Lyric Opera stars shine at Millennium Park, even with cancellations

Sun Sep 12, 2010 at 6:13 pm

By Dennis Polkow

Thomas Hampson and Nadja Michael perform a duet from “Macbeth” Saturday night with Sir Andrew Davis conducting the Lyric Opera Orchestra. Photo: Dan Rest

It was ten years ago that the Lyric Opera gave its first ever free pre-season outdoor concert in the Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park. Bruno Bartoletti conducted, and the Lyric’s then-new music director Sir Andrew Davis took over podium duties the following year.

Over the past decade, the Stars of the Lyric Opera programs have come full circle, returning to the original, more wide-ranging selection of repertoire than a quasi-preview featuring stars singing music from the works in which they will appear in the upcoming season. Of this year’s eight operas, only two were represented at Saturday night’s concert, on a crisp early fall evening that saw Millennium Park jammed with opera lovers looking for a pre-season fix.

Saturday’s program did offer the opportunity to get a sneak preview of the production of Verdi’s Macbeth, which opens the season October 1. Baritone Thomas Hampson as Macbeth and German soprano Nadja Michael as Lady Macbeth performed the Act III duet, Ora di morte e di vendetta, where the treacherous couple scheme murders to protect Macbeth’s ill-gotten kingship.  Both were in superb voice and revealed terrific chemistry as the plotting pair.

Michael, making her company debut at this concert, also rendered Lady Macbeth’s exultation to the powers of darkness, La luce langue — composed for Act II of Verdi’s revised 1865 version of Macbeth — with considerable drama and introspection, all the more so because of the contrast with her girlish features and pixie-like blonde hair, augmented by a pleated pumpkin gown that billowed as she sang in the autumn night air.

Hampson is not in the cast of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, which opens Nov. 15, yet offered up Renato’s Act III Eri tu with considerable relish and aplomb.

Slovakian bass Štefan Kocán, who will sing the role of Banquo in Macbeth. rendered Fiesco’s Il lacerato spirito from Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, along with Osmin’s drunk duet Vivat Bacchus! with Pedrillo (second year Ryan Center tenor René Barbera) from Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio. His instrument is impressive even at the bottom end, able to effectively scale the low G while still sounding part of the natural vocal line.

Soprano Amber Wagner, the second-cast Elsa in the company’s Lohengrin next March, also sang some Verdi — Leonora’s Pace, pace, mio Dio! from La forza del destino — with the drama and power we have come to expect from this rising star and Ryan Center alumna.  Though some of us might prefer some moments of genuine pace in this aria, Wagner clearly sees Leonora as too tortured to be able to find some.

Tenor Dimitri Pittas, originally scheduled to sing Macduff in Macbeth but who pulled out of the performances because he is recovering from surgery, is being replaced for the run by tenor Leonardo Capalbo, who was also making his company debut at this concert.  Capalbo gave us his take of the Duke of Mantua, rendering a tender Parmi veder le lagrime from Act II of Verdi’s Rigoletto.

Capalbo also closed the concert with the Act I finale love duet of Puccini’s La bohème with soprano Ana Maria Martinez, the heroine of the evening. Martinez graciously stepped in to replace Elaine Alvarez, the October Micaëla in the company’s Carmen, who cancelled her participation in this concert due to laryngitis.

For a Rodolfo and Mimi who were both last-minute replacements singing such iconic music, the palpable romanticism, balance and chemistry between the couple was impressive.  Martinez also rendered a beautiful, if dramatically vacuous Un bel di from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Other highlights included bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen, who will sing the role of Escamillo in the company’s Carmen, offering up some Mozart — oddly enough, nowhere to be heard on this season’s Lyric schedule — including a sprightly rendition of Leporello’s Catalogue Aria from Don Giovanni and as Don Alfonso, a somewhat unbalanced Act I trio with Dorabella (first year Ryan center mezzo-soprano Emily Fons) and Fiordiligi (second year Ryan Center Amanda Majeski) from Così fan tutte.  Fons also offered a remarkably flexible account of the rondo finale to Rossini’s La Cenerentola that was a genuine show-stopper.

Lyric Opera’s 2010-11 season runs from October 1 through March 27 at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive (at Madison); (312) 332-2244;

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Lyric Opera stars shine at Millennium Park, even with cancellations”

  1. Posted Sep 13, 2010 at 10:06 pm by Lauri

    Ana Maria Martinez sang a sublime Un Bel Di on Saturday evening, her voice is pure gold. One can excuse the “vacuous” dramatic delivery considering that this was a concert, and not a staged opera performance.

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