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Performances

Anna Christy [Photo by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
21 Sep 2011

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, Chicago

In a program of Italian and French arias and duets Lyric Opera gave to Chicago audiences a preview of the first operas in its forthcoming season and an opportunity to hear familiar voices as well as those soon destined to grace the operatic stages of the world.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, Chicago

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Above: Anna Christy [Photo by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]

 

The Lyric Opera Orchestra was conducted by Emmanuel Villaume, and Lyric Opera General Director Designate Anthony Freud addressed in his welcome the outdoor audience of thousands assembled in Millennium Park, Chicago. He commented on Lyric Opera’s new campaign entitled “Long Live Passion,” as a means to celebrate the particular feeling that opera can engender in listeners.

The first and last selections of the evening were sung by Renée Fleming who now holds the position of Creative Consultant to Lyric Opera. In a moving tribute to introduce the concert, which was dedicated to the memory of the September 11, 2001 anniversary and to military personnel and first responders, Ms. Fleming sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. Fleming’s other solo pieces, sung with commitment and truly individual touches of vocal color, included “Lauretta’s aria” from Gianni Schicchi and Marguerite’s “Ô Dieu! Que de bijoux!” from Gounod’s Faust.

In the first half of the concert Villaume conducted the overture to Verdi’s Nabucco as a prelude to the vocal selections. The brass and percussion in the overture were led with firm control, and as the woodwinds entered one had the sense of a rounded conception. Despite some tempos taken somewhat slowly the overall effect was a rousing statement of liberation. The first aria, “O luce di quest’anima” from Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix, was performed by soprano Anna Christy. Ms. Christy’s command of bel canto decoration was evident throughout both parts of the aria. Her voice hovered on the declamation of “tenero core” (“tender heart”) just as it lifted on the prediction for her lover, “s’innalzerà” (“he will rise”). In the second part of the aria, taken at a faster tempo Ms. Christy’s runs and tasteful application of rubato and escape tones communicated for her character a sense of passion as appropriate for this occasion. The following two soloists, baritone Ljubomir Puškarič and René Barbera performed staples of their particular repertoire. Mr. Puškarič’s rendition of Riccardo’s “Ah! Per sempre io ti perdei” from Act I of Bellini’s I puritani showed a pleasing timbre with, at times, a need to focus more clearly on the line as sung. His breath-control and unforced upper register augur well for the future of this vocal type. Mr. Barbera sang Tonio’s aria “Ah, mes amis” from Donizetti’s La fille du régiment. The tenor introduced a nice sense of line to an aria which, for other singers, has often focused instead on individual parts. At the same time, Mr. Barbera’s top notes, released fearlessly on “mon âme” and “sa flamme,” capped a performance which illustrated the absolute happiness of Tonio’s epiphany.

During such a concert with manifold talents in evidence it would seem difficult to single out individual vocalists for their memorable efforts. Yet the performance given by mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton of Léonor’s aria “Ô mon Fernand” from Donizetti’s La favorite deserves particular recognition. Here was a voice that showed remarkable color and depth from the first notes of her aria. One admired the security of range as Ms. Barton’s voice lamented the fate of her love, the vocal line descending to heartfelt emotional depths at “Hélas! est condamné!” (“Alas! My love is condemned!). Her ascent to top notes on “tout” (“everything”) and “justice” and the cry of despair, which she took forte without a trace of harshness, prepared a transition to the middle section of the piece. At this point Léonor appeals to God for death. Her line, “fais-moi mourir” (“make me die”), performed by Ms. Barton with a fully rounded expressiveness, made the character’s entreaty all the more credible. In the last segment of the aria, taken at a brisker tempo, Ms. Barton’s melodic agility and dramatic high notes concluding on “sera morte avant ce soir” (“will be dead before tonight”) gave an exciting finish to this accomplished performance. As a whole, Ms. Barton’s aria was yet another example of the passion in which both singers and audience participate and about which Mr. Freud spoke as being an integral part of great operatic performances.

In the remaining selections from the first part of this concert listeners had the opportunity to hear soprano Susanna Phillips sing the Act I duet from Lucia di Lammermoor with Mr. Barbera taking on the role of Edgardo. Ms. Phillips has an excellent sense of adapting her voice to a role and to the emotional complexities as they might change even within scenes. Her legato singing throughout was impressive, and her shading on words such as “pensiero”and “messaggiero” made her hopes for a letter from Edgardo seem even more plaintive. This part of the evening also featured bass James Morris in two selections. In his performance of Procida’s aria “O tu, Palermo” from Verdi’s I vespri siciliani Morris’s flexible line and his superb Italian diction made much of the aria. Before the intermission he shared the stage with Mr. Puškarič as they sang the duet for bass and baritone from I puritani.

In the shorter, second part of the concert both the solo and ensemble singing continued to introduce less familiar pieces alongside well known selections, all performed with style and commitment. Ms. Christy and Ms. Barton performed the duet for the title character and Mallika from Delibes’s Lakmé. The voices blended very effectively with Ms. Barton providing just enough mezzo-soprano heft to suggest a woven texture of the two performers. In the barcarolle from Les contes d’Hoffmann Ms. Fleming sang together with mezzo-soprano Emily Fons. Just as in the duet from Lakmé the two singers started at different points yet merged vocally to achieve a rich, undulant blend. As a solo piece Ms. Fons performed afterward the aria for Niklausse “Vois sous l’archet fremissant” (“See beneath the quivering bow”) from Les contes d’Hoffmann. In keeping with her character’s message to Hoffmann Ms. Fons lent great pathos to extended low notes on “l’amour vainqueur” (“conquering love”) and “douleur enivrée” (“anguish of passion”). The romance as here performed by Ms. Fons encouraged Hoffmann to find solace in art, just as the sounds of the strings seemed to echo effectively in her delivery. Also in this second part Ms. Phillips performed Juliette’s well known “Je veux vivre” (“I want to live”) from Gounod’s opera. Noteworthy was the vocal coloration by which Ms. Phillips communicated the youthful naïvete of Juliette while other parts of the aria as sung hinted at an adult and realistic perspective. Also included in this segment of the concert was an ardent performance by Matthew Polenzani of Werther’s aria “Pourquoi me réveiller” (“Why awaken me”).

The audience in Chicago was treated to a well chosen variety of vocal splendor and has much passion ahead in the upcoming season of Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Salvatore Calomino

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