Ryan Center artists shine and rise at Lyric Opera

Sun Apr 01, 2012 at 5:03 pm

By Wynne Delacoma

Kiri Deonarine sang the Bell Song from Delibes’ “Lakme” as part of the Ryan Opera Center’s Rising Stars concert Saturday night.

Every year Lyric Opera of Chicago’s training program for young singers seems to get stronger and stronger.

Talent levels at the program founded in 1974, now officially known as the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, have always been high. Among its alumni are Nicole Cabell, Elizabeth Futral, Matthew Polenzani, Erin Wall, Harolyn Blackwell, and Joseph Kaiser.

But at their annual Rising Stars concert Saturday night in the Civic Opera House, 12 current Opera Center members performed at a uniformly remarkable level, accompanied by an exuberant Lyric orchestra conducted by Ward Stare in opera excerpts ranging from Mozart and bel canto repertoire to John Adams’ Nixon in China.

Each managed to create engrossing characters, no simple feat in short arias and duets plucked out of their surrounding story lines. Especially in the first half, crammed with challenging bel canto music by Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini, the young singers largely managed to toss off their lavish coloratura flights like so much musical confetti.

In opening remarks Gianna Rolandi, the Opera Center’s high-energy director, urged the audience to “have fun because that’s what [the singers are] going to do.” She and her colleagues must be doing something right because the young singers—from first-year sopranos Emily Birsan and Kiri Deonarine, mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall, tenor Bernard Holcomb, baritone Joseph Lim and bass-baritone David Govertsen to third-year veteran baritone Paul La Rosa—seemed to be confident and relaxed enough to enjoy themselves immensely.

Also appearing were soprano Jennifer Jakob, mezzo-soprano Emily Fons, tenor James Kryshak, baritone Paul Scholten and bass Evan Boyer, all in their second year at the Opera Center. (The audience groaned when Rolandi announced that Rene Barbera, a popular third-year member with a rich, distinctive tenor, had caught a bug and could not perform.)

The evening got off to a strong start with Hall’s creamy mezzo-soprano alternating between tenderness and fury in Sesto’s aria Parto, parto from Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito. Kryshak was all youthful, coiled energy as Pedrillo talking himself into bravery in Frisch zum Kampfe! from Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio.

Deonarine was simply dazzling in the ferociously complex virtuosity of the Bell Song from Delibes’ Lakme, bringing a lyrical seamlessness to both the aria’s ornaments and its slow, exotic melody line. Birsan echoed that sense of delicacy and unhurried yearning in her excerpt from Bellini’s La sonnambula. Fons, so  compelling as Nicklausse in Lyric’s The Tales of Hoffmann last fall, combined a smoky lower register with satiny high notes in Tanti affetti in tal momento from Rossini’s La donna del lago.

Among the men, Lim and Boyer found thoughtful depth and intense passion in excerpts from Russian opera—Lim in Prince Yeletsky’s aria from Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades and Boyer in the cavatina from Rachmaninov’s Aleko. Scholten was riveting as he hurtled through the staccato vocal line of News has a kind of mystery from John Adams’ Nixon in China. As Nixon exulting in the press coverage of his historic trip to China, Scholten combined frantic energy, hubris and genuine awe.

Lyric’s season may be over, but you can catch Fons, Hall, La Rosa and Scholten during Chicago Opera Theater’s spring season. Opening April 14, COT offers a good chance to take another look at singers whose stars truly are rising.

Photo: Dan Rest

Posted in Performances

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