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18 Sep 2015

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Anthony Freud, General Director of the company, spoke first about those works to be included in the company’s roster from late September through May 2016. Following these introductory remarks the first half of the evening was devoted to selections from several operas, the second half was a performance of Act Two of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, the first work in the new season. Sir Andrew Davis, Music Director of Lyric Opera, conducted the concert; Michael Black, Lyric’s Chorus Master, prepared the Chorus for those selections in which it participated.

Following the national anthem, the program began with the overture and vocal selections from Rossini’s La cenerentola, a work scheduled in Lyric Opera’s roster starting in October. Davis led a nicely rounded performance of the overture, with cellos and violas executing cleanly audible downward passages. The full orchestra alternating with wind solos showed excellent balance; tutti parts toward the close were played with a distinctly measured pace. The first vocal selection introduced the lead soloists, Elizabeth DeShong as Cenerentola and Lawrence Brownlee as Don Ramiro, the Prince. The step-sisters Clorinda and Tisbe, sung here by Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi and Lindsay Metzger, were heard toward the close of the piece. In the recitative and duet, “Tutto è deserto … Un soave non so che” [“”Everything is deserted … a sweet something”], first Mr. Brownlee followed by Ms. DeShong demonstrated from the start why they are closely associated with this repertoire. Both singers negotiate Rossini’s vocal lines comfortably and introduce embellishments in keeping with the characters portrayed. Brownlee’s delivery of the opening recitative communicated Don Ramiro’s anticipation of meeting the woman whom he is destined to wed. Notes held on “risponde” [“(no one) responds”] and “osservò” [“I shall observe”] indicated Ramiro’s initial uneasiness, while Brownlee’s extended decorations on “degna” [“worthy”] and “Legge” [“decree”] showed the Prince’s growing confidence and resolve. In similar fashion, DeShong’s Cenerentola is at first shyly confused in the simple delivery of “Sì …, no, signore” [“Yes, I mean, no, sir”] before both singers begin the elaborate, complementary lines of their duet. Here the use of vocal decoration to emphasize emotional development was striking. Brownlee’s description of Cenerentola’s eyes as “scintillò” [“sparkled”] was made believable as his rapid runs extended first upward, then downward in pitch. DeShong’s Cenerentola declared her heart to be throbbing as she layered the words “mi palpitò” with a melisma comparable to that of her partner. When singing verses together or in repetition, e.g. “Par que brilli su quel viso” [“Seems to shine in her/his face”], each soloist maintained a distinctive delivery which blended, at the same time, with the other’s line. This piece was then followed by the two arias for tenor and mezzo-soprano from Act Two of the opera. Don Ramiro’s scene beginning “Principe più no sei” [“You are prince no longer”] showcases the skills of such a fine bel canto singer, by which he also incorporates individual embellishments. As Ramiro assures himself that he will find the woman again, Brownlee sang “ritrovarla io guiro” with requisite determination and earnest top notes. When the male chorus begins to comment on Ramiro’s love, Brownlee intoned “Che mi lusinghi almeno” [“that gives me hope at least”] with soft, high pitches followed by comparable decoration in the lower register on “al labbro e al seno” [“to my lips and me heart”]. The second, rapid part of the aria included accomplished runs on “amore” and the final forte note sustained on “guidar” [“guide (me)”] for what seemed an eternity. The final scene of the opera belongs naturally to Cenerentola, and DeShong made this her own. The pardon of her family was sung with a touching piano approach [“E sarà mia vendetta il lor perdono”], just before the contemplative “Nacqui all’ affanno” [“I was born to sorrow”], as here performed. DeShong’s treatment of “il core” showed especially skilled placement of top notes before and after the decoration of “heart,” just as her voice seemed to flutter on “nel fiore” [“in the flower”]. The line “Come un baleno rapido” [“swift as a flash of lightning”] was sung with precise, rapid runs, as was the imperative “volate” [“fly”] in the renewed address to her family. DeShong’s conclusion of this part followed by the rondo “Non più mesta” [“No longer sad”] juxtaposed expressive low notes followed by attention to color and a joyous forte at the close.

The remainder of the first half of the concert gave the Lyric Opera Chorus an opportunity to perform as feature in two selections. The final chorus from Mozart’s Idomeneo asking for a blessing of the new royal couple emerged with a declarative sense of triumph. In the Act One chorus from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette timing is essential: the Lyric Opera Chorus maintained here a rhythmic drive and unified approach to herald the festivity that is forthcoming. In the final selection, the “Libiamo” from Act One of Verdi’s La traviata, the Chorus shared the ebullient atmosphere of the salon party with Alfredo and Violetta, sung here by Jonathan Johnson and Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi. Mr. Johnson’s application of legato in Alfredo’s line is exemplary, his emphases placed as though a natural expression of the character’s persona. Ms. Mkhwanazi captured Violetta’s excited anticipation beginning with pointed notes performed on “Tra voi saprò divider” [“With you I would share”]. The Chorus supported the soloists to a joyous conclusion of the piece.

The second half of the concert brought together those singers who will perform in Lyric Opera’s new production of Le nozze di Figaro. Amanda Majeski as Countess and Luca Pisaroni the Count are matched by Christiane Karg and Adam Plachetka as Susanna and Figaro. Cherubino is sung by Rachel Frenkel. The last part of Act Two on this evening introduced Katharine Goeldner (Marcellina) Bradley Smoak (Antonio), Keith Jameson (Basilio), and Brindley Sherratt (Bartolo). Perhaps most impressive on this evening was the spirit of an ensemble, captured clearly by this group of performers. Facial expressions and gestures are here an extension of vocal line, all of which makes Mozart’s comedy and romantic intrigue sparkle delightfully. Ms. Majeski is renowned for her portrayal of the Countess, whose aria “Porgi, amor” [“Grant, o Love”] opens the act. Her rendition of “il mio tesoro” with its sustained note piano suggested a wistful, sad state of reflection. The second significant aria in the act, Cherubino’s “Voi che sapete” [“You who know”] was rendered by Ms. Frenkel with a sense of undulating line allowing her rich mezzo voice to give a supple impression. She sighed movingly at “Sospiro” and varied the final repeat on “Che cosa è amor” [“What a thing is love”]. The seemingly endless series of complications and misunderstandings in this act is saved by the interaction of individuals caught up in their own interests as these clash or mesh with others. Both Count and Countess demonstrated a myriad of emotions while they become involved in facets of the plot beyond their control. Mr. Pisaroni’s Count is a marvel of dramatic energy with the mere nod of his brow unleashing multiple statements accompanied by the vocal splendor of his singing. One left the evening with the desire to hear and see all four acts in Lyric Opera’s new production.

Salvatore Calomino

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