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18 Aug 2010
Mozart and Rossini Finales at Grant Park, Chicago
During a recent concert at the Grant Park Music Festival, held on this
occasion in the adjacent Harris Theater, members of the Ryan Opera Center of
Lyric Opera of Chicago presented ensembles from four operas, two each by Mozart
and by Rossini.
The finales from Act I of Rossini’s La
Cenerentola and Act II of Don Giovanni were featured in the fist
half of the program; after intermission, the finales from Act I of
L’Italiana in Algeri and Act II of Le Nozze di Figaro
concluded the program. Carlos Kalmar conducted the Grant Park Orchestra.
Already in the first ensemble from La Cenerentola a strong impression was
made by the individual voices and their abilities to interact in the collective
spirit of the composition. Tenor René Barbera and baritone Paul La Rosa began
the famous “Zitto, zitto: piano, piano” [“Hush, hush: softly,
softly”] as the characters Don Ramiro and Dandini evaluate
Cinderella’s step-sisters. Both men showed appropriate dramatic
sensitivity, just as the sisters Clorinda and Tisbe, sung by Jennifer Jakob and
Katherine Lerner, entered with their frenetic appeals and comments. Ms. Jakob
and Ms. Lerner acted well with their accomplished voices, with the others all
leading to an announcement by Alidoro that a “dama incognita”
[“an unknown woman”] had arrived at the festivity. In the role of
Alidoro, Evan Boyer displayed a sonorous and eloquent bass-baritone voice which
he used to good effect in this important role. Attention then centered on the
Cenerentola of Emily Fons, who entered the stage with both lyrical and physical
grace. As her presence increased, Ms. Fons enhanced the impression she gave
with an assured vocal technique and a mezzo-soprano range with an upper
extension equal to the demands of so many female Rossinian lead roles. Her
decorations on “Sprezzo” [“I scorn”] and
“rispetto” [“respect”] were impeccable and sung with a
florid and clearly traced line. Don Ramiro’s reaction to the unknown
woman led to a well-rehearsed conclusion in which all delivered their
impressions of confused gaiety.
In the finale from Don Giovanni several of the above singers were
joined by additional members of the Ryan Center. After a bright orchestral
introduction under Kalmar’s direction Mr. La Rosa gave a lyrical and
confident assumption of the role of Don Giovanni. His Leporello was sung by Sam
Handley, whose deeper and equally well-schooled bass-baritone made him a
believable foil to the Don. Ms. Fons took on the role of Donna Elvira with
superbly dramatic top notes in her fervent appeals; Amanda Majeski sang Donna
Anna with an exquisite sense of pitch and believable dramatic poise, both
qualities so vital to the wronged noblewoman. Craig Irvin gave solid and even
intonation to the role of the statue, and Ms. Jakob was a sprightly, memorable
In the second half of the program several singers shifted to leading roles
in the excerpt from L’Italiana in Algeri. Ms. Lerner delighted
as Isabella with her combination of acting and descent to a lower register,
while Ms. Fons and Ms. Jakob sang smaller yet important roles contributing to
the atmosphere of the Eastern court where Isabella, the Italiana, is captive.
Perhaps most impressive in this scene was Mr. Handley’s fluid, seamless
approach to the bass role of the Mustafá. So often taken simply as a comic
part, it is refreshing to hear a truly fine, young basso cantante give
lyrical expression to the ruler’s yearnings. The onomatopoetic conclusion
received a dramatically disciplined and comic touch.
The final selection from Act II of Le Nozze di Figaro featured Mr.
La Rosa as the Count and Ms. Majeski as the Countess. Both sang committed,
believable performances as the noble couple caught in their own
misunderstandings and comic, marital deceptions. The supporting characters,
especially the Susanna of Ms. Jakob, lent a sense of collective confusion in
the spirit of Mozart’s delightful ensemble writing. The Grant Park Music
Festival is to be commended for showcasing the talents of these performers who
have distinguished themselves in such a variety of operatic roles.