A sensitive night at the opera

Opera singers on the concert stage have to work twice as hard. Without scenery, gestures, story, or setting, they stand around with an orchestra and launch into the middle of a dramatic scene. It can be frustrating.

The four soloists who worked with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland last weekend had the advantage of singing only the most popular operas. One did not have to be an opera fanatic to know Vesti la Giubba or Rossini's Una Voca Poco Fa or Nessun Dorma.

The songs are popular for a legitimate (or a 19th-century legitimate) reason, as whistleable as any modern pop song.

Both orchestra and singers were up to the task. Nobody could say that the Irish played the opening Freischutz overture with Weber's fear and trembling intact. But those horns were faultless, the strings shivered appropriately. While the singers were professional, it was clear there had been little rehearsal. That was most obvious with tenor Arturo Valencia, who seemed to have another orchestra in his inner ear, as he galloped merrily ahead of Gerhard Markson's baton in Turandot and turning the Otello duet into a marathon. His was a clean, lyrical voice, but he should take lessons in tempo.

Soprano Angelina Ruzzafonte had the hardest job, starting with Mozart's Queen of the Night. She had to reach for those high B flats, but soon gained her composure.

Mezzo Marilyn Bennett was the most sensitive (and the softest), helping turn the Cosi duet into sheer elegance. In the Cultural Centre, such sensitivity can be overcome by the orchestra, but this was a very pure voice. Baritone Markus Bruck was a stirring enough Don Giovanni.

No quartets were sung, but rehearsal restrictions probably precluded. It did not matter. The audience gave them probably wilder adulations than they would ever have received at home.

A Seat at the Opera; National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, conducted by Gerhard Markson; Cultural Centre, August 10