United States Rising Stars 2015 at Lyric Opera of Chicago: J’nai Bridges, Tracy Cantin, Jesse Donner, Anthony Clark Evans, John Irvin, Jonathan Johnson, Will Liverman, Julie Miller, Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi, Richard Ollarsaba, Bradley Smoak, and Laura Wilde. Maureen Zoltek (piano), Lyric Opera Orchestra, Michael Christie (conductor), Civic Opera House, Chicago. 21.3.2015 (JLZ)
Handel: Orlando, Act 3 “Sorge infausta una procella” (Smoak)
Floyd: Susannah, Act 1 “Ain’t it a pretty night” (Wilde)
Rodgers: Carousel, Act 1 “Soliloquy” (Evans)
Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande, Act 1 “Fountain scene” (Liverman and Miller)
Bizet: Les pêcheurs de perles, Act 2 “Me voilà” (Mkhwanazi)
Mozart: La clemenza di Tito, Act 2 “Se all’impero” (Donner)
Berlioz: La damnation de Faust, part 4 “Romance” (Bridges)
Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia, Act 1 “Soli, noi siamo” (Ollarsaba and Cantin)
Finzi: Ecloque for Piano and Strings, Op. 10 (Maureen Zoltek, piano)
Berg: Lulu, Prologue, Ollarsaba
Donizetti: L’elisir d’amore, Act 1 “Caro elisir” (Johnson and Mkhwanazi)
Gounod: Faust, Act 4 “Que voulez-vous, Messieurs?” (Evans, Smoak, and Donner)
Bellini: I Capuleti e I Montecchi, Act 1, “Se Romeo” (Miller)
Gounod: Roméo et Juliette, Act 4 “Dieu, quell frisson” (Cantin)
Rossini: La cenerentola, Act 2 “Sì, ritrovarla io giuro” (Johnson)
Korngold: Die tote Stadt, Act 2 “Tanzlied” (Liverman)
Bellini: Norma, Act 2 “Mira, o Norma” (Bridges and Wilde)
Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor, Act 2 Sextet (full ensemble)
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s annual Rising Stars Concert is always a fine evening, and last night’s edition was outstanding. Featuring the members of Lyric’s opera school, the Ryan Opera Center, the concert showcases young artists in the early stages of their careers in excerpts of repertoire both familiar and less-well-known. While the selections here were uniformly well prepared, some of them stood apart, especially the ensembles in which the singers showed their talents interacting with each other.
One of the highlights was the conclusion of the first half, the first-act duet from Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia. Tracy Cantin and Richard Ollarsaba were at the top of their form, with consummate finesse and power. Cantin elicited a rich sound at all dynamic levels, and Ollarsaba matched her intensity and even intensified it. Both stylishly brought out the dramatic and musical dimensions, and (since it was an excerpt), made one want to hear more.
In a different aesthetic, Julie Miller and Will Liverman delivered a fine reading of the “Fountain scene” (“Vous ne savez pas où je vous ai menée”) from Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. This excerpt was an opportunity to hear both singers in extended passages. Miller’s diction was notably clear, and Liverman’s rich baritone was appropriate to Pelléas. In Donizetti’s second-act duet from L’elisir d’amore, Jonathan Johnson and Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi demonstrated their fine sense of style and delivery. Johnson’s supple tenor is well-suited to the character of Nemorino, but his effortless delivery of Ramiro’s second-act aria from Rossini’s La cenerentola was even more impressive.
The second-act duet from Bellini’s Norma was stellar because of the thoughtful interactions between J’nai Bridges and Laura Wilde. Though the music intensified when they sang together, their extended solo passages were impressive on their own. Beyond the exemplary intonation of the passages in close harmony, the two singers blended in tone. This kind of performance not only demonstrates the singers’ outstanding talent, but the assured, professional training at the Ryan Center. Both were in evidence at the conclusion, a stunning performance of the famous sextet from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Each of the principals was well matched, full and passionate, giving new life to this touchstone of nineteenth-century ensemble writing.
Instrumentalists opened the second half with Gerald Finzi’s Eclogue for Piano and Strings that featured the deft solo skills of Maureen Zoltek, Ryan Opera Center pianist, conductor Michael Christie, and several of the players from the Lyric Opera Orchestra. In the rest of the program, Christie led the orchestra with a sure and solid sense of style, whatever the period, giving warm support to singers from which audiences are certain to hear more.
James L. Zychowicz