Her voice was rich, smooth and balanced, her technique rock-solid and every syllable clearly projected.

— Eric Haines, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The ‘Press’ Category

REVIEW: New Orleans Opera, Barber of Seville

Friday, January 11th, 2013
New Orleans Opera Association’s production of Rossini’s ‘The Barber of Seville.’

by Andrew Adler, The Times-Picayune, November 17, 2012

Can you say ‘Figaro’? New Orleans Opera Association opens its subscription season with ‘The Barber of Seville’… Gala performances are all well and fine, but the true measure of an opera company lies in how it chooses, casts and produces the core repertory of a season. So with its Placido Domingo gala safely and successfully behind it, the New Orleans Opera Association turned to Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” as the first of three works to be presented between now and the close of the subscription schedule in April.

Few works have been so closely linked to this company. Association archivist Jack Belsom writes in a program note that “The Barber of Seville” had been performed “on 25 evenings” before emerging yet again Friday, Nov. 16, night at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts. Indeed, Belsom observed, “by the end of the 19th century it had been staged in New Orleans, in French, Italian or English, some 150 times.”

Whether you call that kind of popularity wonderfully affirming or un-wonderfully ubiquitous depends, I guess, on your perspective as opera-goer. I must confess that I’ve seen and heard enough productions of “Barber” to keep me pretty much sated for whatever years I have left. Still, given as strong an effort as the New Orleans Opera is currently mounting, I’ll save any grumbling for another occasion. If you’re going to present something as centrist as this Rossini opera, you’d better be ready to deliver.

Friday’s performance delivered abundantly, reflecting the care and feeding of a cast expert at rendering the composer’s buffa style as something greater than a montage of slapstick-like sequences. Matthew Latta’s staging accomplished just that, offering airiness and dynamism to encourage an audience to parse its various elements with fresh eyes and ears. He respected and acknowledged tradition, while never being reluctant to challenge empty convention.

The most obvious example came when Michael Worth’s brash, athletic, and keenly musical Figaro tossed off “Largo al factotum” while scooting down one of the Mahalia Jackson’s center aisles – picking his way among presumably startled patrons before bounding up to the stage. Beyond this, however, Latta injected compelling physicality into specific scenes that can often seem moribund. He had veteran bass Samuel Ramey’s wily Don Basilio sing from atop a (mock) harpsichord, arms outstretched as though belting out a sizzling number at a Vegas lounge act.

Deborah Domanski’s Rosina deftly negotiated various trips up and down staircases, and Thomas Hammons’ Doctor Bartolo — time after time the heart of this opera – was a veritable whirling dervish of haughty befuddlement. A great deal of activity, to be sure. But tellingly, a great deal of sense and logic.

Aspects of this approach tied in with the transparency and articulation that define Rossini’s comic musical methodology. Friday’s singers understood the notion of the idiomatic Rossini phrase, a way of precisely modulating vocal attack and decorative accent to bolster the identities of their respective characters. “The Barber of Seville” has been given to all manner of selective transpositions and interpolations, with a history of star singers choosing to emphasize themselves rather than the score. That can be fun. But it can also be distracting.

Happily, Friday’s cast managed to avoid most potential stumbling points. Even when there were unavoidable compromises – particularly tenor Michele Angelini — who sang Count Almaviva while shaking off the effects of illness earlier in the week -– the results were laudably authentic and intuitive.

As a mezzo, Domanski made her Rosina vocally flexible and lustrous in a way that confirmed how this role can suit singers of differing tonal perspectives. “Una voce poca fa,” Rosina’s early act-one cavatina, did not devolve into mannerism; it was a confession of deep and mysterious longing. Elsewhere, Domanski -– because she never gave too much too soon – could fool a listener into believing her voice was fundamentally modest in scale. Then, in a rush of thrilling crescendo, she would reveal a ringing and securely supported top. That’s what we call skill, and just as important, taste.

Ramey, for decades one of the most distinguished basses anywhere, was wickedly pleasurable regaling the splendors of slander amid “La calunnia e un venticello.” When the slanderous breeze became a storm, his voice gained appropriate proportion and sumptuous roundness.

Though it was evident that Angelini was conserving his vocal resources, he mustered the necessary creaminess and dynamic urgency to Almaviva, both in solo and ensemble. No quibbles, however, about Hammons’ Bartolo. It was a masterly, encompassing interpretation.

So was Worth’s Figaro, the barber who whips up a splendid solution to whatever problem presents itself. His singing was full of verve and intelligence; his sense of theatricality almost always unerring. Regardless of the mayhem surrounding him, this Figaro remained in absolute, delectable control of comic circumstance.

Among supporting roles, Lenora Green was a pert, vivacious Berta. Members of the New Orleans Opera Chorus sang heartily and occupied the stage with assurance. Words matter, and they made certain that diction was precise, not approximate.

Robert Lyall, the company’s general and artistic director, conducted members of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra with an emphasis on tautness and elegance of line. Not every moment was pristine, but the fundamental worthiness of his account – and the advocacy of his singers – was consistently apparent.

REVIEW: Santa Fe Pro Musica – A Baroque Christmas

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

Thrilling displays of ornamentation, charged with emotion For the Baroque Christmas


by D. S. Crafts for The Albuquerque Journal

Undoubtedly due to our association of the Messiah oratorio with Christmas, baroque music in general always seems appropriate to the season.
On Thursday night, the eve of the Winter Solstice, Santa Fe Pro Musica Baroque Ensemble opened its run of hour-long concerts entitled “A Baroque Christmas.” Guest mezzo-soprano Deborah Domanski alternates with soprano Liesl Odenweller.

Held at the Loretto Chapel, adorned for Christmas with poinsettias and blood-red ribbons garnishing evergreen roping, this concert is performed on baroque period instruments. Though the evening is only a bit more than an hour in length, it is well worth the drive up to Santa Fe.

The program opens with instrumental excerpts from Henry Purcell’s semi-opera The Fairy Queen, an adaptation of Shake-speare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. The music instantly sets the festive mood, each a sparkling piece of musical invention, including two jolly Hornpipes (Sailors’ Dance)–a popular form in sea-faring Britain–and a spritely back and forth play between winds and strings in the “Dance for the Fairies.”

Vivaldi’s motet, Nulla in mundo pax sincera (There is no peace without sorrow) is a dramatic work designed for vocal display, and though not a Christmas piece per se, it does have that feel about it. I have a recording of the work by the great British soprano Emma Kirkby, but Santa Fe’s Deborah Domanski sang it with more color and more engaging expression. Two arias are separated by a recitative that blooms with sensitive embellishment. One can revel in the serpent’s hiss in the second aria “Spirat anguis inter.” The Alleluia was a thrilling display of fioratura ornamentation not only immaculate in execution but charged with brilliant emotion. Overall, a performance that will remain in the memory of those present. It is no wonder Deborah leaves for an engagement at the Metropolitan Opera next month. We wish her the best.

When one thinks of Christmas music, it is generally vocal music which first comes to mind. Yet during the Baroque period, when instrumental music began to come into its own, many composers wrote concertos or sinfonias specifically designed for Christmas use. Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in G Minor is by the far the most often played. Concertmaster Stephen Redfield immediately sets the tone with an exhilarating clip. After several more fast-paced movements, the work ends with a graceful Pastorale. The ensemble gives the music a fresh gleam that shines throughout.

The final set brings Domanski back to the stage for popular carols from a variety of countries. Sentiment ranges from the humorous Tyrolian carol about two bumpkin shepherds, to the reverently beautiful Russian “In a Manger.” But finally Domanski takes on yet another piece of bravura singing in Handel’s “O had I Jubal’s lyre,” resulting Thursday night in deservedly boisterous applause.

This concert repeats nightly at 6 and 8pm through December 24th at the Loretto Chapel. Deborah Domanski alternates with soprano Liesl Odenweller

REVIEW: The Tempest at Santa Fe’s Lensic Theater

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Jacobi, musicians stir ‘Tempest’

By D.S. Crafts / For The Albuquerque Journal on Fri, Jun 24, 2011

From Claudius to Cadfael to Hamlet and now Prospero, Sir Derek Jacobi has long been one of the world’s great actors. This past weekend he and his partner Richard Clifford brought to the Lensic Performing Arts Center staged excerpts of what may have been Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest. The afternoon more than fulfilled expectations.

Jacobi, like a host of other significant actors and writers (and humbly yours truly), has examined the plays and examined the life of the man from Stratford and concluded this marriage makes no sense. “Shake-speare” as it was originally hyphenated (the shaker of spears), was a pseudonym, a very common literary device especially in the Renaissance. Jacobi has been particularly outspoken on the subject, asserting that when looked at dispassionately, Edward deVere would appear the only logical candidate for authorship. “It just seems so obvious to me,” Jacobi told me. “I want to see the right man finally get credit.” The traditional Shakespeare biography is based almost entirely on speculation which when investigated critically falls to shreds.

The authorship controversy relates especially to The Tempest as the play was traditionally dated after deVere’s death. Current research, however, has shown that to be false. If not Shake-speare’s final word, The Tempest was certainly a late play, and though it has its dark moments is far less bleak than Timon, or King Lear. There is still a sense that justice may, if at length, eventually prevail in the world.

Jacobi gave Prospero a more commanding demeanor than I had imagined. “Our revels now are ended,” for example, became a vigorous enjoinment, more vehement than I have ever heard it. He was employing, of course, a full stage voice as opposed to the more conversational decibel level at which we are used to hearing him in films. He projected qualities of both magic and realism, neither subsuming the other. He also did a bit of faux-singing as Stephano, the drunken would-be king. Complementing Jacobi were Richard Clifford and Irish actress Acushla Bastible[cq] each masterfully assuming multiple roles.

The presentation Sunday afternoon was evenly divided between dramatic recitation and music provided by the unfailingly excellent Santa Fe Pro Musica Baroque Ensemble, here at full strength. With the exception of Handel, the music was drawn from the mid Baroque period reflecting the 1674 “operatic” staging of the work in London.

Gracing the ensemble was Santa Fe’s Deborah Domanski, a voice I have long considered Metropolitan Opera quality. Looking as voluptuous as her singing, she lent her gorgeous mezzo to a variety of songs and ultimately two exquisite Handel arias–the sensuously legato lines of an aria from Radamisto, followed by the coloratura fireworks of “Furibondo spira” from Partenope, which brought enthusiastic applause even from the actors. Domanski came within a hair’s breath of stealing the show. Her stage presence easily equaled that of Jacobi’s. (Why isn’t this woman singing on world-class opera stages?)

Domanski also sang several duets with David Farwig who lent his smooth, colorful baritone to solo songs including the famous lyric “Full Fathom Five” in a setting here by John Banister.

Deborah Domanski, Sir Derek Jacobi, Acushla Bastible, Richard Clifford, David Farwig

Deborah Domanski, Sir Derek Jacobi, Acushla Bastible, Richard Clifford, David Farwig