An unforgettable night of glorious music and superb musicianship, I Lombardi proved to be an inspired concert choice for The Opera Orchestra of New York. A dream cast, who each gave it their all, joined with the massive New York Choral Society and the wonderful Opera Orchestra to bring Verdi’s little-known opera soaring to life. Headliners Angela Meade and Michael Fabiano gave the audience the sort of electric thrill that must have been felt when hearing the young Sutherland and Pavarotti in recital.
In this year of Verdi’s bicentennial, what better piece to perform than the first of the great master’s operas to be performed in New York. With eleven scenes across four acts, the opera must be difficult to stage, so that fact, plus the incredibly stirring music, make it an ideal concert selection. Further to this, there is masses of choral music to sing, giving the 120+ singers of the Choral Society plenty to do.
Perhaps it was the combination of talented, committed singers, perhaps it was the magnificence of the opera, or perhaps it was the inspiring leadership of acclaimed maestro Eve Queler, but the the entire event seemed to come together with a quality that took even the most optimistic audience members by surprise. Even with only the basic concert staging, each singer stay fully in character, and worked with each other beautifully. An extended violin solo, music of the approaching crusaders played by musicians in the second tier, a ghostly tenor high in the third tier, and numerous choral anthems to rival the best of Nabucco and Aida were some of the elements that contributed to a wonderfully immersive and engaging experience.
The complications of the storyline defy simple summation in a review. Suffice to say, it is a tale of revenge gone wrong, set against the political and religious unrest of the Lombard Crusaders. The large number of characters contributes to the difficulties of the plot, but this, in turn, becomes a strength in a concert performance, allowing for the inclusion of plenty of soloists.
The evening began at full strength, with a quintet and choral introduction reaching a rousing finale only 15 minutes into the night. It was during this initial scene that superb soprano Angela Meade first made her mark, her voice ringing out strong and clear above 130 or so other singers. As Griselda, Meade delivered a star turn right across the night, the beauty of her voice even more significant than its strength, with a delicious palette of colours to draw on. Such was the exquisite beauty of her first aria, “Salve Maria,” that it could easily become a signature piece. “Oh madre, dal cielo” contained a pianissimo a capella sequence that was absolutely breathtaking. Meade should certainly return to this music when she comes to make her first recording or when putting together recitals.
Bass-baritone Kevin Short gave an impassioned, highly focused performance in the key role of Pagano, impressing with the rich timbre of his pure bass sound. Noah Baetge was a strong presence as Arvino, wowing with an amazing long high note at the end of “Che vid’io mai.”
The large chorus sang with a clear sense of unity that allowed diction and dynamics to be precise. The female chorus sang a piece in act one that had them sounding like angels. Full choral pieces such as “O signore, dal tetto natio” and “Te Iodiamo, gran Dio di vittoria” were surely richer and fuller than with a regular performance-sized chorus.
While each of these elements were wonderful, and could have held up the night on their own, the evening really took flight at the forty-five minute mark with the arrival of tenor Michael Fabiano as Oronte. Fabiano’s first aria “La Mia letizia infondere” had the otherwise sedate, sophisticated New York crowd acting as if they had just heard The Beatles. Following the subsequent, equally brilliant aria “Come poteva un angelo” Fabiano came back on stage for a very well deserved second bow. Fabiano had clearly prepared thoroughly by fully learning his role, and his commitment, passion and sheer talent combined to make the night a triumph for him.
Given the quality of performances being given by Fabiano and Meade, anticipation was high when they stepped out on stage together at the of the second half and they complemented each other beautifully with the powerfully moving duet “Oh belle, a questa misera.” The opera built to a superb trio “Qual volutta trascorerre,” featuring Fabiano, Meade and Short, which was a clear highpoint of the concert.
Congratulations to Maestro Queler and all concerned for putting together such an outstanding evening of music.
Photos: Simon Parris