well as English. After a tribute to Washington's own Duke Ellington, a spectacular series of encores ended with a treatment of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" that brought out the best of everyone on stage.
-- Joseph McLellan
'Andrea Chenier' at the Kennedy Center
It is unalloyed passion that brings many singers to opera, and that is certainly the case with tenor Carlo Ventre, who took over the title role of the Washington National Opera's sleek, coruscating production of "Andrea Chenier" Monday evening at the Kennedy Center. Ventre's voice positively shimmered in the white-hot moments of Umberto Giordano's 1896 opera about class warfare, psychological conflict and love.
Ventre possesses a remarkably well-supported tenor, which turned on a dime and injected supplicating fervor in the climax of the aria "Come un bel di di maggio" and the second act's "Credo a una pozzanza arcana." While this rising Italian-Uruguayan can sound somewhat husky in the lower registers, he sang with intelligent phrasing and committed ardor, nicely complementing the fervent soprano of Paoletta Marrocu.
Mezzo-soprano Kyle Engler was a sinister countess, while baritone Jorge Lagunes continued to sing strongly as Gerard. Throughout the evening, this fine singing danced on top of the highly polished musical accompaniment from the orchestra, and there were many memorable solos from the strings and woodwinds. Conductor Eugene Kohn kept everything in balance, revealing the music's remarkably lucid and colorful textures. Fortunately, three chances remain to hear this engaging artistic collaboration. It closes Oct. 2.
-- Daniel Ginsberg