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Photo by Robert Kusel
29 Sep 2013

Lyric Opera of Chicago Introduces its Season

In its annual concert presented to the city at Millennium Park, Lyric Opera of Chicago introduced its 2013-14 season on a recent weekend evening with a program of selections featuring several present, past, and future stars of the company.

Lyric Opera of Chicago Introduces its Season

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above photo by Robert Kusel


In this year’s concert the Lyric Opera Chorus was featured in a variety of pieces under the direction of its new permanent chorus master, Michael Black. After a prefatory address delivered by the company’s General Manager Anthony Freud the evening’s performance was conducted by Ward Stare.

As a start to the program Mr. Stare led the Lyric Opera Orchestra in a spirited performance of the overture to Béatrice et Bénédict by Hector Berlioz. Tempos were appropriately brisk in the opening section, while Mr. Stare showed a nice attention to legato playing in the subsequent, slower section. Flute and horn passages were especially well controlled in passages that led the orchestra back to its opening tempos and to an energetic and effective conclusion.

The remainder of the first part of the concert was devoted to excerpts from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which will be featured with two casts in the upcoming season at Lyric Opera. Ana María Martínez and James Valenti sang the parts of Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton. As the geisha Cio-Cio-San muses while alone on the anticipated return of her beloved Pinkerton, she imagines first the sight of his ship on the horizon. As Ms. Martínez intoned the start of her aria “Un bel dì” (“One fine day”) expectation built noticeably on a rising vocal line until she declared “romba il suo salute” (“will thunder its salute”) with an impressive forte pitch. Martínez expressed Cio-Cio-San’s determination with her middle range focused on “non mi pesa” (“will not weary me”), until she envisioned the approach of Pinkerton from afar, starting as “un picciol punto” (“a tiny speck”) in an appropriately piano vision. Hints of later tragedy were expressed with touching innocence, as the words “celia” and “morire” (“to tease”… “to die”) were interwoven vocally. As she identified with her character’s unflagging faith, Martínez concluded this committed performance with a valiant top note on “l’aspetto” (“I shall await him”). Mr. Valenti’s aria from the final act of the opera, “Addio fiorito asil” (“Farewell, flowery refuge”), was performed with good attention to line, a technique which emphasized the haunting memories that would continue to plague him. Valenti’s lower register was somewhat underused yet his high notes in the conclusion of this brief scene (“ah, son vil” [“Oh, I am despicable!”]) were exemplary.

The Lyric Opera Chorus performed the “Humming Chorus” from Act III of Madama Butterfly as a fitting contribution to this first part of the concert. The final piece from Puccini’s opera featured Martínez and Valenti in the extended love scene from the conclusion of Act I (‘Bimba, bimba, non piangere” [“My child, do not cry”]). Laura Wilde sang the role of Suzuki, Cio-Cio-San’s confidante, in the opening of the scene. Once the couple is left alone by Suzuki, the lovers’ passion seems to bloom. Perhaps because of the distance implied in the initially shy or awkward dialogue of the characters, the soloists here sang a convincingly emotional line toward the close of their duet. With Valenti proclaiming at the close “Ah! Vien, sei mia!” [“Ah, come you are mine!”]), there was no doubt that love had indeed been awakened.

In the second part of the concert the Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra performed highlights from Lohengrin, Verdi’s Otello, and Il Trovatore. Mr. Black has clearly worked with his forces to achieve a well-prepared ensemble. The varying ranges and effects in the Act III Prelude and Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin were distinct yet well integrated. Tempos were restrained in the Verdian choruses with attention to specific orchestral details magnifying the overall impression.

The final excerpt presented was Act III, Scene 2 of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Again the chorus was given the opportunity to set the tone of ephemeral happiness, here as the guests celebrated with vocal delights the wedding of Lucia. At the height of this joy Raimondo interrupts the ospiti to reveal the tragedy of the bridal chamber: Lucia has stabbed the husband she was forced to marry and lost her reason. Albina Shagimuratova shared the stage with Evan Boyer as Lucia and Raimondo, tutor of the young woman, with Anthony Clark Evans performing the role of Enrico, Lucia’s brother. Mr. Boyer made a strong impression as the initial soloist. He drew on a fully developed palette of vocal colors in order to express the conflicting emotions in Raimondo’s mix of horror and sympathy over Lucia’s actions. “Dalle stanze” (“From the apartments”) showed a smooth lyrical delivery with judicious application of vibrato. Boyer’s chilling enunciation of “insanguinato” (“blood-stained”) made of his voice a convincing witness to the aftermath of the murderous deed. Boyer’s sense of decoration was evident on telling lines, e.g., rising pitches on “l’ira no chiami su noi del ciel” (“may it not call down upon us the wrath of heaven”). At Lucia’s entrance Shagimuratova communicated immediately the sense of a woman unhinged. Notes sung piano and diminuendo as a means to delineate character were in evidence from the start , as she recalled hearing the voice of her true beloved Edgardo (“nel cor discesa!” [“won my heart!”]). Seeming happiness was declaimed on “lieto giorno” (“happy day”), just as Shagimuratova indulged in melismatic richness on the line “A me ti dona un dio” (“God has given you to me”). As she descended further into a mad reverie, Shagimuratova became more ambitious in the insertion of trills and well-chosen decoration. The conclusion was an exciting cap to the evening with a season of vocal drama still awaiting.

Salvatore Calomino

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