Washington National Opera will perform a new English translation of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” next month. On Sunday evening, the company presented a recital by two of the lead singers from its production, tenor Paul Appleby and baritone Joshua Hopkins, in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello promised that it was the first of a new series of such concerts to introduce audiences to some of its young artists.
Appleby has a pretty, sometimes powerful voice and considerable charm in his stage presence, but previous recitals in the area have showcased a regrettable taste for light fare. This program was no different, which ranged from Austrian operetta to American musicals, dotted around less-than-inspired performances of Beethoven’s “Adelaide” and Donizetti’s aria “Una furtiva lagrima.” The promise heard in Frank Bridge’s beautifully crafted song “Love Went A-Riding” was unfortunately rarely in evidence.
Hopkins, who has impressed me on stage with the Santa Fe Opera and the Central City Opera, did not quite have a handle on the high notes of Rossini’s “Largo al factotum,” and he often seemed to be trying to make his voice a size too big, with a broad vibrato, for what he needed, including in yet more Broadway pieces. Pianist Natalia Katyukova excelled at the keyboard, giving credible performances in every style, from orchestral reductions to the honky-tonk references in Paul Bowles’s “Blue Mountain Ballads.” The two singers made a pleasing, if not quite balanced, pairing in duets from Bizet’s “Pearl Fishers” and Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore,” but the cute stage shenanigans in between many of the selections wore rather thin by the end.
Downey is a freelance writer.