Sunday in the Park with Lyric’s Rising Stars opens the 2021-22 Chicago season

United StatesUnited States Sunday in the Park with Lyric’s Rising Stars: Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center 2021/22 Ensemble, Lyric Opera Orchestra / Enrique Mazzola (conductor). Pritzker Pavilion (Millennium Park), Chicago, 29.8.2021. (JLZ)

Anthony Reed (bass) and Enrique Mazzola (conductor) (c) Kyle Flubacker

RossiniWilliam Tell, Overture
Mozart – ‘Zu Hilfe!’, ‘Hm! Hm! Hm!’, ‘Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen’ (The Magic Flute)
Verdi – ‘Come dal ciel precipita’ (Macbeth)
Catán¿Arcadio? ¿Rosalba?’ (Florencia en el Amazonas)
Berlin – ‘I Love a Piano’
Blanchard – ‘Peculiar Grace’ (Fire Shut up in My Bones)
Puccini – ‘Vissi d’arte’ (Tosca)
Donizetti – ‘Caro elisir, sei mio’, ‘Prendi, per me sei libero’ (L’elisir d’amore); ‘Chi mi frena in tal momento’ (Lucia di Lammermoor)
Bernstein – ‘Make Our Garden Grow’ (Candide)

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Sunday in the Park with Lyric’s Rising Stars was a unique concert that celebrated the members of its Ryan Opera Center and previewed the house’s 2021 ̶ 2022 season. The first performance by Lyric for a live audience in more than eighteen months, this outdoor event in Millennium Park merged the traditional spring concert by the Ryan Center performers with the usual late-summer preview.

The result was a focused presentation that allowed the audience to experience the talent of the Ryan performers in excerpts from works that will be staged later this year and in early 2022. Conducted by Enrique Mazzola and the new Ryan Center conductor Donald Lee, III, the program succeeded in revivifying the enthusiasm that Lyric Opera of Chicago instills in the community.

One of the highlights of the evening was the performance by bass Anthony Reed of Banquo’s ‘Come dal ciel precipita’ from Verdi’s Macbeth. With his full, resonant voice, Reed gave a masterful interpretation of the piece, one that showed the singer’s depth of emotion and technical facility. Reed embodied Banquo with such hair-raising intensity that the lines ‘Mille affannose immagini, m’annunciano sventura’ (‘A thousand nightmares predict my misfortune’) caused one to shudder. He captured the audience’s attention with his opening phrase and held it throughout; without resorting to the melodramatic tricks that some would employ, his ‘Fuggi’ rounded it off with commanding dignity. Reed’s even range and impeccable diction matched the nuanced phrasing and attention to detail in Verdi’s score. It was a performance worthy of any opera house, and it gave the audience a sense of the powerful music in this venerable work.

Leroy Davis (baritone) (c) Kyle Flubacker

The excerpt from a new opera, Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, offered an intriguing sample of the impressive score. Baritone Leroy Davis gave the soliloquy ‘Peculiar Grace’ the passionate intensity and musical nuance that made the performance memorable. Just as Davis’s full baritone gave new life to the role of Papageno in the numbers from Mozart’s Magic Flute earlier in the evening, his sense of line, phrasing and dynamics made the Blanchard piece distinctive. It was an interpretation that made Davis’s character three-dimensional, and he accomplished this with a sensitive and well-thought delivery. At the ended of the piece, I wanted to hear it again to appreciate both Blanchard’s composition and Davis’s impassioned performance.

In a similar way Katherine Beck’s mature mezzo-soprano gave new life to an American standard, ‘I Love a Piano’ by Irving Berlin, a piece that also called attention to the Ryan Opera Center’s resident pianist, Christ Reynolds. Beck’s sense of timing matched her nimble phrasing and appealing tone quality. It was good to hear her later in several ensembles. Veteran Ryan artist Mathilde Edge soared in ‘Vissi d’arte’ and reminded the audience of upcoming performances of Puccini’s Tosca.

Other cast members performed ensembles from Mozart’s Magic Flute, Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore and Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas. In the latter, soprano Denis Vélez gave fine voice to florid lines that characterize this work in a duet with tenor Martin Luther Clark. In the music from L’elisir, tenor Lunga Eric Hallam was a persuasive Nemorino as his supple voice shaped the lines of this familiar comic masterpiece. Hallam combined his technical mastery of the role with fine stage presence, something that is not always easy in concert performances of opera. The amusing feigned drunkenness made the first duet appealing, and the audience could hear Nemorino’s ardor in the concluding duet, ‘Prendi, per me sei libero’ with soprano Maria Novella Malfatti. Malfatti clearly knows Adina’s role well, and she was particularly effective in the passages that showed her upper range.

The concert ended with two ensembles that showcased the assembled talent in works that are not part of the new season: the famous sextet from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and ‘Make Our Garden Grow’ from Bernstein’s Candide. The concert succeeded on multiple counts, and not the least from the fine direction Mazzola gave the varied works in the program. He set the tone well in sharing the podium with Donald Lee, III, as well as in the support he gave the performers throughout the concert as he recognized, along with the audience, the musical strength of the Ryan Opera Center and Lyric Opera of Chicago.

James L. Zychowicz

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