Miami showcases international talent

Miami might seem an improbable locale for an opera company with international leanings. Yet Greater Miami Opera has often managed to present some interesting singers, occasionally before they are heard at the Metropolitan Opera or our other primary operatic stages. A case in point was the Miami debut of Ghena Dimitrova as Santuzza in Mascagni's ``Cavalleria Rusticana,'' the first opera of the venerable double-bill that also includes Leoncavallo's ``Pagliacci'' (and is affectionately known as ``Cav 'n Pag'' or even ``ham 'n eggs'').

Miss Dimitrova is that rarity among today's singers -- a genuine dramatic soprano (the largest voice type in the Italian school of singing) and a full-fledged diva. This means that the top notes have the expected power to penetrate a large orchestral sound. But it is the size and effortless amplitude of the middle and lower registers that make the instrument ``dramatic.''

Though she is not a particularly inventive actress, she possesses a vivid stage presence. And vocally, she is really a force of nature, flooding the Dade County Auditorium with sound. She established herself as an important Santuzza with her first phrases.

The Turiddu was Ermanno Mauro, who also sang Canio in ``Pagliacci.'' He sings robustly, with an ingratiating ring in the upper notes. His rough-hewn Turiddu proved most effective. In ``Pagliacci'' he began to tire, and was musically less tidy. Unfortunately, Diana Soviero, the ``Pagliacci'' Nedda, was out of sorts vocally, and most of the remaining singers were not really up to their assignments.

Francesca Zambello chose to set both operas in the same Sicilian village square, even though ``Pag'' takes place on the Italian mainland, and Clarke Dunham's cramped, fussy set looked like an unsettling cross between Disney Studios and Maurice Sendak, giving a cartoon quality to these very real slice-of-life dramas.

Miss Zambello comes from the leave-nothing-to-the-imagination school of direction, which finally becomes irritating and obvious, and refuses to allow the music to do its dramatic work.

Assessments of standards cannot be made in one evening. On paper, the casting was generally strong (the company cannot be blamed if certain singers are out of voice). Clearly a lot of time and money went into this production. Such details as Kathleen Blake's excellent costumes and Ken Billington's first rate lighting are but two samples of the company's commitment to quality. And Michelangelo Veltri conducted the excellent Miami Opera Orchestra with a sure sense of routine solidity, rarely inspired, but never less than staunchly secure in style and idiom.

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