The young Japanese soprano Maki Mori arrived at the Terrace Theater on Wednesday night, launching a week-long series of concerts commemorating Tokyo’s 1912 gift of the thousands of cherry trees that now line the Tidal Basin. It was a fitting choice. The tiny, delicately-featured Mori is something of a blossom herself — dressed in a billowing concoction of ruffles and pink swirls, you worried she might be carried off in the next breeze — and she picked a program that blended East and West with easy confidence.
Placido Domingo discovered Mori in Japan a decade ago and brought her over to sing with the Washington National Opera, and from the first notes of the program it was clear why he sprung for the ticket. Mori has a wonderfully clear, silvery voice and a virtually immaculate technique, and in a range of familiar arias from Gounod, Mahler, Rossini, Verdi and Mascagni she displayed pinpoint accuracy and agility, undermined only by a sometimes awkward sense of drama. The most satisfying works of the evening, in fact, were not the European operatic dazzlers, but more inward-looking songs by contemporary Japanese composers. Nakada Yoshinao’s “Cherry Blossom Alley” and Kunihiko Murai’s “When the Swallows Return” were both captivating, atmospheric works tinged with a particularly Japanese flavor of melancholy, and Mori seemed more naturally at home with them than with the other works on the program.
Given the occasion, in fact, you sensed a missed opportunity. A program that balanced more 20th Century Japanese vocal music (heard all too rarely here) with a thoughtful selection of American song (which was strikingly absent all evening) might have made a much more distinctive and apropos recital. But as a showcase for Mori’s gifts, it was a fully enjoyable evening — and a good introduction to a rising young star.