As big breaks go, stepping into a major production of “Tancredi” as Argirio is a very mixed blessing for an understudy. The role is none too sympathetic dramatically, for modern sensibilities, and a daunting challenge vocally.
Stephen Gould got that opportunity Monday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with Los Angeles Music Center Opera. A member of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Center for American Artists training program, Gould, 27, was the cover for the role when this co-production opened in Chicago last month.
Chris Merritt, the Argirio in Chicago, had sung the first two performances here, then succumbed to laryngitis. Gould flew into Los Angeles Saturday, and sang most of the part that night from the side, while Merritt walked through it in costume on stage. Monday, the role was all Gould’s.
Little in Gould’s professional biography suggests he is a candidate for bel canto glory. His major credit with the Center for American Artists seems to have been the character part of Monostatos in a touring “Die Zauberflote.”
Monday, he gamely tackled the patriarchal ardors of Argirio with a light, often pinched voice and reasonable dramatic presence within the static staging context. The stratospheric climaxes were forced out as high-pressure bleats, and initially much of the passage work was smeared. But he seemed to gain strength and composure, and more than held his own in the big Act II duet with Marilyn Horne in the title role.
On the other hand, Horne had tired early in this fourth and final performance, and was vocally in sad estate. Except for Gould, the cast has been the same throughout the run and was easily dominated Monday by the clean, clear, ringing Amenaide of Christine Weidinger.