Mezzo Emily Fons steals show at uneven opera concert

Sat Aug 07, 2010 at 12:46 pm

By Paul Wooley

Mezzo-soprano Emily Fons was the standout singer Friday night at a concert featuring young artists from the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center.

The Grant Park Music Festival headed indoors Friday night, presenting Mozart and Rossini operatic finales sung by young artists from the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center.

Neither baritone Paul La Rosa as Dandini nor tenor RenĂ© Barbera as Ramiro seemed comfortable at the beginning of the La Cenerentola finale, which opened the concert.  Kalmar pushed the Grant Park Orchestra to almost breakneck speed, leaving his singers to catch up.  La Rosa in particular had problems with audibility throughout his voice and his runs—Rossini doesn’t seem to be for him.  Mezzo Katherine Lerner and soprano Jennifer Jakob sang the two sisters Clorinda and Tisbe.  Both acted well but neither showed much individuality.  All singers needed work on their Italian diction.

Evan Boyer turned things around in his entrance as Alidoro, showing off a polished true bass.  Given the uneven singing up to this point, mezzo Emily Fons was a welcome surprise as Cenerentola.  Fons stood head and shoulders above her peers with pure vocal quality and technique.  The Milwaukee native possesses an instrument of size, control, and flexibility, as she showed off precise coloratura and an idiomatic Rossini style.

The final scene from Don Giovanni followed, with a few switches in casting.  La Rosa took over duties as the Don and improved over his Cenerentola selection, but still struggled with projecting his voice.  Sam Handley as Leporello sang with a clear, sharp bass that filled the theater with ease.  The concert version of the finale produced awkward standing around during the dinner scene, but Handley improvised well. Soprano Amanda Majeski was reliable as Donna Anna, yet it was Fons who shined yet again as Donna Elvira, displaying a vocal gleam that already seems like that of a seasoned professional.

A short intermission preceded L’Italiana in Algeri‘s act one finale.  Lerner sang an underwhelming Isabella while Fons was inexplicably relegated to Zulma.  James Kryshak as Lindoro made the most of his small role, using his Rossinian tenor to pierce through the hectic ensemble with ease.  Baritone Paul Scholten as Taddeo has a voice a bit too light for the basso comedic roles he sang during the performance, but the Michigan native made up for it with his acting.

The evening ended with the finale from act two of Le Nozze di Figaro.  La Rosa returned, this time as the Count, and seemed more comfortable with Mozart’s declamatory writing.  Bass Craig Irvin’s bellowing Figaro was well sung and acted, while Jakob’s Susanna seemed stuck on one volume (loud).  Majeski assumed the role of the Countess and performed elegantly, floating several phrases effortlessly into the warm acoustic of the Harris.  Handley made an appearance as Antonio, as did Boyer as Bartolo, both singing admirably in their small roles.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Harris Theater, Millennium Park.

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