To Open a Season, a Mighty Chorus

United StatesUnited States Berlioz, Puccini, Wagner, Verdi Donizetti: Soloists, Lyric Opera Orchestra, Lyric Opera Chorus, Michael Black (chorus master), Ward Stare (conductor), Pritzker Pavilion (MillenniumPark), Chicago. 7.9.2013 (JLZ)

Berlioz: Béatrice et Bénédict Overture
 Puccini: Madama Butterfly (selections)
Wagner: Lohengrin, Act III, Prelude
Verdi: Otello, Act I, Chorus
 Il trovatore, Act II, Chorus
Donizetti: Lucia de Lammermoor, Act III, Scene 2

When Lyric Opera of Chicago kicks off its new season, they do it at the annual Stars of Lyric Opera concert. The event is open to the entire city, in the spacious Pritzker Pavilion in MillenniumPark (the site of the Grant Park Music Festival each summer). This concert usually has a focus, and this year the emphasis was on the chorus, prominent throughout the evening.

The parade of classics included the “Humming Chorus” from Madama Butterfly (one of several selections from that opera), the “Bridal Chorus” from Lohengrin, the “Anvil Chorus” from Il trovatore, and “Euoco di gioia” from Otello. The wordless “Humming Chorus” had a distinctive sound and structure, just as the textually rich “Eucoo di gioia” showed finesse in clean execution and distinct articulation. The chorus delivered the Italian texts convincingly, just as its German enunciation was idiomatic for the famous “Bridal Chorus” from Lohengrin. Conductor Ward Stare made the latter particularly effective through subtle differences in the repeat of the original section. The “Anvil Chorus” from Il trovatore had a freshness that came from effective use of dynamics, which helped bring out Verdi’s text.

From Madama Butterfly, Anna-Maria Martinez performed “Un bel di,” which was compelling in its intensity and color, with excellent pacing and exemplary phrasing. She stylishly held the final note for its full value, a detail that captured the audience. James Valenti complemented her with the aria “Addio, fiorito asil” and later joined in the love duet “Bimba, bimba, non piangere” from the end of the first act. Valenti will portray Pinkerton in Lyric’s production later this season.

The second half concluded with the Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor. While Lucia is neither part of the upcoming season or a recent one, this was an opportunity for Albina Shagimuratova, who sang Gilda last year, to return to Chicago. The audience responded with enthusiasm to her performance, which balanced technical and dramatic demands; there were only a few places in which the orchestra covered her. In setting up the scene, Ryan Opera Center alumnus Evan Boyer was resonant as Raimondo, and conveyed the horror of Lucia’s murder of Arturo. The chorus acquitted themselves admirably, and Stare gave appropriate drive and cohesiveness—qualities evident throughout the evening, starting with his fine interpretation of the overture from Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict.

All in all, this concert offered Chicago audiences a fine sense of Lyric’s quality, and the sheer number of attendees spoke to the esteem in which the company is held. As Master of Ceremonies, General Director Antony Freud called attention to several important events during the season, including the gala opening night with Verdi’s Otello (5 October). Lyric will offer a “Family Barber” in March, and The Sound of Music, part of its multi-year Rodgers and Hammerstein project.

James L. Zychowicz

Additional information about the Chicago Lyric Opera’s upcoming season is here.