Lyric Opera of Chicago Draws Enthusiastic Response in Open-Air Concert

United StatesUnited States  Stars of Chicago Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2011: Soloists: René Barbera, Jamie Barton, Anna Christy, Renée Fleming, Emily Fons, James Morris, Susanna Phillips, Matthew Polenzani, Ljuborm Puškarič, Lyric Opera Orchestra, Emmanuel Villaume (conductor), Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Chicago. 10.9.2011. (JLZ)

Rodgers and Hammerstein: “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel (Fleming)
Verdi: Overture to Nabucco
Donizetti: “O luce di quest’ anima” from Linda di Chamounix (Christy)
Bellini: “Ah! Per sempre io ti perdie” from  I puritani (Puškarič)
Donizetti: “Ah, mes amis” from La fille du regiment (Barbera)
Donizetti: “Mon arrêt descend du ciel” from La favorite (Barton)
Verdi: “O patria” from I vespri siciliani (Morris)
Donizetti: “Sulla tomba che rinserra” from Lucia di Lammermoor (Phillips, Barbera)
Puccini: “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi (Fleming)
Bellini: “Suoni la tromba” from I puritani (Puškarič, Morris)


Delibes: “Dôme épais” from Lakmé (Christy, Barton)
Massenet: “Pourquoi me réveiller” from Werther (Polenzani)
Gounod: “Je veux vivre” from Faust (Phillips)
Offenbach: “Toi Vous!” [Barcarolle] from Les contes d’Hoffmann (Fons, Fleming)
Bizet: Prelude to Act 4 of Carmen
Offenbach: “Vois sou l’archet frémissant” from Les contes d’Hoffmann (Fons)
Gounod: “O Dieu! Que de bijoux!” from Faust (Fleming)

Lyric Opera of Chicago has a tradition of introducing its season at an open-air concert in the Loop, and this the event drew enormous crowds that filled the Pritzker Pavilion and the surrounding lawn at Millennium Park. This year’s concert was introduced by Anthony Freud, the new general director whose term begins on October 1, with comments from Renée Fleming, Lyric’s new creative consultant. This evening inaugurated the new “Long Live Passion” campaign to promote the company, and the concert certainly demonstrated this with consistently intense performances.

The timing of the concert on the eve of the 9/11 commemoration allowed Fleming to pay tribute with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel in an arrangement well-suited to the occasion. (Fleming’s image is on the banner for the new Lyric season.) It was good to hear her perform in familiar pieces in which she excels: “O mio babbino caro,” the “Barcarolle” from Tales of Hoffmann (with Emily Fons), and the exuberant reading of the “Jewel Song” from Gounod’s Faust that concluded the evening.

The audience was treated to a tour-de-force with Jamie Barton’s performance of “Mon arrêt descend du ciel” from Donizetti’s La favorite, a piece that showed the range of the singer’s intensity and expression. Barton’s performance in the famous duet from Lakmé “Dôme épais” was similarly nuanced, as she shared the stage with soprano Anna Christy. Christy was impressive with the selection from Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix, “O luce di quest’ anima,” which was remarkable for the clarity of detail in the florid, ornamented passages, and the audience appreciated this familiar voice. (Christy was impressive as Titania in last season’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.)

Likewise, Susanna Phillips gave fine readings of the famous duet from Lucia, which she will perform in the first part of the 2011-2012 Lyric season, and also the aria from Gounod’s Faust, “Je veux vivre.” The latter was quite vivid, well complementing Fleming’s “Jewel Song.”

This concert was an excellent opportunity for talented young singer Emily Fons to give a preview of her role as Nikolaus in Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann in an aria that showed her fine mezzo, and then showed her fine ensemble talents in the famous “Barcarolle” from that opera with Fleming. (This summer, Chicago audiences heard Fons sing the title role of Rossini’s Cenerentola in a concert performance of the final act.)

Another young singer, René Barbera, was thrilling in the famous aria “Oh mes amis” from Donizetti’s La fille du régimente. Barbera did a fine job in his duet with Phillips, as did Morris and Ljuborm Puškarič in the duet from I puritan. Puškarič was impressive, too, in the solo number from that opera “Ah! Per sempre io ti perdie.” At the same time James Morris’s performance of the aria “O patria” from I vespri siciliani offered similar intensity and passion.

With a program roughly divided between Italian and French repertoire, Emmanuel Villaume gave firmly grounded leadership to the Lyric Opera Orchestra. While his interpretation of the overture to Verdi’s Nabucco was somewhat studied, the conductor gave a stunning reading to the prelude to Carmen’s final act, in which he evoked its volatile emotions with grand style.

Yet the triumph of the evening belongs to Lyric Opera of Chicago, which drew an amazingly huge audience to Millennium Park. The audience’s enthusiasm was impressive, and shows how opera is a vital part of Chicago; the evening ended with sustained applause. And later in the evening, outside the park, spontaneous singing broke out from groups of people who took inspiration from the concert, bringing opera to the streets of the city.

James L. Zychowicz