Stellar voices mark a preview of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new season

United StatesUnited States Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2019: Soloists, Lyric Opera of Chicago Chorus / Michael Black (director), Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra / Sir Andrew Davis (conductor), Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Chicago, 6.9.2019. (JLZ)

Crowds at Chicago’s Millennium Park © Todd Rosenberg

The 2019 edition of ‘Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park’ offered an introduction to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s upcoming season, including previews of some of the works, as well as artists slated for the principal roles.

To start the evening, the overture to Verdi’s Luisa Miller gave the audience a taste of this fine score that will return to Lyric’s stage after many years absence. Conductor Sir Andrew Davis gave a spirited account that set the tone for the rest of the night.

Yet the voices were the substance, especially the virtuoso tenor Lawrence Brownlee. He displayed his acumen in a nuanced reading of Fernand’s aria ‘Ange si pur’ from the third act of Donizetti’s La favorita, with well-defined runs, elegant phrasing, and beautifully even command of registers that made the piece sound effortless, while his intensity kept the audience on the edge of their seats.

Brownlee’s talent was crucial to the second half, too, with excerpts from the first act of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, which opens the season in a few weeks. The tenor delivered Lindoro’s opening aria ‘Ecco ridente’ with consummate skill — spot-on from the start, with near-perfect pitches and impeccable diction. Not only were runs and ornamentations clear, but the phrasing and dynamic levels perfectly reinforced the text. Likewise, the comic touches in the first-act finale were appropriately discreet, with he, the ensemble, and Rosina, mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa.

Crebassa, familiar to Lyric audiences from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette and Mozart’s Così fan tutte, demonstrated her expressive power in the famous ‘Habañera’ from Bizet’s Carmen. Even though the opera is not part of the new season, the audience clearly enjoyed her performance, mainly because of Crebassa’s sensitive treatment of the text in her native French.

Later in the program came a preview of Crebassa’s important aria ‘Una voce poco fa,’ and her interpretation was similarly persuasive through its attention to the text. While others may overdo it, her subtle emphasis on the conjunction “ma” was effective in connecting Rossini’s contrasting lines, and she made the florid phrases that challenge many singers sound easy — even with competition from rather robust on-stage musicians.

Among the other performers, Polish bass Krzysztof Baczyk offered a sensitive reading of ‘Ves tabor spit’ from Rachmaninoff’s Aleko, which showed the singer’s large range and rich timbre. Later, Baczyk’s approach to Don Basilio’s well-known aria from Il barbiere, ‘La calumnia,’ took the audience through a range of dynamic levels. Baczyk was sometimes amplified a bit strongly — unique to this outdoor venue — which won’t be the case later this season at the Civic Opera House.

Prague native Adam Plachetka offered Ford’s aria from Verdi’s Falstaff, followed by Largo al factotum,’ also from Il barbiere. Plachetka’s usual extroverted approach colored both works and gave a glimpse of the style he will use in bringing Figaro to life.

Among the other singers were members of the Ryan Opera Center. Baritone Christopher Kenney gave a sense of Tchaikovsky’s fine score to the seldom-performed The Queen of Spades in Prince Yeletsky’s aria ‘Vy tak pechainy.’ Mezzo-soprano Kayleigh Decker joined Kenney for ‘La ci darem la mano’ from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which Lyric’s general director Antony Freud reminded us would return in the recent production Lyric used several years ago. It should be a good year for the company, as it celebrates its 65th season.

James L. Zychowicz

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