Lyric Opera sparks its own fireworks at Millennium Park

Sun Sep 07, 2014 at 11:40 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Mariusz Kwiecien (right) and Kyle Ketelsen as the Don and Leporello in the final act of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" performed Saturday night at the Pritzker Pavilion.. Photo: Robert Kusel.
Mariusz Kwiecien (right) and Kyle Ketelsen as the Don and Leporello in the final act of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” performed Saturday night at the Pritzker Pavilion.. Photo: Robert Kusel.

Navy Pier’s final fireworks of the summer may have intruded on Gilda’s dying moments Saturday at the Pritzker Pavilion. But there were ample sparks struck by the artists on stage as well in the annual “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” concert.

The traditional kickoff to Chicago’s fall music season, this year’s installment served up one of the most successful SLOMP events of recent years. True, the biggest luminary of the fall, Lyric creative consultant Renée Fleming—who will star in Strauss’s Capriccio—was not a participant. And some quick lend-me-a-tenor reshuffling was necessary to replace an ailing Antonio Poli.

Still, with some terrific singing and high-voltage drama served up by the vocal artists, Sir Andrew Davis and a full-throttle Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus, the 11,000 in attendance enjoyed an outstanding night of music on a beautiful late-summer evening on Chicago’s lakefront.

The two main elements of the evening were complete acts from Don Giovanni and Rigoletto. These kind of hemorrhaging chunks rarely come off successfully in concert, heard out of context and devoid of sets, costumes and the cumulative impact of an unfolding performance. But with consistently inspired vocalism and galvanic support by Davis and the orchestra, the stage trappings were not even missed.

Lyric undoubtedly sold a few tickets to their season-opening production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni with Saturday’s fizzing account of the opera’s final scene. In the title role, Mariusz Kwiecien’s firm, incisive baritone was fully invested in the character, with Kyle Ketelsen’s resentful Leporello playing off his master in fine style. Andrea Silvestrelli was a sonorous if wobbly Commendatore, and John Irvin filled in capably for Poli as Don Ottavio. The strong supporting cast of Marina Rebeka (Donna Anna) Ana Maria Martinez (Donna Elvira) Andriana Chuchman (Zerlina) and Michael Sumuel (Masetto) in the moralizing final scene bodes very well indeed for Lyric’s production, aided by Davis’s stylish and exemplary Mozart conducting.

The other big-ticket item was the complete final act of Rigoletto. Verdi’s opera is not on the schedule this season, but the roiling intensity of Saturday’s performance made one wish that it was, and with this cast.

With a simple walking stick and slight limp, Mark Delavan portrayed the embittered title jester superbly, singing with conviction, dark malevolence and tender filial affection in the final moments. Rebeka seemed much better suited to Gilda than Violetta in her Lyric debut in La Traviata last season, bringing a touching luminous purity to the innocent girl’s death. Silvestrelli reprised his role as the assassin Sparafucile effectively and J’Nai Bridges was the aptly sexy and smoky-voiced Maddalena.

The hero of the evening was Robert McPherson, who flew in from Seattle just hours before the concert to replace Poli in the role of the raffish Duke. His top notes were a bit thin, but the American tenor tossed off “La donne e’ mobile” with wonderfully liquid phrasing and easy style. Davis and the orchestra served the singers superbly, whipping up considerable dramatic intensity.

Sir Andrew Davis led the Lyric Opera Orchestra Saturday night at the Pritzker Pavilion. Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Sir Andrew Davis led the Lyric Opera Orchestra Saturday night at the Pritzker Pavilion. Photo: Todd Rosenberg

The evening began with a stirring rendition of the Overture to Wagner’s Tannhäuser (coming in February). Davis’s Wagner is as consistent as his Mozart, and the Lyric’s amiable music director led a refined and spacious reading, with notably evocative horns and burnished cellos, the climax resounding yet shorn of bombast.

The gifted singers of the Lyric Opera Chorus were spotlighted in two excerpts. The ensemble offered an atmospheric and nuanced rendering of the brooding exiles chorus (“Patria oppressa”) from Verdi’s Macbeth.

A genuine rarity was offered from Mascagni’s shot-out-of-the-canon Japanese tragedy, Iris. The “Hymn of the Sun” (“Son lo! Son lo, la Vita!”) was given such an impassioned, grandly majestic performance by the chorus and orchestra, it makes one wonder if it’s time to start delving into Mascagni’s many unperformed (apart from Cavalleria Rusticana) stage works. Any opera that concludes with the heroine committing suicide by throwing herself into a sewer must not be ignored.

Mark Delavan offered a sneak preview of his Scarpia, to be heard in the February cast of Puccini’s Tosca, though his vital and imposing Te Deum was somewhat upstaged by the magnificent singing of the Lyric Opera Chorus.

Mozart’s Don Giovanni opens the Lyric Opera’s 60th season 7:30 p.m. September 27.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Lyric Opera sparks its own fireworks at Millennium Park”

  1. Posted Sep 10, 2014 at 5:01 pm by Lori Goldberg

    Just loved this concert! It was one of the best I think I’ve ever seen. Feel in love with Mariusz Kwiecien so may have to go see him in Don Giovanni!

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