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Soprano Angela Meade gives impressive recital for Washington National Opera

Like the political world, the operatic one always craves fresh talent and gets pretty excited over any prospect that seems capable of achieving success. One of the names that has most frequently popped up in next-big-star-in-the-making discussions over the past few years is soprano Angela Meade. No wonder.

The singer has the one key element that cannot be faked by any amount of aggressive publicity -- a voice. A real, honest-to-goodness, fully formed vocal instrument that has you sitting up to take notice from the first note.

As Meade demonstrated locally in 2011 in a stellar performances of the Verdi Requiem with the Baltimore Symphony, and reconfirmed Saturday night at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater in an impressive recital for Washington National Opera, that voice is backed by keen musicality.

The soprano put those gifts to good use in the recital, which provided a teaser for her appearance with WNO this spring in her first fully staged production of Bellini's "Norma."

The signature aria from that opera, "Casta Diva," featured in Saturday's program. Meade delivered it with admirable technical poise and poetic intensity. I would have welcomed a few of the pianissimo shadings the singer generously summoned in the rest of her program, but the elegance and eloquence of the interpretation proved quite satisfying.

The "Norma" aria and a sumptuously voiced encore, the beloved diva anthem "Io son l'umile ancella" from Cilea's "Adriana Lecouvreur," were the only ones that Meade sang without ...

reference to a score. Using music in a recital is no crime (if so, Beverly Sills and Montserrat Caballe are among the luminaries who would have been convicted), but it can't help but suggest that the notes and/or texts haven't been completely internalized.

Here and there during her recital, Meade's singing did sound a little generic or on-the-surface. That was a minor matter, though, in light of so much that was involved and involving. Speaking of minor matters, the singer almost came in wrong at the end of the first verse in Strauss' "Zueignung," but recovered quickly.

And speaking of Strauss, I loved the rich tone Meade summoned in "Cacile," her endless breath control in "Befreit," her inner radiance in "Morgen." Another highpoint was a rapturous account of Liszt's "Oh! Quand je dors." (Some less familiar Liszt items added greatly to the program.)

Once past a blurry measure or twos, pianist Bradley Moore's own expressive talents were evident throughout the recital.

The soprano easily has what it takes to be a dramatic Verdi soprano -- the Terrace Theater could barely contain the sound at full-throttle -- but she can also scale back the tone beautifully, even in the upper reaches, where many a singer comes to grief. This flexibility, along with endearing phrasing, served Meade especially well in "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's "Louise."

In a perfect prelude to Veteran's Day, the soprano offered John Kander's effective setting of "Letter from Sullivan Ballou." The text was penned by Ballou to his wife in 1861 just before he was killed at the Battle of Bull Run. Meade delivered the piece with considerable poignancy and naturalness of expression.

Arias by Bellini's "Beatrice di Tenda: and Verdi's "Il corsaro" gave Meade additional opportunities to shine.

In time, I imagine the soprano's tone will reveal even more character and nuance, just as her interpretations will add more layers of insight. But she is already a remarkably satisfying vocal artist who has sent a welcome jolt through the opera-sphere. I look forward to hearing her develop.


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