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In performance: Bel Cantanti does one-acters

by Tom Huizenga

Edited to add: This review ran in the early edition of Monday's Washington Post.

On opening night of its new season, the locally grown Bel Cantanti Opera Company proved you needn’t join big crowds at fancy venues to have a satisfying night at the opera.
(read more after the jump)

The young company’s double bill of Leoncavallo’s “I Pagliacci” and Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” deserved far more than the meager assemblage of 50 who showed for Friday night’s performance at Rockville’s 300-seat Kreeger Auditorium.

Like many small companies, Bel Cantanti grapples with its limited resources. That means no full orchestra (director Katerina Souvorova led 14 musicians from her electric keyboard), no elaborate sets and no big stars.

Staging was awkward at times in “Pagliacci,” the story of a jealous actor who turns to violence. Singers struggled with props, a briefly embarrassing wardrobe malfunction and sets one size too small. Still, surprisingly good singing prevailed. Tenor Kevin Courtemanche delivered the goods with Canio’s show-stopping aria “Vesti la giubba,” easily pushing his robust voice up the scale. Soprano Maryann Mootos, as Nedda, showed vigor and lyricism as needed.

“Gianni Schicchi” is “Pagliacci’s” polar opposite –a brilliant comedy that zips along to sparkling music. And apart from supertitles that were rarely in synch, Bel Cantanti’s production rode Puccini’s effervescent wave impressively. Daniel Quintana, with his lustrous, deep blue baritone, was commanding as the swindling Schicchi. But the overall success hinged on strong singing and acting in the smaller roles, especially Jerett Gieseler’s Simone, Myeongsook Park’s Zita, and Courtney Ross’s Lauretta, whose sensitive “O mio babbino caro” was, alas, overpowered by the orchestra.

Bel Cantanti’s “Schicchi” reminds us that our region’s smaller companies, like Opera Lafayette, the Wolf Trap Opera, and Washington Concert Opera are arguably smarter, better stewards of the art form, spending more wisely than the big-budget houses, presenting sturdy, smaller-scaled evenings of opera for the people.

Bel Cantanti’s production runs Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 10.

--Tom Huizenga

By Anne Midgette  | September 27, 2010; 12:30 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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Next: In performance: Mahler 7 at the BSO

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