United States An Evening of Vocal Fireworks – Amici e Rivali: Lawrence Brownlee and Michael Spyres (tenors), Men of the Opera Philadelphia Chorus and Orchestra / Corrado Rovaris (conductor). Opera Philadelphia, Mann Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia, 26.8.2021. (RP)
Rossini – ‘Ah si, per voi già sento’ (Otello); ‘Deh! scusa i transporti!’ (Elisabetta Regina d’Inghilterra); Overture (Il barbiere di Siviglia); ‘Largo al factotum’ (Il barbiere di Siviglia); ‘Donala a questo core’ (Ricciardo e Zoraide); ‘Asile héréditaire…Amis, amis secondez ma vengeance’ (Guillaume Tell); Overture (Tancredi); ‘Ah! vieni nel tuo sangue’ (Otello)
Bellini – ‘Nel furor delle tempeste…Per te di vane lagrime’ (Il pirata)
Thomas – Overture (Raymond, ou Le secret de la reine); ‘O vin dissipe la tristesse’ (Hamlet)
Adam – ‘Mes amis, écoutez l’histoire’ (Le postillon de Lonjumeau)
Dueling tenors and fireworks were just the thing for a sultry summer night. Lawrence Brownlee and Michael Spyres provided the onstage excitement and, after the concert, the sky was ablaze with color. Opera Philadelphia presented the two tenors at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, an open-air music center located in Fairmount Park, accompanied by the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Corrado Rovaris, its music director.
The concert launched the tenors’ tour which features selections from their recent album, Amici e Rivali, inspired by a video that went viral of them singing ‘Ah! vieni nel tuo sangue’ from Rossini’s Otello in 2018 at The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. The recording includes music from seven Rossini operas, from ll barbiere di Siviglia to rarities such as Ricciardo e Zoraide. For the concert, selections by Bellini and by French composers Adolphe Adam and Ambroise Thomas were added to the program.
Rossini had the luxury of having two star tenors on hand, Giovanni David and Andrea Nozzari, whose voices complemented one another, as do those of Brownlee and Spyres. Brownlee shines in the upper extremes of the tenor range as did David, while Spyres, who can pop out high notes with the best of them, has a rich lower range, as did Nozzari. More importantly for today’s audiences, Brownlee and Spyres have not only the voices and artistry but the personalities to make this concert of bel canto operatic rarities so much fun.
There were a couple of well-known arias, but even they came with a twist. Spyres sang Figaro’s famous entrance aria, ‘Largo al factotum’, and ‘O vin, dissipe la tristesse’ from Thomas’s Hamlet, both of which were written for baritone. It takes skill, as well as a special voice, for a tenor to make a high G sound as thrilling as a high C, and Spyres has both. However, the audience was there for high notes, and they got plenty of them.
The Rossini arias and duets offered vocal pyrotechnics and excitement, but Brownlee got the victor’s crown with his high D in Adam’s ‘Mes amis, écoutez l’histoire’. It is the highest note commonly sung by tenors in opera, although Bellini and Donizetti took them even higher. (The Adam rarity was performed in Paris for the first time in 125 years at the Opéra Comique in March 2019 with Spyres in the title role.)
In spite of occasional high jinks from the two tenors, there was plenty of serious singing. Spyres opened the concert with a bravura account of ‘Ah si, per voi già sento’ from Rossini’s Otello; coupled with the resounding trumpets and rousing chorus, it set the concert soaring from the start.
Brownlee was particularly impressive in ‘Asile héréditaire…Amis, amis secondez ma vengeance’, Arnold’s aria from Guillaume Tell, in which he displayed not only his virtuosity in its rousing conclusion but also the beauty of his voice in the more tender lyrical passages that open the aria. The Rossini duet that went viral was the last work on the program, and both tenors sang high C’s and D’s with abandon.
Corrado Rovaris conducted the concert as he had the recording. There were no histrionics on the podium, where only scrupulous musicianship was on display. The overture from Ambroise Thomas’s seldom-encountered Raymond, ou Le secret de la reine was given a rousing and witty performance, and revealed the debt the composer owed to Rossini. Its rocket didn’t fire as brilliantly as did the one Rossini launched in the overture to Il barbiere di Siviglia, which was heard earlier in the program, but it reached the same heights.
For encores, the tenors sang ‘Be My Love’, a nod to Philadelphia native Mario Lanza for whom the song was written and which became his first million-dollar seller. It was followed by ‘Granada’, another crowd pleaser associated with Lanza, but also with everyone from Fritz Wunderlich to José Carreras, to say nothing of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Plácido Domingo.