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Two sopranos and two baritones are not the usual complement of singers when an orchestra programs operatic selections. But that combination worked very well when sopranos Kristen Yarborough and Andrea Blough and baritones Dominic Aquilino and Kevin Doherty joined the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra in First Baptist Church’s sanctuary for the March subscription concert. All four singers belong to the Asheville Lyric Opera. The selections were exclusively in Italian, drawing on two of Mozart’s Italian language operas and well-known operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Puccini and Verdi.
Donizetti’s vocal writing is too melodramatic for my taste. If I were forced to listen to an entire Donizetti opera, I would choose Lucia di Lammermoor, since the plot is melodramatic (the mad scene and all that) and the vocal writing works. But unlike great operatic composers, Donizetti didn’t know how to use an orchestra. Ms. Yarborough’s beautiful singing of “Regnava nel silenzio” came to an end and we had to listen to some banal final chords in the orchestra that destroyed the effect she had created.
Certainly Donizetti looked at his worst when preceded by Rossini and followed by Mozart in this program. Those two knew how to use an orchestra. Maestro Thomas Joiner began the night with the familiar Rossini overture to Barber of Seville, taken at a slightly relaxed tempo that worked in the church acoustics. Ms. Blough showed a strong upper register in “Una voce poco fa,” reassuring us that she could hold her own against full orchestral resources, and when Mr. Aquilino joined her for “dunque io son,” we realized we were in for a vocal treat from these singers.
The first half of the concert concluded with four selections from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. The first act aria “Non piu andrai” brought Mr. Doherty on stage for the first time in the title role, and the duet “Cinque...dieci” brought him together with Ms. Blough. Mr. Aquilino then presented Count Almaviva’s third act complaint “Hai gia vinta la causa!” and the four singers delivered the act four finale ensemble “Contessa, perdono!” in which Almaviva apologizes and amazingly, his Countess forgives him. Maestro Joiner showed excellent form in a close accompaniment. During the two ensemble pieces, the orchestra was not always attentive to him. Some orchestra members charged ahead, ignoring the conductor’s beat which had followed the ritardando of the singers.
Mozart’s overture to Don Giovanni greeted us after intermission. Wonderfully spooky woodwind scales ran up and down our spine, preparing us for the eventual arrival of the Commendatore to lead Don Giovanni to the underworld. Then more Donizetti. Ms. Yarborough and Mr. Doherty sang the duet “Il pallor funesto, orrendo” from Lucia, and Mr. Aquilino gave us a selection from Elixir of Love. The performers did their best, but I still don’t care for Donizetti.
From here on, this was a concert to exult in. Ms. Blough gave a superb rendering of “O mio babbino caro,” the familiar aria from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. Mr. Doherty demonstrated his power when the brass accompaniment swelled in “Era equale la voce?” from the same opera. Not to be upstaged, Ms. Yarborough gave a fully expressive rendering of “Ah, fors’e lui...Sempre libera,” the act one finale from Verdi’s La Traviata. In “Sempre libera,” you could hear the doomed heroine’s profound wistful regret underlying her attempt at gaiety. This was dramatic operatic singing at its expressive best. The four singers’ joyous drinking song from act one of La Traviata concluded the program appropriately, but I found myself still thinking of “Sempre libera.”
It would have helped many in the audience if there had been program notes that described the context of each aria. Libretti and translations would have been overkill, but some sense of each opera’s drama would have been nice.