Ryan Center singers and Civic Orchestra make terrific Mozart together

Tue May 08, 2012 at 2:03 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Joseph Lim, Tracy Cantin and Kiri Deonarine in Act 2 from Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro,” performed with the Civic Orchestra Monday night at Symphony Center. Photo: Todd Rosenberg

There can be no higher praise for a concert performance of an isolated opera scene than that it leaves you disappointed not to be hearing the remaining two acts.

Such was the case Monday night at Symphony Center, when the Civic Orchestra collaborated with Lyric Opera music director Sir Andrew Davis and singers from the Lyric’s Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center in a pair of complete acts from Mozart and Puccini operas.

And while the final act of La boheme had its moments, it was Act 2 of Le nozze di Figaro that was the clear highlight of the evening, and left one wanting more. Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that so stellar was the vocalism and spirited portrayals of the principals that any regional American opera house would be lucky to field this group of gifted young singers for their next Figaro production.

In their opening remarks Monday night, CSO association president Deborah Rutter and Lyric Opera general director Anthony Freud indicated that future collaborations between the Civic and the Ryan Center were in the works, which is welcome news indeed.

Leading the Figaro cast were the personality-plus Susanna of Kiri Deonarine and the delightful Cherubino of Cecilia Hall. Blessed with a flexible, bright-toned soprano and engaging stage presence, Deonarine appears born to play the role of Figaro’s vivacious fiancee.

Fresh from her triumph in the title role of Handel’s Teseo for Chicago Opera Theater, Hall was just as dynamite in another trousers role, as the hormonally gifted page. Gracefully androgynous in elegant jacket and pants with her hair pulled back, Hall served up a gorgeous Voi che sapete, was genuinely funny in the comedy and etched such a vivid characterization of Cherubino that sets and costumes were irrelevant.

As the Countess, Tracy Cantin got off to a shaky start with a wavery, hard-toned Porgi amor, but soon improved and did well in the ensembles, with her secure top notes cutting through with ease.

Joseph Lim was a wonderfully vivid Count, hot-tempered and incisively sung with crystal-clear enunciation. Figaro doesn’t have much to sing in Act 2 but Evan Boyer proved a fine valet with his hearty manner and ample baritone. J’nai Bridges (Marcellina), David Govertsen (Bartolo), John Irvin (Basilio) and Will Liverman (Antonio) rounded out the closing ensemble.

Act 4 from La boheme proved more of a mixed bag.

Cantin, a first-year Ryan member, was more consistent as the doomed seamstress, Mimi. The Canadian soprano sang with luminous tone and delivered an affecting performance with a tender rendition of her reprise of the opening phrases of Che gelida manina.

Bernard Holcomb also characterized well as Rodolfo, particularly in the dramatic latter moments. Unfortunately, the tenor appeared vocally miscast, dry of tone and under-projected, with a voice that sounded two sizes too small for the role.

Liverman showed a penetrating baritone as Marcello, Lim was a fine virile Schaunard and, as Colline, Boyer’s expressively sung Vecchia zimarra was a highlight. All four of the boys entered into the hi-jinx with relish as well as acting sensitively in the more dramatic moments. Emily Birsan brought a sweet tone to Musetta’s prayer.

The orchestra took a largely supportive role throughout the evening but Davis turned them into a crack pit orchestra to the manner born. Some minor ensemble slips apart, the Civic musicians played with notable weight and richness in the Puccini and refined tone and nimble agility in the Mozart.

The Puccini performance wasn’t helped by a loud, repeated noise midway through the act, which continued for several minutes. (A CSO spokeswoman said Tuesday it was due to a faulty amplifier in an upper balcony house speaker.) The singers, Davis and orchestra all kept their professional composure and soldiered on until the disturbance abated.

The evening led off with Davis leading the Civic in a notably elegant and deftly pointed rendition of Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours, with the players bringing fizzing brilliance to  the final galop.

The concert was dedicated to the memory of Florence Boone, who passed away earlier this week at 93. A longtime supporter of both the Lyric Opera and Chicago Symphony, Boone’s leadership was said to be instrumental in helping to save the Civic Orchestra when it was threatened by financial problems in the early 1990s.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Ryan Center singers and Civic Orchestra make terrific Mozart together”

  1. Posted May 09, 2012 at 4:28 pm by Peter DG

    Huh! … The La Boheme was phenomenal. The Figaro was a bit of a letdown after that, but it was still lot’s of fun. We didn’t hear the “loud, repeated noise” at all, but we were sitting in the 1st row of the main floor and a Metra RR engine might have been overpowered by those singers 10 feet away. That’s a great place to sit for an opera in concert (but for nothing else).

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