Monday, October 20, 2008

Olga squared

Two ladies named Olga -- Makarina and Borodina -- headlined Opera Orchestra of New York's concert version of "The Tsar's Bride" last Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall. It was a surprising and gratifying success.

Borodina is, of course, the superstar, and she had a fair share of the glory. Her glorious mezzo showed some coarseness -- surprising, for such a controlled and commanding vocalist -- at full volume this evening, but her engagement in the dramatic story of her character Lyubasha was exemplary, much stronger than is sometimes the case in non-Russian stuff at the Met.

Makarina, who has a remarkable story of her start in New York, was more impressive than I've yet seen her. The very top notes could perhaps have been more precise and focused, but her way with this Russian ingenue part (Marfa, the title character) was really beguiling.

All the other singers did well -- including tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan as Marfa's beloved Lykov, whose appearance at the event kept the internet rumor mill at 0-for-the season -- but perhaps most notable was soprano Meagan Miller, whose clarity of voice, phrase, and purpose made much of a small messenger role (Saburova) late in the opera.

But the real story was the music, and the orchestra. I've skipped the past few seasons of OONY, but before that I had heard nothing from Eve Queler to suggest she could get her band to so well bring out the full range of colors and melancholy songfulness of Rimsky-Korsakov's opera. She, or they -- or both -- have grown. And the piece itself: previous Rimsky operas here have been pretty rough going for me, so it was a shock to hear how great and directly appealing this score is. It deserves a staged run here -- and all over the world.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.