Review: Over-the-top beauty begs for more bite
In this Dec. 5, 2012 photo provided by Carnegie Hall, soloists from left, Nicholas Houhoulis, Nicholas Pallesen, Jamie Barton, Angela Meade and Michael Spyres, perform Bellini's "Beatrice di Tenda" at Carnegie Hall in New York. James Bagwell, center, conductors, the Collegiate Chorale and the American Symphony Orchestra in the seldom-performed work. (AP Photo/Carnegie Hall, Erin Baiano)
NEW YORK (AP) — Is there such a thing as too much beauty — as a criticism?
On Wednesday at Carnegie Hall, some of America's most talented young singers — including soprano Angela Meade and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton — delivered vocal splendor with technical fireworks in Vincenzo Bellini's "Beatrice di Tenda."
They followed in the musical footsteps of the late Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne, who wowed a Carnegie audience in the same 19th-century Italian opera in 1961.
Meade and Barton produced a stream of thrilling, seductive sounds. And they drew a standing ovation from an audience that included top agents, publicists and casting directors in the music business.
But sheer beauty may not be the whole point when it comes to musical drama.
This story of tormented love, involving four besotted people — and as many unrequited passions — demands harder dramatic edges and more emotional bite. After all, a nobleman drops his wife for another woman and together they manage to engineer the execution of the betrayed spouse — totally innocent — on grounds of adultery. Another man in love with the wife is used to entrap her.
This love quadrangle requires a bigger palette of vocal colors than Meade's consistently rich, huge and controlled voice offers as the rejected wife. No doubt, she's quite capable of variety, as demonstrated in the softest high notes, floated with breathtaking purity, contrasted with virtuosic passages pouring out easily across several octaves.
In this Dec. 5, 2012 photo provided by Carnegie Hall, Angela Meade performs Bellini's "Beatrice di Tenda" at Carnegie Hall in New York. James Bagwell conducted the Collegiate Chorale and the American Symphony Orchestra in the seldom-performed work. (AP Photo/Carnegie Hall, Erin Baiano)
It may not be fair to compare this rising star to the late Maria Callas, one of the all-time greats. But the point is that Callas, despite a technically flawed voice, won a fanatical following with her indelible ability to draw more than beauty from her voice.
Her vocal chords seemed to pierce souls with raw, sometimes uncontrolled, sound. She is credited with reviving many so-called "bel canto" (beautiful singing) roles, including the powerhouse female characters created by Bellini. Among them is the lead in "Norma," a Callas role that Meade has made her own.
The soprano's full-throttle voice is exhilarating. And her rise to stardom at the Metropolitan Opera and elsewhere is well deserved; she's won more than 50 vocal competitions.