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Verve and versatility at Washington National Opera’s concert series

By Robert Battey,

The Washington National Opera opened its Celebrity Concert Series with the versatile American baritone Nathan Gunn Sunday. Movie-star handsome and blessed with a flexible, virile instrument, Gunn has never appeared with the WNO before, and one hopes that this augurs future roles with the company.

Joined occasionally by soprano Emily Albrink and tenor William Burden, Gunn traversed terrain that ranged from Mozart to Broadway (“Into the Woods,” “Camelot,” “Sweeney Todd”). His baritone is clean and silky at the lower and middle dynamic ranges; “Deh, vieni” from “Don Giovanni” was quite lovely. At its fullest extensions — very high or very loud — the color can become slightly metallic.

Oddly, some of his selections didn’t lie ideally for his voice. “If Ever I Would Leave You” from “Camelot” and “L’orage s’est calmé” from “The Pearl Fishers” had him reaching a bit in his lower register. But overall, this was the work of a fine artist, vocally, physically, and musically.

His opening “Largo al factorum” was relaxed and funny. ‘‘Johanna” from “Sweeney Todd” was perhaps too “operatic,” but gorgeous nonetheless. The tenor/baritone blend with Burden in “Au found du temple saint” from “The Pearl Fishers” was glowing and golden.

Gunn gave Albrink a nice solo turn in “Green Finch” from “Sweeney Todd”; she is a charming singer and actress, who compensates for a smallish voice with perfect placement, pitch and diction. Burden’s voice is a bit dry, and he impressed more in the Broadway numbers than the operatic ones. But both artists were major contributors to the evening’s success.

Guest conductor Ted Sperling led the onstage WNO orchestra very capably through a difficult program. He handled balances well for the most part (less so in the Broadway numbers), and drew fleet, lively playing in the Rossini and Mozart overtures.

Battey is a freelance writer.

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