Lyric Opera’s young singers shine in Ryan Center showcase

Sun Apr 03, 2011 at 1:42 pm

By Wynne Delacoma

Soprano Amanda Majeski provided several highlights in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Rising Stars concert Saturday night.

There is something deeply satisfying about Lyric Opera’s annual showcase for the young singers of its Ryan Opera Center, which was held Saturday night in the Civic Opera House.

There’s the thrill of possibly discovering new talent, of course, which Lyric’s showcases have provided steadily since the center opened in 1974. Alumni including Nicole Cabell, Joseph Kaiser and David Cangelosi have gone on to major careers.

Saturday’s program, featuring 11 Ryan Center members in arias, duet and ensembles accompanied by Lyric’s orchestra conducted by music director Sir Andrew Davis, was a fast-paced, varied evening. It was also a fertile one for anybody interested in spotting future stars.

Amanda Majeski’s riveting performance in the Moonlight Music and Final Scene from Richard Strauss’s Capriccio was not much of a surprise. She ably filled in at the last moment as the Countess in two performances of Lyric’s The Marriage of Figaro in winter 2010. And anybody who heard the soprano’s blood-chilling performance as Vitellia in Chicago Opera Theater’s 2009 production of Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito knew she was a singer to watch.

The Illinois native brought the same commanding stage presence and gleaming vocal beauty to Strauss’ elegant countess on Saturday night. Slim and aristocratic, she paced the stage, luxuriating in the dilemma of choosing between two lovers—a poet and a composer—and two forms of art–poetry and music. Strauss’ unsettled, soaring melodies unfurled seamlessly, lingering in the air like golden threads.

In terms of sheer vocal prowess, tenor Rene Barbera was another standout. Hailing from Texas, his acting was a bit stiff in Tombe degli avi miei…Fra poco a me ricovero from Lucia di Lammermoor. But his voice was sweet, strong and full of ringing high notes that effectively conveyed Edgardo’s despair over the prospect of losing Lucia to another man.

Soprano Emily Fons, a Milwaukee native in her first season at the Ryan Center, was impressive throughout the evening. In the Act One duet from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville her Rosina was a delicious flirt. Her coloratura flights were alternately dainty, caressing and sassy as she played off against baritone Paul Scholten’s wily Figaro.

Fons occasionally rushed her phrasing in the aria from Handel’s Xerxes, Crude furie degl’ orridi abissi. But her wide leaps and frenzied ornaments clearly conveyed a betrayed lover’s fury. As Donna Elvira in the Act Two trio from Don Giovanni, her yearning, satiny soprano line floated expressively above the dark, blended voices of the scheming Giovanni (bass Evan Boyer) and bass-baritone Sam Handley (Leporello).

Tenor James Kryshak was the image of transfixed ardor in the serene aria, O blonde Ceres from Berlioz’s Les Troyens Rooted center stage, he sent Berlioz’s gently curving, long-lined melodies to the far reaches of the theater, his voice full of warmth and joy. Later in the program, in a duet with Handley from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, he was an irrepressible Tom Rakewell. Racing through the composer’s jagged, syncopated phrases, singing with impeccable diction and darting about the stage, he was the image of high-spirited, headless youth.

Scholten, a first-year center member from Michigan, did double duty Saturday, substituting in two extra duets for ailing center member Paul LaRosa. His baritone sounded flexible and expressive, full of longing and regret in L’orage s’est calme…O Nadir, tendre ami, from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. He was comfortable onstage and created sharply etched characters, whether in comic duets from Don Pasquale and The Barber of Seville or as a tormented Marcello in the Act Four duet with Barbera’s Rodolfo from La boheme.

Bass-baritone Craig Irvin brought appropriate focus and gravity to Wolfram’s famous paean to the evening star from Tannhauser, but his phrasing often sounded clipped and dry.  Mezzo-soprano Katherine Lerner and soprano Jennifer Jakob were touching young lovers in the Presentation of the Rose scene from Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier.

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