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(L.-R.) Kyle Ketelsen/Leporello, John Irvin/Don Ottavio, Marina Rebeka/Donna Anna, Sir Andrew Davis, Ana Maria MArtinez/Donna Elvira, Andriana Chuchman/Zerlina, Michael Sumuel/Masetto, from <em>Don Giovanni</em> finale [Photo by Todd Rosenberg]
19 Sep 2014

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: (L.-R.) Kyle Ketelsen/Leporello, John Irvin/Don Ottavio, Marina Rebeka/Donna Anna, Sir Andrew Davis, Ana Maria MArtinez/Donna Elvira, Andriana Chuchman/Zerlina, Michael Sumuel/Masetto, from Don Giovanni finale [Photo by Todd Rosenberg]


The concert featured works that will be part of the new season as well as selections of works that showcase the talents of the season’s singers and the Lyric Opera Chorus. Sir Andrew Davis conducted the Lyric Opera Orchestra on this evening, and the Lyric Opera Chorus was prepared by its director Michael Black.

The first half of the program featured two works that form part of the new season’s schedule: the Lyric Opera Orchestra played the overture to Tannhäuser (Dresden version) and a roster of six soloists performed the finale to Act II of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. In the overture the introductory alternation of brass and string parts was controlled smoothly; the transition to the solo for the first violin was especially well played, just as an overall tension built into the middle segment of the piece. In the concluding part of the overture Davis emphasized a unified, lush backdrop of strings while stately declamations from the brass led to the ending of the concert overture. The remainder of the concert’s first half introduced an ensemble of singers in Don Giovanni, which will open the 2014-15 anniversary season later this month, just as it began the first season sixty years ago. Mariusz Kwiecień sings the Don and Kyle Ketelsen his manservant Leporello; Donna Anna and Donna Elvira are sung by Marina Rebeka and Ana María Martínez; Don Ottavio was sung for this concert by John Irvin in place of an indisposed Antonio Poli; Zerlina and Masetto are performed by Andriana Chuchman and Michael Sumuel; the Commendatore / statua is sung by Andrea Silvestrelli. From the start of this ultimate scene and finale from Act II of the opera it was clear that an exciting, committed cast has been assembled for this new production. The interaction of Mr. Kwiecień’s Don, praising the banquet meal arranged for his epicurean taste, with Mr. Ketelsen’s Leporello assuring devoted service was entertaining and vocally taught. Kwiecień’s upper register was effective in suggesting an imperious and willful master, whereas Ketelsen’s deeper pitches in, e.g., “… che barbaro appetito!” underscored an amusing commentary. Indeed, as the other soloists joined in these final moments of Don Giovanni’s earthly existence, the multiplicity of emotions and personal destinies was interwoven into a large, vocal canvas. The efforts of Ms. Martínez to save her former seducer are expressed in yearning tones with appropriate embellishment as she pleads “L’ultima provo dell’ amor” [“The final test of love”]. When Giovanni refuses to reform, Elvira’s declarations of “Cor perfido” [“Faithless heart”] are sung by Martínez with credible forte pitches leading into a shriek when she, as the first, encounters the statua, or return of the slain Commendatore. This Don Giovanni’s cultivated, flippant tone in relation to both Leporello and Elvira changes, of course, when facing the challenge of the Commendatore. In the latter role Mr. Silvestrelli’s booming demands of “Risolvi!” [“Decide!”], and “Pentiti” [“Repent”] are a chilling ultimatum to the title character. Kwiecień responded with an acceleration of excited pitches in the vocal line culminating in his final shout of damnation. The concluding sextet reunites the two couples of Donna Anna and Don Ottavio, Zerlina and Masetto with Leporello and Donna Elvira. Both Ms. Rebeka and Mr. Irvin are fine exponents of Mozartean style; Mr. Irvin’s melodic line in “Or che tutti … vendicati” [“Now that all avenged”] was an excellent lead to Ms. Rebeka’s lyrical decorations in “Lascia, o caro” [“Allow me, my dearest”]. Both voices blended ideally in their verses “Al desio di chi m’adora” [“To the desires of one who adores me”]. Ms. Chuchman and Mr. Sumuel sang likewise in a convincing suggestion of renewed harmony. During the final lines of the sextet the female voices were especially well matched with a firm bass line sung by Ketelsen as a fitting backdrop.

The second half of the concert was introduced, just as the first part, with remarks delivered by the General Director Anthony Freud. The opening selections now featured the Lyric Opera Chorus in a familiar and in a less familiar excerpt. The latter piece, “Son Io! Son Io, la Vita!,” the Hymn to the Sun from Mascagni’s Iris with its locale fixed in legendary Japan. Touching lines, indicating sentiments such as “Through me the flowers have their scent,” alternated with lush, full scoring. The Chorus was well rehearsed throughout and it easily swelled upward to a glorious conclusion. The somber mood of “Patria oppressa” [“Oppressed homeland”] from Act IV of Verdi’s Macbeth was surely well captured in the second selection for the Chorus. A certain tension is, however, missing when the piece is not followed immediately by its usual, accompanying tenor recitative and aria (“O figli, o figli miei” [“O my children”]).

The two excerpts which concluded the evening brought onto the stage additional soloists as well as several from the first half of the concert. In the conclusion to Act I of Puccini’s Tosca Mark Delavan sang Scarpia’s final scene, “Va Tosca!,” together with the concluding Te Deum. John Irvin delivered the lines of Scarpia’s minion Spoletta. Mr. Delevan’s resonant baritone was fraught with emotion as he visualized the possible seduction of the singer Floria Tosca. As he repeated and lingered on the line “Va Tosca!” slight shifts in color indicated the growing anticipation of his desire. During the Te Deum in the church Delavan’s Scarpia was powerfully audible as he traced the line together with the Chorus. In the final selection, the last act from Verdi’s Rigoletto, Delavan sang the title role with Ms. Rebeka returning to sing the part of his daughter Gilda. The assassin Sparafucile and Maddalena were performed by Andrea Silvestrelli and J’nai Bridges. The Duke of Mantua was covered by Robert McPherson, who arrived in Chicago just before the performance to replace an ailing Mr. Poli. The trio of father, daughter and Duke made a promising start with McPherson sounding polished and at ease in “La donna è mobile.” He shows a good use of legato in the aria and sings excellent scales with decoration including an appropriate diminuendo; McPherson also holds the note on “pensier” without sounding forced. Ms. Bridges performed impressively as Maddalena both in her duet with Sparafucile and as part of the famous quartet. The volatility of the character Maddalena’s emotions is well suited to Bridges’s vocal range with ringing top notes used in pleading for the Duke’s life while her secure lower register was emphasized in rapid passages. The final scene between Rebeka and Delavan, as Gilda dies in Rigoletto’s arms, was movingly sung with ethereal, soft pitches suggesting indeed the daughter’s rejoining her mother in heaven.

The vocal splendors shared on this evening as a prelude or “appetizer” in Mr. Freud’s words certainly anticipate a fulfilling anniversary season to come at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Salvatore Calomino

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