As beginnings go, the debut of the Bel Canto Symphony Orchestra was not an entirely unpromising event. Nor was it especially stellar, either.
Founded by Russian-born soprano Erica Tanenbaum to showcase young and underexposed singers, the 45-piece orchestra made its bow with seven vocalists in a program of operatic arias at the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple Friday night.
The singing generally proved strong, although the amplification system gave everything an overbright, unsubtle quality. The vocal estates of all involved--including Tanenbaum, sopranos Julia Wade, Terri Hill, mezzo-soprano Dorothy-Jean Lloyd, tenors Dennis McNeil, Evan Kent, baritone Scott Watanabe--were never less than solid; indeed, there were fresh, young voices here.
The orchestra itself, however, remained a constant problem, scrappy at best, slugging it out through a messy "Barbiere di Siviglia" Overture to start things out and practically falling apart in accompaniment to a few of the singers. Conductor Joseph Doetsch has not gotten the group into anything like ensemble form.
Through most of this the singers kept their heads. Lloyd offered a sultry smooth yet rhythmic Habanera from "Carmen," and lush, long-breathed readings of "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" and, with McNeil, "Dalila! je t'aime!" from "Samson et Dalila." McNeil gave a confident, sensitive account of "La fleur que tu m'avais jetee."
Tanenbaum traced gracefully through "Caro nome" but lost the pitch momentarily in "M'odi e trema!" from "Lucia de Lammermoor" before Kent helpfully set her back on track.
Duets from "La Boheme" and "Die Zauberflote" gratefully addressed by Wade and McNeil, Hill and Watanabe, a schmaltzy run-through of the Meditation from "Thais" by concertmaster Abram Shtern and a spirited but unkempt account of the Finale to "Die Fledermaus" rounded out the program. Carl Princi hosted.