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Last night we had the opportunity to hear some seasoned voices of larger dimensions singing the hell out of Verdi. The arias and duets we heard were those from operas that one must hear at the Metropolitan Opera. What was interesting about the performances we heard last night at the National Opera Center was how successfully the artists were able to summon up the entire opera in a single aria or duet.  It was like feeling the ocean in a single wave.


There was something else all of the singers had in common--a very Italianate embouchure--something every voice teacher tries to get her students to emulate. We are not sure how many of these singers studied in Russia but we'd guess at least half. There must be some wonderful training there or else it's genetics!


The arias we heard came from some of Verdi's best operas--Aida, Forza del Destino, Otello, Un Ballo in Maschera, Macbeth, Il Trovatore, and Don Carlos. The "Recordare" from his Requiem reminded us how Verdi can make religious music sound so very secular--very operatic indeed, as sung by mezzo-soprano Natasha Novitskaia.


Ms. Novitskaia lent her powerful voice to the creation of the character of Ulrica in "Re dell'abisso, affrettati" from Ballo in Maschera. The way she used the texture of her mezzo instrument created an aura of suspense. We loved the final "Silencio!". In the lower register she has a contralto quality.


She "plays well with others" as we saw in the numerous duets. She was a very commanding and devious Amneris in the duet "Fu la sorte dell'armi a' tuoi funesta" from Aida, tricking her rival Aida. The Ethiopian princess was well portrayed by dramatic soprano Alla Perchikova who showed her character's panic and ended the duet with a delicate pianissimo.


Our favorite Verdi opera, one seldom heard, is Forza del Destino--mainly for the insistent recurring theme that weaves in and out. Soprano Zoya Gramagin sang "Pace, pace mio Dio!" convincingly with gorgeous tone. There was plenty of strength at the bottom of the register and we enjoyed the fortissimo climax. Craig Ketter, Music director and accompanist for the evening, did a superlative job all evening long but was particularly remarkable in this aria, bringing out the theme that we love so dearly.


With all due respect to the attention paid to women this month, we must move on to the male singers of which there were four celebrated exemplars. Tenor Francisco Casanova is famed for his Verdi heroes. As the remorseful Otello who has killed his dear wife Desdemona in a fit of irrational jealousy, he mined every ounce of torment and remorse in "Niun me tema". As any actor does, he made the most of his death scene. What a performance!


We also enjoyed his resolute Radames in the duet "L'aborrita rivale a me sfuggia" with Ms. Novitskaia as his Amneris.


Another tenor, Kristian Benedikt, used his fine instrument with gravitas as he interpreted "La vita è inferno...O tu che in seno agli angeli" from La Forza del Destino.


Verdi did indeed enjoy writing for the baritone fach and Gustavo Ahualli used his dark instrument in a measured and deeply felt performance of "Eri tu che macchiavi quell'anima" from Un Ballo in Maschera in which Renato expresses his anger and sorrow. Mr. Ahualli achieved characterological complexity by means of dynamic variation.


He was totally different as the Conte di Luna in "Mira, d'acerbe lagrime" a duet from Il Trovatore 


We needed a bass voice to round out the evening and one couldn't have asked for anyone better than Mikhail Svetlov who managed to create "sympathy for the devil", with some help from Verdi of course. King Phillip has stolen his son's intended bride and then feels sorry for himself that she never loved him! How can one feel sympathy for this evil man who will order his son killed!!! We don't know; all we know is that Mr. Svetlov's impassioned but introspective delivery left us feeling pity for a man facing the consequences of a bad decision.


We heard very little of soprano Jacqueline Quirk but would like to hear more. She appeared in the Act IV Finale of Il Trovatore which closed the program, alongside Ms. Novitskaia, Mr. Casanova, and Mr. Ahualli.


Of course we had an encore and nothing beats "Libiamo" from La Traviata which put us in a perfect mood for the champagne reception.


It was a splendid evening and left us feeling grateful for the opportunity to hear such voices up close and personal. Dramatic voices mature rather late and we doubt whether we will hear them in our tours through the local music conservatories.

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