WASHINGTON, November 12, 2012 – The Washington National Opera has creatively been filling in the long gaps of its typical, split performance seasons by offering single-evening programs featuring some of the best new singers the opera world has to offer. Case in point: WNO’s November 10 recital in the Terrace Theater featuring one of opera’s newest star sopranos, Angela Meade, who was accompanied by pianist Bradley Moore. Ms. Meade will appear with WNO in the spring, singing the title role in the company’s production of Bellini’s Norma.
This was our first chance to hear Ms. Meade and, from the outset, it was easy to see why she’s attracted so much attention, even though her career in legitimate opera is scarcely five years young. In a word, Ms. Meade possesses a BIG voice.
No disrespect meant here at all. This young soprano essentially overpowered the Terrace’s intimate space on Saturday with her concert opener, Aspasia’s militant aria “Al destin che la minaccia” from Mozart’s early opera, Mitradate, composed when Mozart was just fourteen.
The young Mozart was still strongly influenced at the time by the late Baroque, and this particular aria is almost cruel in the demands it places on the voice, requiring nearly gymnastic vocal leaps at full voice, not to mention endless passages of wicked ornamentation.
Ms. Meade jumped right in—something of a declaration of intent to the near-capacity audience—and executed this vocal showpiece brilliantly though not quite perfectly. Nonetheless, this set the bar high for the rest of this recital and Ms. Meade did not disappoint, offering an unusual and atypical program less geared toward the opera Top 40 and more toward lesser known lieder and cycles.
The selections from Franz Liszt were welcome, unusual though they are in vocal recitals these days. Liszt’s relatively unknown vocal music is as demanding as are his more famous works for piano, demanding the kind of vocal strivings for which this pianist-composer was renowned but not-occasionally lampooned. Nonetheless, Ms. Meade found the lyricism in both sets of Liszt selection. As an added bonus, the selections also gave her accompanist to display his own not-inconsiderable talents on the keyboard since the composer clearly regarded the piano as a co-equal in the presentation of these short, vigorous songs.
Other selections allowed Ms. Meade to create various moods, demonstrating that the power of her instrument was not the only item in her vocal toolkit. Charpentier’s lovely “Depuis le jour” from Louise was one example. John Kander’s prosaic yet touching vocal setting of Sullivan Ballou’s famous Civil War letter to his wife was another.
But the real vocal highlight of this recital was the series of five songs by Richard Strauss that immediately followed that strenuous Mozart opener. So infrequently heard, these songs are brilliantly set, achingly emotional, advanced, though not too much so, in their stretching of tonality. Ms. Meade inhabited each of these musical characters and moods in a way that was deeply personal and emotional.
The selection and interpretation of these marvelous pieces was equaled at the end of the program with, appropriately, the one popular aria of the evening, “Casta Diva,” the most famous moment in WNO’s upcoming production of Norma. This, too, was performed with extraordinary delicacy, much to the enthusiastic delight of the audience which, of course, demanded an encore, the lovely “lo son l’umile ancella” from Francesco Cilèa’s Adriana Lecouvreur.
The audience would have loved more if they could have gotten it, but Ms. Meade wisely wrapped it up at this point. She’ll need to make sure she has something left for what’s likely to be her triumphant return here Norma next spring.
Rating: *** (Three stars out of four.)
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