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Scene at Millennium Park [Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
02 Oct 2016

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Scene at Millennium Park [Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]


On this evening they performed roles that are staples in their respective repertoires. Further, members of the Lyric Opera Chorus as well as the Ryan Opera Center participated in individual arias and ensembles. The concert was led by Lyric Opera’s music director Sir Andrew Davis, and the Lyric Opera Chorus was prepared by chorus director Michael Black.

The evening opened with two selections from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, which will be staged this season at Lyric Opera in December and January. The overture was led with a fine sensitivity for transitions in tempo. Flute and oboe parts were clearly forward in this performance as a means to suggesting their later significance in the score of the opera proper. The second part of the overture showed especially a sense of disciplined drive leading to a spirited conclusion. The first vocal selection featured Jonathan Johnson singing Tamino’s Act I aria, “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön” [“This portrait is enchantingly beautiful”]. Repeated top notes on “mein Herz” [“my heart”] became increasingly effective, just as the self-questioning hero issued his statements in a flood of hopeful legato. Mr. Johnson’s Tamino gave a sustained, summary emphasis to his final line of a determined quest for Pamina, “Und ewig wäre sie dann mein” [“and she would then be eternally mine”]. The second Mozart selection introduced a new voice to Lyric Opera audiences. Tobias Kehrer sang Osmin’s “O, wie will ich triumphieren” [“O, how I shall triumph”] from Die Entführung aus dem Serail. The rapid passage work already from the start of the aria was tossed off effortlessly by Mr. Kehrer, as he sang the repeat of “schnüren zu” [“tighten your nooses”] with accelerating gusto. Kehrer’s lowest bass notes are easily sustained and especially resonant, as evidenced by his delivery of the downward scale in the line “Denn nun hab’ ich vor Euch Ruh [“Having rid myself of you”]. The expectant joy felt by his character was emphasized by a spontaneous cartwheel at the conclusion of the piece. The final Mozart selection, a quartet of soloists performing together with the Lyric Opera Chorus, was the brief “Godiam la pace” [“Rejoice in peace”] from Idomeneo. Featured singers were Diana Newman, Lindsay Metzger (Women of Crete), Alec Carlson, and Patrick Guetti (Men of Troy). The balance between soloists and chorus was carefully maintained with the male voices prominent on “libertà.” Yet another piece for soloist and chorus followed, the opening of Act II, Scene 2 from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Mr. Johnson sang here the part of Arturo, officially betrothed to the title character, a part he will also perform during Lyric’s staging of Lucia during October and November. Arturo’s optimism at the bridal festivities is captured by Johnson’s ringing notes of “stella” and “amico,” by which he anticipates a happy future once he joins the clan. This self-deluding hope (“piu bella”) and Arturo’s position of guarantor (“defensor”) are sung by Johnson with notable ironic energy.

As a transition from solo and choral performing, the audience was encouraged to sing along with the Lyric Opera Chorus in “Va pensiero” [“Go, my thoughts”] from Verdi’s Nabucco, the Italian passage of which was visible on a projected screen. Indeed, the balance of the program’s first half was devoted to works by Verdi. Tanja Ariane Baumgartner sang Princess Eboli’s “O don fatale” from Don Carlo. The lower vocal register so vital for this role was especially evident in Baumgartner’s description of her “terrible gift” as her beauty, “O mia beltà.” Her recitation, as though addressing the Queen, “O mia Regina,” was appropriately lingering and laden with emotion. The realization that she could expiate her guilt only in a cloister began with furious top notes and descended to the depth of pain in the line, “dovrò celar il mio dolor!” This wide range was applied effectively by Baumartner in her concluding declaration to act in Carlo’s favor and save him. “Un di mi resta” [“I have one day left”] expressed the immediacy of danger at court, while Eboli’s loyalty to the Prince was traced with a rising line to match the orchestral swell at “Ah! Lo salverò!” [“I shall save him!”]. After this selection, Eric Owens performed Procida’s aria, “O tu, Palermo” from I vespri siciliani, followed by the baritone showpiece, “Per me giunto … O Carlo ascolta” [“For me has come … O Carlo, listen”] from Don Carlo, sung here by Quinn Kelsey. The Marchese di Posa’s dilemma and sacrifice were projected by Mr. Kelsey with consummate skill. Piano moments at the start of this scene were capped with an excellent trill on “i suoi fedel” [“His faithful ones”]. The question to Carlo, “Perchè?” was phrased by Kelsey with palpable emotion, just as he encouraged Carlo’s commitment to the Flemish cause. The latter part of this scene, “Io morrò… alla Spagna un salvatore!” [“I shall die … but preserve for Spain a savior”] was sung with a true sensitivity for legato in Verdi’s writing.

In the second half of the concert Kelsey gave a similarly moving performance of Prince Yeletsky’s aria “Ya vas lyublyu” from Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades. Again, top notes and line were secure guarantors of poignant delivery. Kelsey will perform this season in Lyric’s staging of Lucia di Lammermoor. The concert also previewed Carmen, to be given in February and March, with here the prelude to Act I and the “Habanera” sung by Ms. Baumgartner. A final highlight of the evening was the introduction of Wilhelm Schwinghammer and Samuel Youn, both presenting excerpts from Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. Mr. Schwinghammer sang Daland’s “Mögst du, mein Kind” in which the sailor tries to facilitate a relationship between his daughter and the Dutchman, just arrived. Schwinghammer paced the father’s characterization cleverly with a modest suggestion at the beginning. His progressively urgent appeal to Senta and the description of her virtues to the Dutchman culminated in a richly decorated delivery of the line, “Gesteht, sie zieret ihr Geschlecht!” [“You must admit, she’s a credit to her sex”]. The dramatic conclusion to the aria was emphasized with comfortable forte pitches on “Glaub mir … so ist sie treu” [“Trust me … she is faithful too”]. Mr. Youn’s performance of the Dutchman’s soliloquy, “Die Frist ist um” [“The time is up”] was a remarkably effective evocation of captive frustration. Youn’s description of the waves bearing him endlessly forward and the fruitless search for peace on land [“auf dem Land ich suche”] is a heartrending depiction of suffering. Shifts to piano declamation fit this sensitive consideration of Wagner’s text. His dramatic pitches toward the closed called out convincingly for a day of judgement when his own anguish might cease.

Both Schwinghammer and Youn will make their Lyric Opera debuts in Das Rheingold in the coming week, with Mr. Owens singing the part of Wotan and Ms. Baumgartner as Fricka. The season should have an exciting start.

Salvatore Calomino

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