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Review: Pittsburgh Opera opens season in 'Grand and Glorious' fashion

| Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Pittsburgh Opera
Marianne Cornetti (right) and Jasmine Muhammad in 'Voi lo sapete' from Cavalleria Rusticana
Pittsburgh Opera
Angela Meade in 'Casta Diva' from Norma

Pittsburgh Opera's season began as usual Oct. 18 at the Benedum Center, Downtown, but instead of a staged opera the company offered a gala concert with a generous sampling program of music from Italian, French and German operas, plus a Russian opera overture.

The singers performed at the front of the stage, with the orchestra behind them. There were no costumes, but the performers interacted in character.

The concert's title, “Grand and Glorious,” might have referred to Richard Wagner's “Die Meistersinger” Overture that began the event. Instead, music director Antony Walker emphasized that Wagner's opera is a comedy. The pace was quick, but well sung in lyrical passages.

Soprano Angela Meade, making her Pittsburgh debut, was the first of the concert's three vocal stars to perform. Her performance of “Bel raggio lusinghier” from Giachino Rossini's “Semiramide” showed her remarkable combination of a rich, lustrous voice with excellent agility in ornamented music. Add her clarion high notes at the end of the aria, and she lit the fire for the evening.

Her other solos were a stately yet fervent account of “Casta Diva” from Vincenzo Bellini's “Norma” and a well-contoured version of “Pace, pace mio dio” from Giuseppe Verdi's “La Forza del Destino,” with breathtaking pianissimos at the end.

Dramatic mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti began with an intense account of “Voi lo sapete” from Pietro Mascagni's “Cavalleria Rusticana,” and was in superb voice throughout. A Western Pennsylvania native who came up through Pittsburgh Opera's program for young singers, she sings at top opera houses around the world.

Tenor Carl Tanner, who will star in the opera's November performances of “Otello,” offered the sure-fire hit “Vesti la giubba” from Ruggerio Leoncavallo's “I Pagliacci.” For all the powerful extroversion of his singing, he conveyed Canio's inner torment.

Tanner, Cornetti and resident artist Corrie Stallings brought the first half of the concert to an intense conclusion with the confrontation scene between Santuzza and Turiddu in Mascagni's opera. Stallings, in her first year with Pittsburgh Opera, was an asset as Lola, the third side of the romantic triangle.

The resident artists were generally quite impressive in the important repertoire they performed. The Quartet from Verdi's “Rigoletto” followed Mikhail Glinka's “Russlan and Ludmilla” Overture in the second half of the concert. Stallings was a last-minute substitute as Maddalena for another singer who became ill, and sang with the score in her hands and with less power than she had in the Mascagni. Tenor Adam Bonanni sang with a sweet and sincere beauty as the Duke, beautiful on its own terms but which made the villain sound like a nice guy. Adelaide Boedecker was superb as Gilda. Phillip Gay made a strong entrance as Rigoletto, but thereafter assumed a balanced role in a quartet dominated by the Duke.

The concert concluded with a dynamic performance of the final scene from Verdi's “Il Trovatore.” Meade and Tanner turned their backs to the audience when their characters died, leaving Cornetti to inform the impressive resident artist Alex DeSocio that he has just killed his brother.

Contact Mark Kanny, classical music critic for Trib Total Media, at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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