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Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park Cast [Photo © Todd Rosenberg]
18 Sep 2018

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2018

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, given during last weekend, was both a tribute to the many facets of opera and a preview of what lies ahead in the upcoming repertoire season.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2018

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park Cast [Photo © Todd Rosenberg]

 

The first part of the evening was devoted to excerpts from works by Giuseppe Verdi surrounding judiciously chosen selections from operas by Saint-Saëns, Mozart, and Puccini. The second half of the concert featured a selection form Act I and the whole of Act II from Puccini’s La bohème, with which the new season will open on 6 October 2018. The Lyric Opera Orchestra was conducted by Domingo Hindoyan, who will make his debut with the company in the performances of La bohème. The Lyric Opera Chorus was prepared by its Chorus Master Michael Black; the Chicago Children’s Chorus was prepared by Josephine Lee. General Director of Lyric Opera Anthony Freud provided welcoming and introductory remarks along with prefatory commentaries for the musical selections.

After a lyrically gentle and subsequently rousing performance of the overture to Verdi’s La forza del destino, led by Hindoyan with thoughtful precision, vocal selections began with the aria “Eri tu” (“It was you”) from Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera. Baritone Zachary Nelson performed the piece as an evocative reflection on the conflicting emotions of live, presumed betrayal, and hatred. Nelson’s assumption of the character Renato’s persona was evident from the start as he recalled with touching legato the happy days of love presumed lost. The emotional shift focused here on the intonation of “Traditor!” left no doubt of the fury now predominant in Renato’s heart. Nelson’s final, summary line, “O dolcezze perdute, o speranze d’amor, d’amor, d’amor,” (O lost delights, o hopes of love, of love, of love”), was sung with urgency and a gracefully held top pitch to close. In the following, two-part selection from Verdi’s Ernani, bass Adrian Sâmpetrean expressed Silva’s initial lament at finding his niece Elvira the object of unexpected suitors; in the following cabaletta Silva’s determination to exact revenge emerged in rapid melodic ardor. Sâmpetrean’s many roles in bel canto opera make especially suitable his assumption of this part in n early Verdi masterpiece. The voice maintains an attractive vibrato in the middle range, which Sâmpetrean allows to color individual lines distinctly. His credible shift into the cabaletta showed further decorative and dramatic sensitivity in underscoring the character’s text. Later in the first part of the concert the Lyric Opera Chorus performed with gusto and absolute control the “Anvil Chorus” from Il trovatore. Also a treasured Verdian favorite, the Lyric Opera Chorus performed together with soloists Whitney Morrison and Mario Rojas the brindisi “Libiamo” from Act I of La traviata. The timing between Chorus and soloists was comfortably observed and followed the impassioned lead projected by Rojas.


A trio of soloists provided significant interest to the remaining selections before intermission. While taking the place of the regrettably indisposed Elizabeth DeShong, mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges sang an unforgettably mesmerizing account of the aria “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” (“My heart opens to your voice”) from Samson et Dalila by Saint-Saëns. The arching lines of this seductive aria were taken with gracefully languid tempos as Bridges emphasized with extended notes key words such as “tristesse” (“sadness”) and l’ivresse” (“intoxication”). Her low pitches on these textual elements communicated an emotional shiver, just as Bridges’s voice rose upward in fervent appeal. This stunning vocal range was then capped by a final “Je t’aime” (“I love you”) taken here piano in intimacy. Danielle De Niese’s Lauretta from Puccini’s Gianni Schichi was a delight of maidenly enthusiasm with vocal flights shading into diminuendo. In her performance of “Placido è il mar: (“Calm is the sea”) from Act II of Mozart’s Idomeneo Ann Toomey’s voice bloomed impressively in phrases alternating with the Lyric Opera Chorus. Toomey’s dramatic top notes are a natural extension of the vocal line, the latter sung here with seamless legato. The decorative embellishments applied to Elettra’s aria were a further revelation in Toomey’s lovingly sculpted version of this Mozartean gem.

The second part of the concert presented excerpts from Puccini’s La bohème sung by the cast that will perform in the new production of this work at Lyric Opera in the next month. Michael Fabiano and Maria Agresta sang Rodolfo and Mimì joined, for Act II, by De Niese and Nelson as Musetta and Marcello. In the roles of the new lovers who discover each other in Act I Fabiano and Agresta fit their parts ideally. As a result, they are able to approach their vocal lines with truly individual color. As Rodolfo Fabiano sings “Che gelida manina” as a natural feeling of the poet who seeks to express the new inspiration of his heart. Likewise, Agresta transforms vocal innocence into a revelation of love’s magic by the close of the act’s duet. In the ensemble of Act II the sprightly yet urgent line performed with melting lyrical beauty by De Niese’s Musetta was a credible balm to the seemingly aloof Marcello. In the latter role Nelson’s voice resonated through the ensemble until both couples were, for now, united.

As a sample of this new production and much of the forthcoming season the evening’s concert provided an exciting introduction with the promise of an enjoyable season to come.

Salvatore Calomino

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