Ryan Center artists, Grant Park Orchestra excel in American program

Thu Jul 23, 2015 at 12:24 pm

By Tim Sawyier

Laura Wilde sang the role of Lucy in Gian Carlo Menotti's "The Telephone" Wednesday night with  the Grant Park Orchestra. Photo: Norman Timonera.

Laura Wilde sang the role of Lucy in Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Telephone” Wednesday night with the Grant Park Orchestra. Photo: Norman Timonera.

A gorgeous Wednesday evening found the Grant Park Orchestra performing 20th– and 21st-century works by primarily American composers under conductor Ward Stare at the Pritzker Pavilion. The concert offered an impressive and compelling survey of music composed in this country over the last 80 years.

Three of the four composers represented were trained at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, highlighting the homegrown spirit of the program. The concert opened with the Fanfare Ritmico by Pulitzer Prize-winning Jennifer Higdon, who is currently the chair of composition studies at Curtis. Stare, recently appointed music director of the Rochester Philharmonic, led an incisive performance of the six-minute work. The propulsive percussion section was dynamic throughout, and the trumpet and flute flourishes nimbly executed.

The evening’s centerpiece was The Telephone (or L’Amour à Trois), a one-act opera buffa written in 1947 by Gian Carlo Menotti. The piece is an ahead-of-its-time exploration of how electronics actually interfere with relationships, rather than facilitate them. Stare underscored this message in prefatory remarks on the ubiquity of cellphones, which drove home the work’s present-day relevance.

The Telephone’s plot is simple—Ben, a man on a schedule, attempts to propose to his inamorata Lucy, but is repeatedly thwarted by her ringing phone.

Soprano Laura Wilde and baritone Anthony Clark Evans, third-year members of Lyric Opera’s Ryan Center, performed the two roles exquisitely. Wilde’s rendition of Lucy’s protracted conversations was sung with lambent tone and aplomb. Particularly impressive was the effortlessness she brought to her character’s pyrotechnical laughter.

Evans as Ben had a less dynamic role, mostly spent impatiently observing Lucy’s inane phone banter. His voice has a robust, lustrous quality and the audience clearly related to the moment when he almost physically attacked the telephone.

Composer Douglas Cuomo is in residence at the Grant Park Music Festival this week and two arias from his 2012 opera Doubt, based on the play (and later film) by John Patrick Shanley, bookended the Menotti.

First was “The Boy’s Nature,” in which the mother of the boy at the center of the opera’s action implores the suspicious school principal to let her son finish the school year. First-year Ryan member Annie Rosen offered a poignant rendition, filling out Cuomo’s chromatic lines to convey the mother’s angst and supplication.

Evans returned after the Menotti for “The Doubt Sermon,” the opera’s opening aria, in which a priest sermonizes on the importance of belief in times of confusion. Evans shone in this aria, his flexible baritone conveying the priest’s spiritual message, and Cuomo himself received an appreciative ovation.

The evening closed with a compelling reading of Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1. Cast in one movement, the neo-Romantic work dates from 1935, the year after Barber graduated from Curtis and soon after the start of his life-long personal and professional relationship with Menotti.

Stare elicited lushly expressive playing from the strings and brass in the expansive opening phrases. The orchestra’s principal winds handled the demanding scherzo with ease, and Nathan Mills played the hypnotic oboe solo with cantabile grace. Stare drew burnished playing from the Grant Park brass in the work’s closing bars.

Emmanuel Villaume conducts the Grant Park Orchestra 6:30 p.m. Friday and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The program features von Suppe’s Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna, Mozart’s Symphony No. 31, Bizet’s Roma and Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2 with soloist Andrew Von Oeyen. grantparkmusicfestival.com/

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