Stars of Lyric Opera shine brightly in Mozart and Rossini at Millennium Park

Sat Sep 12, 2015 at 12:34 pm

By Tim Sawyier

From left, Rachel Frenkel, Christiane Karg and Amanda Majeski perform at Friday night's Lyric Opera concert at Millennium Park. Photo: Todd Rosenberg
From left, Rachel Frenkel, Christiane Karg and Amanda Majeski perform at Friday night’s Lyric Opera concert at Millennium Park. Photo: Todd Rosenberg

The Lyric Opera officially kicked off its 2015-16 season Friday night with its annual free “Stars of Lyric Opera” concert in Millennium Park. While the uncertain weather kept the Pritzker Pavilion from being quite as mobbed as in years past, the multitude that was in attendance received a stellar vocal preview of Lyric’s upcoming season.

            After a stirring rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” by the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus under music director Sir Andrew Davis, the concert proper began with selections from Rossini’s La Cenerentola, beginning with the Overture. The abundant wind solos throughout were winsome, and Davis demonstrated his command of the “Rossini” crescendo, deftly pacing the work’s protracted buildups with utmost sophistication.

             Tenor Lawrence Brownlee as Don Ramiro (who makes his Lyric debut in the role this season) and mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong as Cinderella joined the orchestra for three arias from the opera, and made an overall persuasive pair. Opening with the duet “Un soave non so che,” Brownlee’s voice proved light and flexible, well suited to Rossini, and he navigated the vocal pyrotechnics with apparent ease. DeShong was luminous, her burnished mezzo an aural splendor and Rossini’s vocal demands were all surmounted with aplomb. Brownlee’s “Si, ritrovaria guiro” was on the same high level and DeShong achieved floating benevolence in “Nacqui all’affano.” Both selections received sturdy support from the men of the Lyric Opera Chorus.

            The full chorus was showcased in three selections.  “Scenda amor, scenda Imeneo” from Mozart’s Idomeneo was delivered with expansive poise and nobility, and superb balance enhanced the quintessentially French élan of “L’heure s’envole” from Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet. Ryan Opera Center members Jonathan Johnson and Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi joined the Chorus for “Libiamio, libiamo ne’ lieti calici” from Verdi’s La Traviata, the former’s tenor ringing and pure and the latter’s soprano earthy and robust.

            Act 2 of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro constituted the second half. The three female leads—Countess Almaviva, Susanna, and Cherubino—have the lion’s share of singing in this act, and Lyric has assembled a most impressive trio of women for their production, which opens the season September 26. Amanda Majeski sang “Porgi amor” with delicate but resonant pathos and fluid evenness across registers. Rachel Frenkel was a shining Cherubino whose “Voi che sapete” captured the character’s earnest curiosity about the nature of love. Christiane Karg’s treatment of Susanna’s “Venite, inginocchiatevi” was ringing and playful.

            Adam Plachetka made an excellent Figaro, singing with a full throaty timbre and adding abundant characterization to his conniving plans. Luca Pisaroni was an imperious, almost inquisitorial Count Almaviva, his stentorian tone imbuing his character with its hilariously misplaced outrage and frustration.

            Ryan Center bass Bradley Smoak made a convincing inebriate of a gardener, and the brief appearances of Marcellina, Basilio, and Bartolo were ably portrayed by Katharine Goeldner, Keith Jameson, and Brindley Sherratt, respectively.

            The semi-staged performance as a whole captured the absurdist drama of Act 2 to a remarkable degree, all the soloists conveying the action through their inflections and subtle gesturing, combined with well-timed entrances and exits. An unintentional moment of humor occurred near the end, when the standard Apple galaxy desktop flashed across the screen projecting the supertitles, giving the sense that the farce taking place onstage had maybe rubbed off a little on the electronics.

The Lyric Opera opens its season September 26 at the Civic Opera House with Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

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