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Posts Tagged ‘Mary Elizabeth Williams’

For a while, the Welsh National Opera used to be mentioned in magazines not because of the many famous singers born in Wales, such as Gwyneth Jones, Margaret Price or Bryn Terfel, but rather for its association with Decca and Teldec record labels. Then Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballé, Luciano Pavarotti, Samuel Ramey would join the company to record Bellini’s Norma. Those days are long gone, but the WNO has not exactly kept within regional limits, as this tour in England proves.

The tour program involves Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux and Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, the last title also part of a project of staging three operas by Verdi. In partnership with the opera house in Bonn, director David Pountney and stage designer Raimund Bauer have devised something that they call “the Verdi Machine”, three panels that can be moved and shaped to form all kinds of set.

In Mr. Pountney’s production, the panels are used to create a sense of play within the play, a kind of red-and-white bizarre masquerade, where everybody is playing a part in Riccardo’s Fellini-esque fantasy. The staging is overbusy, and its farcical approach makes the story far less dramatic than it should. Also, visually, the production looks seedy in a way that suggest the cabaret rather than the opera house. Maybe a richer budget would do the trick.

The run of performances was first led by the WNO’s conductor laureate Carlo Rizzi and taken over by Gareth Jones. The musical direction this evening was nothing but serviceable and it is hard to imagine that, a couple of decades ago, Reginald Goodall recorded Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde with these forces.

This evening’s Amelia was American soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams, whose full lyric voice is a model of homogeneity, all registers rich and distinctive, and her technique is solid. One feels that nerves of steel make her operate so surely and cleanly close to her limits in an emploi in the vicinity of dramatic soprano repertoire, and yet I would be curious to hear her comfortably within her natural range as a formidable Donna Elvira, Elettra or Vittelia. This evening, not surprisingly, the most lyric pages in her part, the aria Morrò, ma prima in grazia, let Ms. Williams show the whole extent of her talents. There she sang with such naturalness and sincerity that one would need a heart of stone not to be touched.

Gwyn Hughes Jones is one of those natural tenors who are not afraid of high notes. He relies a bit too much in nasal resonance and, whenever he wants to boost projection, his sound can become quite glaring. Nonetheless, he has the necessary congeniality for Riccardo and sings with true animation. Sara Fulgoni too is a natural contralto whose low notes sound integrated and well-connected to her middle register. Hers is not really a big voice as one is used to hear in this role, but she has good projection and found no trouble in the small auditorium. Julie Martin du Theil was a sweet-toned Oscar with good divisions and charm to spare.

Roland Wood (Renato) was victim to a lung infection and was unable to sing the first scene in the third act. Before and after that, his forceful baritone sounded healthy enough but for one or other instances of instability. His replacement (whose name I could not understand) sang with a richer and darker but marginally less focused sound. Both offered satisfying performances. 

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