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Rising Stars in Concert [Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
11 Jun 2014

Rising Stars at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In its annual concert devoted to performances by current members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, Lyric Opera of Chicago showcased a roster of talented singers who will doubtless add greatly to operatic and concert stages of the immediate future.

Rising Stars at Lyric Opera of Chicago

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Rising Stars in Concert [Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]


All of the singers performed their chosen pieces and ensembles admirably, indeed each selection as sung was memorable for the degree of lyrical and dramatic commitment transmitted. As a supplement to the vocal offerings Maureen Zoltek, the Ryan Opera Center’s new pianist, played the first movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major. The conductor for the entire program was Kelly Kuo.

The first half of the program spanned operatic selections, in four languages, ranging from the eighteenth through the twentieth century. The second half of the evening was dominated by American and French selections after the performance of the movement from the Ravel Concerto. Perhaps most revealing from this program was the opportunity to hear each of the talented singers in a variety of repertoire, with performances that emphasized an encouraging versatility. As an example of such range, Tracy Cantin sang, in the first part of the concert, Cressida’s recitative and aria, “How can I sleep? … At the haunted end of the day,” from Sir William Walton’s Troilus and Cressida. Ms. Cantin’s involvement in this brief evocation of the title character was riveting. Her searing top notes emphasizing “betrayed” and “a phantom” led to the dramatic concluding declaration of “my conqueror.” In the second part of the program Cantin was equally impressive in a very different role, the concluding scene of Jules Massenet’s Thaïs. Here as she was supported by the Athanaël of baritone Anthony Clark Evans the vision of Thaïs came alive and her transformation from courtesan to saint was believable. Cantin produced soft, pure pitches in contrast to the appropriately urgent, sincere appeals by Evans. The final “Je vois Dieu” [“I see God”] communicated the apotheosis of a blessed figure. A comparable set of performances was offered by bass-baritone Richard Ollarsaba. In his rendering of Figaro’s Act IV aria, “Tutto è disposto … Aprite un po quegl’occhi” [“All is prepared … open your eyes a little”], Ollarsaba demonstrated excellent sense of color and the ability to use his resonant sound as a means to suggesting varying emotional states. Even within the single word “Ingrata” the expressive range that Ollarsaba attached to individual vowels communicated both distress felt by the character portrayed and a growing sense of irritation. Ollarsaba’s later contribution was also by Mozart, this time in the trio ensemble, “Soave sia il vento,” from Act I of Così fan tutte, sung together with soprano Laura Wilde and mezzo soprano Julie Anne Miller. Each of the three performers retained a distinct vocal personality while also blending effectively at requisite moments. As Don Alfonso, Ollarsaba’s upper register and fluid legato connecting multiple pitches outlined an impressive backdrop for the myriad emotions expressed, just as the women’s voices rose and fell in touching pathos. In their solo pieces during the concert both Miller and Wilde also gave exciting performances. Ms. Miller showed a masterful sense of Handelian style in the aria of the title character, “Dopo notte,” [“After night”] from Act III of Ariodante. While communicating the sense of the text, Miller took the word “splende” [“radiantly”] with appropriate forte emphasis. Especially noteworthy are Miller’s breath control and Italian diction, both serving her well in the embellishments she used in the repeat of the A section of the aria. In the second part of the program Ms. Wilde sang Marguerite’s aria, “Oh Dieu! Que de bijoux!,” [“O God! What jewels!”] from Gounod’s Faust; she held a mirror in hand and acted through her character’s delight with the jewel box as she sang this famous showpiece aria. In decorating the line of this piece Wilde was careful in observing textual import, so that her decorations on the “princesse,” whom she fantasized at becoming, were especially well chosen. Her final notes showed an emotional outburst that spoke more of the character’s naïveté than of her entrancement with the jewels produced by Mephistopheles.

Among other singers performing in both solo and shared pieces J’nai Bridges gave a sublime account of Sapho’s aria, “Où suis je … Ô ma lyre immortelle” [“Where am I … o my immortal lyre”] from Gounod’s opera Sapho. Bridges led the listeners into Sapho’s emotional world, the character’s distress at the end of her life being expressed in contrasting lines with “nuit eternal” [“eternal night”] and “douleur” [“pain”], both descending to full deep notes, and her wounded “cor” [“heart”] showing the singer’s glistening upper register. As Sapho’s inevitable act of suicide approached, Bridges’s voice rose at the contemplation “sous les andes” [“beneath the waves”]; she invoked her watery death with chilling, individual low pitches on “dans las mer” [“in the sea”] before appealing to the ocean to indeed open itself up [“ouvre toi”] with a final, shockingly dramatic top note on the repetition of “dans la mer.” A very different sort of character emerged in her duet from Porgy and Bess, shared with the Porgy of baritone Will Liverman. Mr. Liverman has an excellent command of legato which he sustained throughout, just as Bridges declared “I’s your woman now.” Both singers’ voices suggested the mutually enveloping emotions of their characters as the line “We is one now” remained the predominant theme communicated. In his solo contribution, “Batter my heart” from John Adams’s Doctor Atomic, Liverman showed very effectively the tension felt by Oppenheimer as he struggled with the responsibilities of his scientific research and its effects on humanity. Yet another couple deserves mention for their vocal and dramatic commitment. Soprano Emily Birsan and tenor John Irvin sang a delightful account of “Chiedi all’aura lusinghiera” from Act I of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. Both artists demonstrated their ease and technical skill at bel canto singing, while each was especially sensitive to weaving a lyrical statement that suggested a growing sense of attraction and an independent resistance to the same. As a fitting conclusion to the evening the latter two performers were joined by Miller, Evans, and Ollarsaba, as well as the full ensemble, in “The promise of living” from Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land.

Salvatore Calomino

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