United States Rising Stars of 2014: Soloists, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Kelly Kuo, (conductor), Civic Opera House, Chicago. 29.3.2014 (JLZ)
Handel: “Dopo note” from Ariodante (Julie Anne Miller)
Mozart: “Aprite un po’ quegl’occhi” from Le nozze di Figaro (Richard Ollarsaba)
Walton: “How can I sleep?” from Troilus and Cressida (Tracy Cantin)
Bizet: “L’orage s’est calmé” from Les pêcheurs de perles (Anthony Clark Evans)
Gounod: “O ma lyre immortelle” from Sapho (J’nai Bridges)
Lehár: “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from Das Land des Lächelns (John Irvin)
Mozart: “Soave sia il vento” from Così fan tutte (Laura Wilde, Julie Anne Miller, Richard Ollarsaba)
Stravinsky: “No word from Tom” from The Rake’s Progress (Emily Birsan)
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G Major, First movement (Maureen Zoltek)
Gershwin: “Bess, you is my woman now” from Porgy and Bess (J’nai Bridges, Will Liverman)
Gounod: “O Dieu! Que de bijoux” from Faust (Laura Wilde),
Donizetti: “Chiedi all’aur lusinghiera” from L’elisir d’amore (Emily Birsan, John Irvin)
John Adams: “Batter my heart” from Doctor Atomic (Will Liverman)
Massenet: “C’est toi, mon père?” from Thaïs (Tracy Cantin, Anthony Clark Evans)
Copland: “The promise of living” from The Tender Land (Emily Birsan, Julie Anne Miller, John Irvin, Anthony Clark Evans, Richard Ollarsaba, and Full Ensemble)
Lyric Opera’s annual Rising Stars concert features the members of its RyanOperaCenter, a training program for young performers, which offers artists unique development opportunities. This year’s concert had much to offer in terms of the repertoire, which not only showed off the performers but offered the audience an opportunity to hear excerpts from works that deserve attention.
The concert was a triumph from start to finish, but so, some moments stood out. Tracy Cantin gave an impassioned reading of “How can I sleep?” from Walton’s Troilus and Cressida, with note-perfect execution matched by interpretive intensity. Her phrasing, pitch, and line gave the audience the sense of Cressida’s conflicted emotions. Her command suggests she would do well in a full performance of this role.
Richard Ollarsaba was likewise commanding in “Aprite un po’ quegl’occhi” from the final act of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Ollarsaba’s rich, resonant voice was suited well for the part, and he delivered the aria with the maturity of a seasoned bass-baritone—modulating his voice when appropriate, and enunciating with text with letter-perfect clarity. As a first-year member of the program, Ollarsaba shows remarkable talent, and he seems poised for a memorable career.
In a similar way, J’nai Bridges showed her exceptional talent in the aria “O ma lyre immortelle” from the third act of Gounod’s Sapho. In a stunning performance, Bridges used her sumptuous voice to bring out the emotion behind Gounod’s well-constructed phrases and rich harmonies. She also gave careful attention to rhythm and dynamics, coupled with powerful stage presence.
The ensembles were strong, too. The trio “Soave sia il vento” from the first act of Mozart’s Così fan tutte seemed effortless, as Laura Wilde, Julie Anne Miller, and Richard Ollarsaba interacted with the maturity of established Mozartians. The duet “C’est toi, mon père?” from the climactic scene of Massenet‘s Thaïs had the strength usually seen only in seasoned performers. Cantin was as convincing in this Romantic role, as she was in the twentieth-century Walton excerpt earlier in the evening. Will Liverman’s intense reading of “Batter my heart” from John Adams’ Doctor Atomic (which had been performed at Lyric several years ago) used his articulate baritone to great effect. Later, he and Bridges gave a winning duet from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, “Bess You Is My Woman Now.”
While it would be difficult to go into detail about everything on the generous program, the company gave laudable performances all around, from the opening aria “Dopo notte” from Handel’s Ariodante—sung with panache by Julia Anne Miller—to the conclusion of the concert with all of the soloists in “The promise of living” from Copland’s The Tender Land. It was a delight to hear Emily Birsan embody the character of Ann Truelove from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, and John Irvin’s captivating delivery of “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from Franz Léhar’s Das Land des Lächelns. Laura Wilde gave the “Jewel Song” from Gounod’s Faust a deft and polished touch; the scene’s magic emerged palpably even in this concert setting.
New this year was the inclusion of an instrumental work, the first movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, with the RyanCenter’s new pianist Maureen Zoltek. Her stylish reading not only reinforced the Gallic spirit of the night’s French opera selections but left the audience wanting to hear her perform the entire piece. Guest conductor Kelly Kuo led the orchestra masterfully, with great finesse, and his ability to navigate various styles was evident throughout the evening.
James L. Zychowicz