Carreras and young soprano are impressive together

July 10, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

It's easy to condescend to the kind of concert that Jose Carreras gave Thursday night at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia. A superstar tenor gives an amplified concert in an outdoor setting, singing a potpourri of operatic arias and pop tunes; an orchestra is thrown together to accompany him; and he's joined by an "accompanying artist" -- usually a singer, but sometimes an instrumentalist, of the sort you never want to hear again.

This was not a concert this listener looked forward to, but he's delighted to report his expectations were quashed. Carreras was -- after some tentative moments in which his vocal instrument warmed up -- in superb voice. The pickup orchestra, which featured some of the best players of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, members of the Peabody Conservatory faculty and several excellent Baltimore-Washington free-lancers, was well-prepared, and its conductor, Enrique Ricci, was a thorough professional. And the young soprano who accompanied Carreras was impressive enough that some of us may remember Thursday's concert as the first time that we ever heard Isabel Rey sing.

With his sad eyes, his slender, somewhat fragile physique and his near-matinee idol looks, Carreras has always been a sort of operatic Leslie Howard. His voice itself, albeit with a few irritating mannerisms, has always been a beautiful one with a quality of ardor that has made him stand out even in the company of Pavarotti and Domingo. The ardor is still there, whether he is singing a pop signature favorite such as "Granada" or "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore." The latter, one of the most popular of all tenor arias, showed a seamless legato, a honeyed tone, wonderful phrasing and a beautifully judged climax. What it also showed -- a little disturbingly -- is that the tenor, while he sang beautifully at high or low dynamic levels, did not seem comfortable in the middle range. He would sing softly and then belt out loud notes. Pushing his voice in this manner has always been something of a Carreras trademark, but it made one wonder initially about the health of his instrument. Later, particularly in duets with Rey, those worries diminished. Those duets -- selections from "West Side Story," "The Merry Widow" and "La Traviata" -- were most impressive, with each singer genuinely partnering the other.

Singing by herself, Rey performed excerpts from Donizetti's "Don Pasquale" and Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette" that suggested she is one of the most promising high sopranos around. The voice is brilliant, effortlessly produced and has enough heft to make one guess that she is going to be able to assume more than soubrette parts. She also has a disarming ability to identify with the parts she is singing. This suggests we are going to be hearing a lot more from her in the coming years.

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