United States Lyric Opera of Chicago, Season Preview: Soloists, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Lyric Opera Chorus, Michael Black (conductor), Lyric Opera Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis, (conductor), Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Chicago. 6.9.2014 (JLZ)
Wagner: Overture to Tannhäuser (Dresden version)
Mozart: Don Giovanni, Act 2, Finale
Mariusz Kwiecień (Don Giovanni)
Kyle Ketelsen (Leporello)
Ana Maria Martinez (Donna Elvira)
Andrea Silvestrelli (Commendatore)
Marina Rebeka (Donna Anna)
John Irvin (Don Ottavio)
Andriana Chuchman (Zerlina)
Michael Sumuel (Masetto)
Mascagni: Iris, Hymn of the Sun
Verdi: Macbeth, Act 3, Chorus “Patria oppressa”
Puccini: Tosca, Act 1 Finale
Mark Delavan (Scarpia)
John Irvin (Spoletta)
Verdi: Rigoletto, Act 3, Finale
Mark Delavan (Rigoletto)
Marina Rebeka (Gilda)
Robert McPherson (Duke of Mantua)
Andrea Silvestrelli (Sparafucile)
J’nai Bridges (Maddalena)
An impressive start to the 2014-2015 season, the “Stars of Lyric at Millennium Park” concert began the 60th anniversary of Lyric Opera of Chicago. Rather than programming a large number of operatic excerpts, as in previous years, this concert focused on a smaller group of important works.
At the core was the Finale from the second act of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which opens the new season. Lyric’s forthcoming production includes performers who were part of this concert, with Mariusz Kwecień in the title role and Kyle Ketelsen as Leporello—both outstanding in their individual interpretations and also their interactions with each other. Ketelsen stands apart as a Leporello who is not only articulate, but equal in intensity to the Don, though maintaining his individuality when required. The duo’s well-delivered lines bode well for the new production, which includes Ana Maria Martinez as Donna Elvira, Marina Rebeka as Donna Anna, Michael Sumuel as Mazetto, and Andrea Silvestrelli as the Commendatore. Antonio Polli, also slated to appear as Don Ottavio, could not attend the concert, and Ryan Opera Center member John Irvin took the role with aplomb. The cohesion and focus augur well for the opera’s run, which begins in three weeks.
The other major excerpt was the Finale from Verdi’s Rigoletto, last seen in the 2012–2013 season. The Duke of Mantua was sung by the American tenor Robert McPherson, who made it just in time for the concert, and delivered the part masterfully. Even without props and costumes, the drama emerged readily, thanks to the principals’ intensity. As Rigoletto, Mark Delavan embodied vengeance, and as Gilda, Marina Rebeka brought poignant, supple lyricism. Ryan Opera Center member J’nai Bridges was a powerful Maddalena, who would be worthy of the role anywhere. Sir Andrew Davis was persuasive in this scene, and commanded the attention of the thousands in attendance.
Several sections featured Lyric’s excellent chorus, which used its fine, blended sound in “Patria opressa” from Verdi’s Macbeth. Yet the inspired choice was the Chorus of the Sun, “Sol Io” from Mascagni’s Iris. To suggest the Oriental setting, Mascagni used intervals of fifths and fourths, to which the Chorus responded with clean intonation, and articulate enunciation of the text. (Puccini would later use this full sound in the choral passages of Turandot.) Lyric’s Chorus, directed by Michael Black, was impressive in this unfamiliar yet engaging piece. (Those who have not yet heard the chorus on its own can do so at two concerts scheduled this season: http://www.lyricopera.org/wondrous-sound/)
These rich, textured choral sounds were essential to the Te Deum-Finale from Puccini’s Tosca, and this excerpt included Scarpia’s “Va, Tosca,” in which Mark Delavan delivered an impassioned reading of this monologue. Delavan moved effectively between the recitative-like musings on Tosca, and the melodic passages about his increasingly strong feelings for her. Anticipation is mounting to see Delavan do the entire role this season.
The program began with the overture from Wagner’s Tannhauser, in which the orchestra could be heard on its own. Davis balanced the score’s details, while giving appropriate attention to the broad gestures, for a fresh and inviting interpretation. Audiences will no doubt enjoy him leading the full opera later in the season.
In fact, Davis was essential to the evening’s success, giving unique style to each work, and making the vocal lines clearly present and audible—no mean feat in an outdoor setting. It was one of the finest preview concerts in recent years, and gave the huge crowd in attendance a sense of the quality Lyric Opera offers.
James L. Zychowicz