The glorious singing, the precise and stirring playing of the orchestra, and Mazzola’s superb conducting made for a deeply satisfying afternoon.
The program began with the Overture to La forza del destino in an unusually detailed and nuanced performance. Particularly in the section where the hopeful feeling in the strings is counterbalanced by the dark “Destiny” theme in the horns, Mazzola created a wonderful contrast between light and dark, hope and despair. He also kept the music moving relentlessly forward to its climax, using effective variations in volume and pace. The orchestra, and particularly in the strings, played masterfully.
Ms. Wilson came next, and I must say I was a bit surprised to find that her first selection was the treacherously difficult three-part scene from Nabucco, Abigaille’s “Ben io invenni… Anch’io dischiuso… Salgo gia…” with its register leaps and bounds. She sang each of the three sections almost with a different voice, from anger at discovering that she was born a slave, to delicate passion in her love for Ismaele, to fury as she plots to be queen.
And while her lowest notes got a bit foggy, her gleaming soprano handled each challenge with aplomb, capping the aria with a shimmering, powerful high C that must be still ringing in the audience’s ears.
Thomas followed with a stirring rendition of Ernani’s Act One “Merce, diletti amici…Come rugiada al cespite… O tu che l’alma.” Thomas’ rather stolid stage presence contrasted with his powerful tenor, particularly in the exhilarating cabaletta that ends the scene, singing with ardor and potent burnished tone.
Ms. Wilson followed with Elvira’s familiar “Ernani, involami”, singing with deeply felt legato in the cavatina and spectacular coloratura fireworks in the ecstatic cabaletta. She is remarkably able to hone her dramatic soprano down to sing bel canto passages with sparkling clarity.
Thomas brought a powerful dose of fury to the beginning of Simon Boccanegra’s “O inferno… Sento avvampar nell’anima”, then softened the tone beautifully for the section where he laments Amelia’s possible loss of virtue. The tenor’s high notes are particularly ringing and effective.
The first act ended with “Gia nella notte densa”, the love duet for Otello and Desdemona, and Thomas certainly showed that he’s “got the chops” for the role. It was delightful to see the pair’s genuine interaction and affection in the duet, though at times Ms. Wilson’s power seemed too much for the fragile Desdemona.
The second half of the program, began with a fine rendition of the Radames-Aida duet from the Nile scene, then the orchestra took over for the La traviata Prelude to Act One, Mazzola coaxing all the romantic pathos from the strings.
Thomas then had his best moments of the afternoon with a passionate “La vita e inferno al infelice… O tu che in seno agli angeli” from Forza, moving with unusual grace and singing with a glorious poignancy. Here he garnered his biggest ovation of the day, well deserved.
Ms. Wilson then sang “Toi qui sus les neant” from Don Carlos, unleashing her full dramatic sound with laser-beam high notes and a rich warmth in the middle voice. It was a moving and profoundly felt aria.
We finished with the Act 1 Prelude to Un Ballo in Maschera, bouncily played, followed by the “Teco io sto” duet, ravishingly and passionately sung, and though Ms. Wilson’s powerful high C final note drowned out Thomas’ note, the effect was again a beautifully paired team of singers and orchestra, bringing Verdi’s soaring melodies to vivid life.
The curtain calls went on and on, the delighted audience showering bravos upon all involved. This was certainly one of the finest concert performances that this reviewer has seen in any venue.
Next month, Thomas returns to Lyric Opera for Cavaradossi in Tosca, and I hope to hear much more of The Prime of Miss Tamara Wilson.
The concert was filmed, though Lyric has not yet scheduled any streaming dates as of yet. If and when there is the opportunity, I urge all opera lovers not to miss it.