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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 10, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 19
Two all-women shows at Seattle Opera
Arts & Entertainment
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Two all-women shows at Seattle Opera

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

LA VOIX HUMAINE/SUOR ANGELICA
SEATTLE OPERA
Through May 18


Opera, perhaps the most complex of all art forms, appeals to individuals for vastly different reasons. For those seeking spectacle or pageantry, the current Seattle Opera productions of two intimate one-act operas would fail utterly to satisfy. For someone looking for drama, both Poulenc's La Voix Humaine (Human Voice) and Puccini's Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica) might be nourishing. But for someone who, like me, craves opera primarily for the thrill of great vocal artists, opening night (May 4) was a very mixed bag. The principal singers ranged all the way from boring to awesome.

On the boring end of the spectrum, we had Nuccia Focile, a competent singer familiar to Seattle audiences. There is just nothing special about this woman's voice. Mind you, La Voix Humaine doesn't require a great voice. It is a short, intimate work in which a neurotic woman speaks almost entirely into a telephone. She expresses in multiple ways her sick emotional dependence on the lover who is dumping her after a five-year relationship. Thank goodness Poulenc's brilliant orchestration, beautifully realized under Gary Thor Wedow's direction, gave us something interesting to listen to. Focile acted well enough but did not move me at all.

At the other extreme, veteran Rosalind Plowright could not have been more exciting vocally or dramatically. In what could have been a one-note role as the cruel aunt of Sister Angelica, this great English artist employed all of her extraordinary gifts (as well as excellent make-up and costume) to create an image of frightening power, made all the more effective by contrast to her apparent physical frailty. Tall, gaunt, and regally straight-backed, Plowright amazed with the perfect control and size of her voice. With no hint of wobble (so often found in older singers with big voices), her voice thrilled me, most particularly with its perfectly produced chest voice. One regretted that hers was such a short presence on stage.

Russian soprano Maria Gavrilova, a frequent lead at the Metropolitan Opera, showed us a world-class voice of great warmth and size. She gave hints that she may have the smarts to grow into a great artist. Her vocal control was good, though not yet consistent. She shaped her big aria well and acted with competence, but she failed to move me. (I confess to having been spoiled by twice seeing Renata Scotto in her prime milk the emotions of this role to heartbreaking effect.) Nor did Gavrilova put emotion into her voice as perfectly as the great recorded performance of Victoria de los Angeles. Yet, this was a more interesting portrayal than that of Barbara Frittoli in the fairly recent 'Live in HD' performance from the Met.

Sets by Pier Paolo Bisleri (who also designed the costumes for Suor Angelica) and direction by Bernard Uzan were unfussy and effective. One could have done without the strangely damaged Christ child in the statue of the Virgin Mary, however. Was this a symbol for Angelica's son, who was torn from her at birth?

Supporting singers in this all-female cast were all excellent, and Beth Kirchhoff's chorus was lovely throughout.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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