Stars and young artists strut their stuff at Lyric Opera’s lakefront concert

Sat Sep 12, 2009 at 2:41 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Puccini and Rossini aficionados streamed into Millennium Park Friday night as the Lyric Opera of Chicago offered its annual end-of-summer preview concert featuring this season’s artists and selections from the company’s upcoming productions.

  The gorgeous late-summer weather helped attract the massive throng—and the free admission likely didn’t hurt either in this straitened economy, even if most choice pavilion seats appeared to be reserved for donors and the evening’s sponsors. Noting the eighth anniversary of the 9-11 terror attacks, the evening was dedicated to the men and women of the armed forces.

   The Lyric opens its season with Tosca and all three principals were on hand to provide a tantalizing teaser of Puccini’s “shabby little shocker.” In an extended excerpt from Act 1, Deborah Voigt and Vladimir Galouzine brought their ample voices and a natural camaraderie to the romantic badinage of Tosca and Cavaradossi, no doubt selling a boatload of single tickets in the process. The Russian tenor also offered a taste of Tosca’s doomed lover with an impassioned E lucevan le stelle, while Voigt opened with Wagner in a playful, gleaming rendition of Elisabeth’s Dich, teure Halle from Tannhauser.

 James Morris, Lyric’s Scarpia, eschewed the Puccini villain for Offenbach and Verdi. The veteran bass made a wonderfully characterful Dr. Miracle. leading the Act 2 trio from Tales of Hoffman, and served up a powerful, finely detailed rendering of  Iago’s Credo from Otello.


The striking quality of young artists at the Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center remains impressive. First-year member Rene Barbera—a ringer for Ramon Vargas—displayed a gleaming high tenor and easy agility, casually throwing off the nine high C’s of Tonio’s showpiece aria from La fille du regiment without any visible effort.  

Fellow Ryan artist Amanda Majeski showed her lustrous soprano in the Hoffman trio with Morris and Katherine Lerner, and her voice soared over the ensemble in a thrilling performance of the final trio from Faust with tenor Joseph Kaiser and bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen.

 Ryan Center alum Kaiser provided an evening highlight with an ardent, uncommonly refined account of Don Jose’s Flower Song from Carmen, and Ketelsen offered a worthy Scintille, diamant from Hoffman. Also heard were Ana Maria Martinez in an anodyne rendering of Rusalka’s Song to the Moon, Lucas Meachem in a breezy Largo al factotum, and Barbera and Meachem in an admirable O Mimi tu piu non torni from La Boheme.  

Soprano Amber Wagner was ill, which meant the elision of the scheduled Ernani excerpt but gave Sir Andrew Davis the chance to pitch audiences on hearing Verdi’s drama at the Civic Opera House in November. The Lyric’s preternaturally amiable music director provided his usual attentive and sensitive direction, the English conductor and his responsive players alertly supporting the singers and providing fizzing performances of orchestral filler, particularly the witty and stylish opener of Rossini’s Semiramide overture.  

The Lyric Opera of Chicago opens its 55th season Sept. 26 with Puccini’s Tosca starring Deborah Voigt, Vladimir Galouzine, and James Morris.; 312-332-2244.

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