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Teatro Lirico shines without stars

Part of the fun of attending the rip-roaring operatic productions by the touring Teatro Lirico d'Europa is encountering star-quality performances from people who aren't stars -- and at budget prices.

The Teatro Lirico moves into the Cutler Majestic Theatre March 22-27 for performances of Verdi's "La Traviata" and "Rigoletto." Some favorites from the past are back, including baritone Vytautas Juozapaitis, who sang Don Giovanni for the company last fall. He'll sing both Germont in "La Traviata" and the title role in "Rigoletto" in some of the performances. Conductor Metodi Matakiev, who did such a magnificent job conducting Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov" last season, is back for both operas.

Teatro Lirico has high hopes for the Ukrainian soprano Marina Viskvorkina, who will also appear in some performances of both operas. Company cofounder Giorgio Lalov is so taken with the singer that he has already signed her for Musetta in "La Boheme" next season and the title role in "Lucia di Lammermoor" the year after. In a recent telephone conversation, Viskvorkina characterized herself as a "high lyric soprano -- I am not really a coloratura, but I try to do my best in the first act of `La Traviata.' "

The 29-year-old soprano studied in the Ukraine, and later worked on "La Traviata" in master classes in Italy with one of the opera's most famous interpreters, Renata Scotto. "She was wonderful in the role, and she helped me both with the technique and with the interpretation."

Viskvorkina is now based in Prague, but travels widely to sing. "I sang my `Traviata' in the Vienna State Opera and also in Hamburg, where it was a big success."

Lalov signed Viskvorkina without a formal audition. "She gave me a video of herself in `Lucia,' and she looked so gorgeous and sang so well that we knew we had to invite her for `Traviata.' The rest of the cast is very good, but if you don't have the right soprano as Violetta, you can forget about this opera. She's done a couple of shows for us already, and she is a great Violetta in every sense."

Encore: Garrick Ohlsson had one of the great triumphs of his career in Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra last week. On Thursday he played a Chopin Waltz as his encore; on Friday it was a Chopin Nocturne; Saturday and Tuesday he chose Rachmaninoff's most famous piece, the Prelude in C-Sharp Minor. The Tuesday-night performance was so beautiful it brought tears to this listener's eyes: Ohlsson's playing was like hearing a series of Monet's cathedral paintings translated into sound. You heard the music in mist and in all different kinds of light, and at the end it blazed in the full sun while the bells pealed out to the heavens.

Ohlsson says that he learned the Rachmaninoff Concerto in 1963, the summer he was 15. "My teacher Sascha Gorodnitsky assigned me to learn it over the summer, and I did it because I could. He also wanted me to learn it while I was young so I would never be afraid of it later."

Ohlsson's musical partnership with Robert Spano, who conducted last week, is also something to cherish. Sunday afternoon they made their debut as duo-pianists at a concert by the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, performing Schumann's luscious Andante and Variations with cellists Jules Eskin and Martha Babcock and James Sommerville, horn, and romping through Mozart's Two-Piano Sonata. They were as happy as kids in a sandbox, and visibly enjoyed one-upping each other in all the imitative phrases. The concert opened with an eloquent performance of Mozart's G-Minor Piano Quartet, with Ohlsson joining three BSO principals, and closed with a limpid account of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet with William Hudgins in supple form in the clarinet part.Concerti: The classic on last Friday's program by the Fromm Players at Harvard University was one of the milestone works in the career of Elliott Carter: the Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano and Two Chamber Orchestras from 1961. The work, which has probably been studied and analyzed more often than it has been played, made a fitting centerpiece because it was one of the first pieces commissioned by the foundation created by the wine importer and music lover Paul Fromm.

The work brings ingenuity to the point of genius in structure, detail, and interplay of sonority as the two soloists and the two orchestras interact, converse, or go their separate ways; the concerto stands at an intersection between pure intellection and pure fantasy. The difficulties of performance -- such as the intrinsic imbalance between piano and harpischord, and the rhythmic complexities -- are matched by comparable difficulties for the listener. But for players of sufficient quality, the difficulties are also exhilarating, and a performance as brilliant as last Friday's provides continuous stimulation to mind and ear. The deft, fearless, and awesomely accurate soloists were Robert Levin (harpsichord) and his wife, Ya-Fei Chuang (piano). Jeffrey Milarsky conducted with authority, with, at the end, an assist from composer Joshua Fineberg, curator of the festival. The chamber orchestra was full of first-rate players, many of them soloists in other works.

Salvatore Sciarrino's "Hermes" for solo flute presents a highly charged dialogue between two voices of the instrument -- ghostly, otherworldly harmonics attacked, sometimes violently, by the hotblooded fundamental tones. This was dramatically played by Patrice Bocquillon. Mario Davidovsky's "Synchronism No. 6" is a dazzling work for piano (Aleck Karis) and tape, with the piano imitating the challenge of the tape, and the tape extending the possibilities of the piano. Karis's command of sonority and rhythm was extraordinary.

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