OPERA NEWS - Zelmira
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In Review > Concerts and Recitals


Antony Walker & Washington Concert Opera

EVEN IN CONCERT FORM, Rossini’s Zelmira makes for clunky drama. A significant amount of plot actually takes place before the opera even opens, and it takes some effort to get invested in what follows—an implausibility-laced conflict concerning an endangered king of Lesbos, his heroic daughter and slow-to-catch-on Trojan son-in-law, and an usurper of the throne. Too bad someone can’t try the idea Woody Allen successfully used in his early film What’s Up, Tiger Lily? and simply substitute new, cogent and interesting dialogue for the 1822 libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola. 

That said, the score certainly holds up, as reconfirmed by Washington Concert Opera April 5 at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium in what appears to have been Zelmira’s first U.S. performance since 1835. The work boasts lots of engaging, colorfully orchestrated music, more than enough to offset occasional pedestrian passages. Above all, there is ample opportunity for coloratura combustion and bel canto eloquence. That opportunity was seized upon by a mostly sturdy cast conducted by Antony Walker, who ensured terrific energy for every emotional burst, considerable breadth for the tenderest moments. (A few discreet nips and tucks were made to the piece.)

Silvia Tro Santafe enlivened the title role with her juicy tone and generally supple coloratura. The mezzo shaped phrases incisively throughout, making a successful effort to add layers to the character. As Zelmira’s husband Ilo, Lawrence Brownlee negotiated melodic leaps and bounds with his usual aplomb, all the while communicating vividly, nowhere more so than in the showy, yet poetic, entrance aria, “Terra amica.” Brownlee’s sensitive blending with the equally nuanced Santafe in their Act I duet was another highlight of the evening. Vivica Genaux did stellar work as Zelmira’s ultimately trusting confidante Emma, offering tonal plushness and intensely communicative, beautifully ornamented phrasing. Patrick Carfizzi brought dignity of phrase and considerable tonal richness to the role of Zelmira’s in-hiding father Polidoro. He also matched Brownlee run for florid run in their Act II scene. 

The opera’s second, but hardly less demanding, tenor role—the conniving, crown-grabbing Antenore—was valiantly tackled by Julius Ahn. He produced a few zing-y top notes along the way, but largely sounded over-taxed by the assignment, his tone edgy at the top, and hollow at the bottom. Matthew Scollin rounded out the cast ably as Antenore’s evil sidekick Leucippo. The bass fell a little short in high-lying passages, but otherwise filled out the music firmly, making the most of his ripe, resonant midrange. The chorus, especially the women, maintained tonal warmth and articulated with finesse. A rough patch or two aside, the orchestra also held firm, even when Walker’s tempos approached warp speed. All in all, Zelmira turned out to be one of the company’s most rewarding adventures into the land of neglected operas. —Tim Smith

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