The review below appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of April 17, 2000.
Italians have always known what opera is really about. Unlike the Germans, who got mixed up in complicated constructs, the Italians never forgot that song is the source. This fact explains why Italy probably has more opera lovers in all ranges of society than any other country.
Saturday night in Popejoy Hall the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under conductor Roger Melone offered a steaming dish of lush treats from that opera land which, predictably, wowed the full house. In best Italian style (at least, when they like something), the audience rose to its feet cheering and clapping at the evening's end, bringing the artists back repeatedly.
The only non-Italian represented on the program was Richard Strauss, who scored because he never forgot the waltzes that lay at the heart of his native Vienna. A selection from Der Rosenkavalier, actually the only opera in which Strauss made such extensive use of the waltz, had the hall swaying and swooning.
But opera is nothing without the singers and for this occasion the vocal soloists worked admirably well. Both soprano Luvada Harrison and tenor Francisco Casanova had big, dramatic voices and the larger-than-life stage presence opera needs. One could quibble about some matters of technique. Harrison's vibrato was not always under control, Casanova needed more vocal support for his quieter moments.
But this evening was not about technical details. Both singers had an emotional fire that went straight to the heart. Their dramatic imagination pulled the listener in, whether the words were understood or the operatic scene familiar.
Crystal clear in his diction, tasteful in his phrasing, Casanova found a nicely varied vocal palette, lighter for the drinking song from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, darker and heavier for the aria from Puccini's Tosca. His shaping of the great tenor aria, ``Celeste Aida,'' had elegance and finesse.
Harrison, from her opening, finely shaded octave drop in ``Pace, pace mio Dio'' from Verdi's La Forza del Destino, to the final notes of Aida, sang with a thrilling urgency. Dressed in a dramatic scarlet robe with gold trimmings, she revealed her full powers in the closing excerpts from Aida, an opera she first sang with a Metropolitan Opera cast in 1998.
The NMSO Chorus obviously enjoyed the varied palette of opera, plunging full tilt into the big climaxes, and also throttling down to an exquisitely quiet fervor in Verdi's ``Va, pensiero,'' an alternate national anthem for Italians.
The orchestra was equally charged up by the theatrical drama. Along with the requisite string tremolos and big brass climaxes, invididual instruments, particularly the woodwinds, sang some lovely solos. The brass blend was exceptionally fine and full-throated; and the strings held their own with strong, crisp playing.
Conductor Melone, who ignited the evening's expansive mode, kept it all together with firm, clear direction.
As an audience member behind me exclaimed after one number, ``Wow!''