Miami Lyric Opera closes season in style

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Vocal programs of isolated opera arias are often the musical equivalent of a chicken salad lunch—it sates the appetite, there’s nothing heavy, and usually no surprises.

What looked on paper like a chicken-salad aria event by Miami Lyric Opera offered a strong evening of vocalism that rose to surprising heights Saturday night at the Colony Theater, closing the fourth season of Raffaele Cardone’s fledgling company on an up note.

Saturday’s program offered a more unified lineup than usual, leading off with extended scenes from Don Pasquale and Manon. With the safety-first conservative repertoire served up by the two large regional opera companies, Massenet is encountered locally about as often as Wozzeck.

So it was doubly pleasurable to hear the generous selection of Manon excerpts, which also provided several of the evening’s high points. Massenet’s tale of the wealth-loving woman of leisure who leads herself and the Count des Grieux to a tragic end is chock full of some of Massenet’s finest music, remarkable in its range and variety.

The title role received spectacular advocacy from Susana Diaz as Manon. Glammed up in blond hair and slinky evening gown, it’s hard to believe this was the same singer who was so convincing as a virginal, innocent Gilda a year ago in Rigoletto. At times, one wanted a smoother legato and more body in the middle voice, particularly with Je suis encore. But Diaz showed herself more than capable of taking on the demanding role, displaying blazing top notes and impressive agility in a glorious account of Manon’s Gavotte, and plumbing emotional depth in a concentrated Adieu, notre petite table.

Jorge Pita was an equally worthy des Griux, bringing yearning ardor to Il Reve and dramatic power to Ah! fuyez. So compelling and well sung was the ensuing scene by both artists, that it was a bit disappointing not to hear the rest of the opera. Cardone provided a teaser that the company may present a complete Manon next season. We live in hope.

Lighter fare was encountered with the opening excerpts from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. Beverly Coulter was a lively presence as Norina, conveying the charm of the mercurial schemer and showing impressive technical gleam in Quel guardo and comic interplay in the duet with Daniel Snodgrass’s Malatesta. Coulter’s ringing top notes were also heard to fine effect in the Lucia sextet and music from Bellini’s La Sonnambula, with lovely tone and coloratura dazzle in Amina’s showpiece Ah! non giunge.

David Pereira possesses a refined if slender lyric tenor. Though sensitively floated, Faust’s Salut demeure requires more weight and a firmer attack, but Pereira’s elegant voice was well suited to Ernesto’s arias from Pasquale.

Diego Baner wielded his imposing bass with finesse and keen dramatic point in arias from Don Carlo and Simon Boccanegra. Baritone Snodgrass demonstrated idiomatic Italianate legato and showed versatility with the buffo bel canto as well as a fine account of Albert’s aria from Werther. Mezzo-soprano Lissette Jimenez displayed her rich tone and admirable technique in arias from La Favorita and Cavalleria Rusticana.

Over a long program, pianist Paul Schwartz was an exemplary partner, alertly supporting the singers and providing faultless accompaniment. The only blot on the evening was the audible amped-up bass from Segafredo Café next door, which provided an unwonted backbeat to Massenet and Donizetti.

Miami Lyric Opera will open its 2009 season on March 26 with Bellini’s I Puritani. Also to be heard next year are Bizet’s Carmen, Emilio Arrieta’s Marina and a double bill of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Puccini’s Suor Angelica. Visit

Video: Susana Diaz as Gilda singing Caro nome in Miami Lyric Opera’s Rigoletto, 2007.

Posted in opera review, Performances

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Sun Aug 24, 2008
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