Miami Lyric Opera serves up an enjoyable potpourri

By Lawrence Budmen

Soprano Nathalie Avila performed at Miami Lyric Opera's gala concert Saturday night at the Colony Theatre.

Soprano Nathalie Avila performed at Miami Lyric Opera’s gala concert Saturday night at the Colony Theatre.

Miami Lyric Opera’s gala concert on Saturday offered a rousing evening of highlights from the bel canto masterpieces of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti, generous helpings of Verdi  and the verismo of Puccini and Mascagni plus some show-stopping Bizet. Artistic director Raffaele Cardone fielded a group of nine gifted singers, taking turns in arias and duets before an enthusiastic audience.

In this type of operatic potpourri, inevitably there are standouts and special honors go to soprano Nathalie Avila and two veterans—tenor Jorge Pita Carreras and baritone Nelson Martinez, with coloratura soprano Joy Berta making a highly promising debut.

Avila was a highly praised Mimi in last summer’s MLO production of Puccini’s La Bohème. The glamorous soprano floated “Si, mi’chiamano Mimi” with a sumptuous timbre and beautifully nuanced dynamics  Despite the concert format, she really played the role, suggesting both Mimi’s shy and playful sides. Avila blended wonderfully with Lievens Castillo’s lyric tenor for an ardent “O suave fanciulla.”  Her richly colored soprano soared as Santuzza in an intense rendition of the Easter Hymn from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.

Pita Carreras, a fine Verdian, displayed passion and fire in Riccardo’s aria from the final act of Un Ballo en Maschera (which he sang in MLO’s outstanding concert version of the opera this past season). His dark timbre and dulcet pianissimos illuminated “E lucevan le stelle” from Tosca to fine effect. For an artfully sung rendition of the famous tenor-baritone duet from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, Pita was in full lyrical mode, ably seconded by Martinez’s deep voice.

Martinez’s two solos brought some of the evening’s finest singing. His plush tone and dramatic intensity vividly conveyed Renato’s heartbreak and anger in a ringing “Eri tu” from Ballo. “Vien Lenora” from Donizetti’s La Favorita was a model of fine bel canto singing. Martinez’s vocal coloration, smoothly polished phrasing and burnished sound rang the rafters, the final cabaletta robust.

In her first appearance with the company, Joy Berta proved a well-schooled lyric coloratura. In the Libiamo from La Traviata with Pita Carreras and a vociferous chorus, she was spirited and agile. Berta was particularly impressive in finely spun renderings of “Regnava nel silenzio” and “Quando rapito in estasi” from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. She is clearly a Lucia of the old school with a lighter sound (in the manner of Roberta Peters and Patrice Munsel) than the more dramatic interpreters of the role in recent decades. Berta’s voice is lovely and she rose to Lucia’s turns in the vocal stratosphere without strain, the trills and roulades spot-on and accurate.

Castillo brought Italianate ring and squillo to Rodolfo’s “Che gelida manina.” He handled the difficult high and low extremes of range in Alvaro’s aria from Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, singing with power and a sense of drama. Castillo’s top range was more edgy in the duet from Verdi’s Don Carlo but Armando Naranjo displayed his bona fides as a Verdi baritone with smooth and vibrant vocalism. He also assayed an exuberant Toreador Song from Carmen, the low notes firmly placed.

Gibson Dorce was not quite the basso profundo that “Il lacerato spirito” from Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra calls for but he sang ably with clear, firm low tones. Lissette Jimenez’s mezzo was more comfortable in the depths of the fortune teller Ulrica’s arias from Ballo than the coloratura of Rosina in Rossini’s Barber of Seville. While the Verdi scena showcased Jimenez’s strong low range and rounded sonority, Rosina’s trills and ornaments were often fudged or approximated.

In the Rosina-Figaro duo, Daniel Snodgrass’ light baritone and deft manner were a delight. His astute comic timing and engaging personality were even more entertaining in Dandini’s spirited solo from La Cenerentola.  Snodgrass displayed a more serious side with an aria from Bellini’s I Puritani, elegantly shaped and sung with warmth and conviction.

The program concluded with a high-powered traversal of the Sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor, Berta riding the high vocal lines and Pita Carreras in impassioned form (joined by Jimenez, Snodgrass, Castillo and Dorce).

Jeffrey Eckstein and Leo Walz were the attentive, hard working conductors. Despite a few orchestral glitches, the small ensemble’s strings shone in lyrical and flowing accounts of the Prelude to La Traviata and Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana.

Miami Lyric Opera presents Verdi’s Rigoletto 8 p.m. July 11 and 4 p.m. July 12 at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach.

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Sun May 31, 2015
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