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Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago
24 Sep 2017

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

A review by Salvatore Calomino


The Lyric Opera Orchestra and the Lyric Opera Chorus, under the direction of Sir Andrew Davis and Michael Black respectively, provided excellent accompaniment. Indeed, several of the selections showcased the talents of both groups as a significant part of this preview.

Individual segments of the evening’s program were introduced with prefatory comment by Anthony Freud, General Director of Lyric Opera. After a brisk performance of the overture to Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, Lauren Snouffer sang Susanna’s recitative and aria, “Giunse alfin il momento … Deh, vieni, non tardar” [“At last the moment approaches … O, come, do not delay”] from Act IV of the opera. Ms. Snouffer’s approach to both introductory lines and the aria shows her command of a wide vocal range. Her voice descends to well-enunciated low notes and rises naturally to a top piano emphasis on “e il mondo tace” [“and the world is still”], both extremes joined with comfortable legato phrasing. Snouffer’s final repeat of “Vieni” toward the close is held with endless urgency as an expression of Susanna’s emotional yearning.

Starting with the second selection individual arias and ensembles focused, in large part, on operas that will be produced in the coming season. From Verdi’s Rigoletto Matthew Polenzabi sang the Duke’s aria, “La donna è mobile” [“Women are fickle”]; he also participated in the Act III quartet, “Un dì, se ben rammentomi … Bella figlia dell’amore” [“One day, if I remember rightly … Fairest daughter of love”], along with J’nai Bridges, Andriana Chuchman, and Anthony Clark Evans. In the first selection Polenzani displayed a practiced diminuendo where appropriate as well as lush variation on the word “pensier.” At times, his notes produced forte were unnecessarily magnified by the system of amplification, an aspect not quite as noticeable in the following quartet. Here the rising and falling lyrical lines sung by Mmes. Bridges and Chuchman were interwoven to suggest the contradictory personalities caught up in a web of love, intrigue, and betrayal.

The brief, touching aria for Liù, “Tu, che di gel sei cinta” [“You who are enclosed in ice“] from Puccini’s Turandot introduced Lyric Opera of Chicago audiences to the voice of Janai Brugger, who will sing this role in January performances of the opera. Brugger’s sense of the role’s pathos was communicated deeply just as top pitches before the final “più” in “Per non vederlo più” [“And I’ll never see him more!”] hung in near magical suspension. Two solo pieces from Charles Gounod’s Faust were presented by Evans and Brugger. The siblings Marguerite and Valentin play vital parts in Gounod’s Faustian adaptation with each character expressing personality or narrative function through an aria. Mr. Evans struck an immediate, heroic pose in his performance of “Avant de quitter ces lieux” [“Before taking leave of these lands”], in which he prays for Marguerite’s protection during his absence in battle. Evans’s performance of the rising line to imitate the spirit of his prayer shows a natural vocal bloom and consistent legato in approach. His repeat of the thematic opening was varied nicely and ended with an authoritative forte pitch. Brugger’s “Jewel Song” from Faust captured the fascination of the innocent maiden, an approach using sensitive modulations in expression and volume, an effective trill, and a dramatically rising close.

The Lyric Opera Chorus sang two excerpts, one from last season’s Eugene Onegin and one from I Puritani in its forthcoming roster. The precise articulation and adaptability of the Chorus under Mr. Black’s direction were evident in these two pieces. In both selections, the Chorus’s responses to public scenes were projected as further comment on orchestral accompaniment.

The final two numbers in the first part of this concert were drawn from Act III of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice, with which Lyric Opera will open its 2017-18 season in a new production and collaboration with the Joffrey Ballet. Since the French version of Gluck’s opera will be performed this season, the role of Orphée is here sung by a tenor. Dmitry Korchak performed the noted aria, “J’ai perdu mon Eurydice” [“I have lost my Eurydice”] in spirited voice, at times singing flat to underscore the lament. The line “Quels tourments déchirent mon Coeur!” [“What torments tear apart my heart!”] showed admirable decoration, yet his consistent volume could be modified to suggest greater subtlety in emotional reaction. In the trio, “L’Amour triomphe” [“Amor triumphs”], Korchak was joined by Chuchman and Snouffer who will also perform in the new production. The joy of the resuscitated heroine and the god of Love were proclaimed by the women with appropriate lyrical beauty as the Chorus rounded out the final words.

The second part of the evening’s program included several excerpts to be featured soon as well as some from Lyric Opera’s recent repertoire. Ms. Chuchman sang a striking performance of Norina’s “So anch’io la virtù magica” [“I also know the magic virtue”], indeed this showpiece was one of several highlights of the evening. Chuchman’s instinctive use of rubato at select moments and words chosen for melismatic embellishment were not only authentic bel canto singing but also an etching of the character’s persona whom she portrayed. The selections from Massenet’s Werther included the tenor aria, “Pourquoi me réveiller” and Charlotte’s “Laisse couler mes larmes” [“Allow my tears to flow”], the second piece sung by J’nai Bridges. Ms. Bridges is especially adept at introducing emotional urgency into her portrayals by varying a note’s intensity and pure sound. Here she projected the complexity of Charlotte’s soul-searching by means of such effective sonic extension on several pitches.

The crowd-pleasing duet from Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de perles was certainly well liked on this occasion as Polenzani and Evans sang at their best, even introducing head tones as a means to vary the higher pitches. The final two selections previewed the new production of Wagner’s Die Walküre which will open later this fall. First Davis conducted the orchestral version of the “Ride of the Valkyries” which, as shown in this exciting performance, functions vividly on a concert’s program. Eric Owens sang Wotan’s solo “Leb’wohl” [“Farewell”] from the conclusion of the opera. Extended notes were held impressively, as the orchestra played more and more softly to suggest the Walküre’s gradual slumber. As a foretaste of much more to come, the final two excerpts augur well for Lyric Opera’s new production of Die Walküre and for the balance of the coming season.

Salvatore Calomino

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