Sir Andrew Davis Leads a Preview of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park

United StatesUnited States Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2015: Soloists and Members of the Ryan Opera Center of Lyric Opera of Chicago, Lyric Opera Chorus, Lyric Opera Orchestra, Michael Black (chorus master), Sir Andrew Davis (conductor), Millenium Park, Chicago. 11.9.2015 (JLZ)

Rossini: Excerpts from La Cenerentola
Mozart: Idomeneo, Act III, Chorus (“Scenda amor, scenda Imeneo”)
Gounod: Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Chorus (“L’heure s’envole”)
Verdi: La traviata, Act I, “Brindisi” (“Libiamo, libiamo ne’ lieti calici”)
Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro, Act II

Artists: Elizabeth Deshong (Cenerentola); Lawrence Brownlee (Don Ramiro); Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi (Clorinda); Lindsay Metzger (Tisbe); Jonathan Johnson (Alfredo); Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi (Violetta); Amanda Majeski (Countess Almaviva); Christiane Karg (Susanna); Adam Plachetka (Figaro); Rachel Frenkel (Cherubino); Luca Pisaroni (Count Almaviva); Bradley Smoak (Antonio); Katharine Goeldner (Marcellina); Keith Jameson (Basilio); Brindley Sherratt (Bartolo)

Every year, Lyric Opera of Chicago offers the public the opportunity to hear music planned for the coming season, and the 2015 concert focused on Rossini, Mozart, Gounod, and Verdi—and the Lyric Opera Chorus. The program opened with the overture from La Cenerentola, which Sir Andrew Davis led with stylistic clarity and model phrasing. His clean approach and carefully thought tempos set the tone for the other excerpts, and Lawrence Brownlee and Elizabeth Deshong were outstanding. Brownlee’s appeal results from his solid technique and idiomatic phrasing. His deft approach to the phrase that begins “Un soave” was entirely convincing as he searched for Cinderella, and in the duet with Deshong, the pair complemented each other well, making the lines “Una grazia, un certo incanto/Par che brilli su quel viso!” come alive. Deshong’s delivery of the Finale reflected similar command, with distinctive color and character. At times the male chorus was rhythmically off, but they were quick to recover, and all was forgiven by Deshong’s stellar presentation. Her graceful forgiveness of her stepsisters was matched by her triumphant work in the conclusion, and an additional measure of her success was the immediate and sustained applause, an ovation shared with the other principals, especially Brownlee.

Three celebratory choral pieces concluded the first half. Here the Lyric Opera Chorus demonstrated its fine sense of ensemble and pitch, as well as exemplary diction in “Scenda amor, scenda Imeneo” from Idomeneo and “L’heure s’envole” from Roméo et Julietteeach fresh and exciting. While the former is not planned for 2015–2016, the latter will be heard this year in what promises to be an excellent production. The familiar “Brindisi” from Verdi’s La traviata was not only an apt choice to end this part of the program, but featured two members of the Ryan Opera Center, Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi (Violetta) and Jonathan Johnson (Alfredo), who were stellar in their delivery. Johnson has a particularly mature and engaging sound, with a ringing tone and naturalness that sets him apart. (It is unfortunate that the program did not include “Va pensiero,” which will be heard this season in Lyric’s production of Nabucco.)

The complete second act of Le nozze di Figaro gave the audience the opportunity to hear the entire cast of the opera, which will open the season in a few weeks. Two famous arias come from this act alone: “Porgi amor” and “Voi che sapete,” which were delivered stylishly. Amanda Majeski’s Countess is elegant and persuasive, with phrasing that added musical shape and textual definition. Her familiarity with the role was evident both in this aria and particularly in the ensembles, where she interacted easily with the other principals.  Christiane Karg was laudable as Susannah, with a fine stage presence, even if during this performance, she had a nasal quality that did not entirely fit the part. Nevertheless, Karg’s ensemble work was winning.

Israeli mezzo-soprano Rachel Frenkel was especially strong as Cherubino, with a rich sound in contrast to some singers, who substitute their own full voices to channel what the audience knows is not a young man. Frenkel’s “Voi che sapete” had the ardor implicit in the score. Czech bass-baritone Adam Plachetka made the most of the extroverted aspects of Figaro, with a robust sound throughout, playing the role with some coarseness, in contrast to Luca Pisarone’s elegantly suave Count. Pisarone’s comic sense is as strong as his musicality, watching him react to the plot complications at the core of this opera’s enduring appeal. When called to task by Rosina and Susannah, he seemed genuinely apologetic, a quality lacking in some interpretations, and making him a Count not to be missed.

The ensemble ending the act made a perfect conclusion. With the addition of Bradley Smoak (Antonio), Katharine Goeldner (Marcellina), Keith Jameson (Basilio), and Brindley Sherratt (Bartolo), the drama ended with more questions and problems than resolution. Yet the entire ensemble deserves credit for making this excerpt the centerpiece of this fine preview of the 2015–2016 season.

James L. Zychowicz

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