Brewer and colleagues close “Beyond the Aria” in enjoyable fashion

Wed May 18, 2016 at 1:05 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Soprano Christine Brewer performed in the final "Beyond the Aria" program of the season Tuesday night at the Harris Theater.
Soprano Christine Brewer performed in the final “Beyond the Aria” program of the season Tuesday night at the Harris Theater.

When a concert opens with Christine Brewer singing “Dich teure Halle,” you know they  mean business.

The big-voiced soprano was the star attraction of the final “Beyond the Aria” program of the season Tuesday night at the Harris Theater.

In the past, the series has drawn from opera stars appearing in Lyric Opera productions. With Lyric’s opera season over, series artistic director and pianist Craig Terry asked his friend Brewer to appear in this late-spring installment, along with two gifted young singers from Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center, mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen and tenor Jesse Donner.

One could hardly ask for a more dramatic opening than Elisabeth’s Act 2 aria from Wagner’s Tannhäuser, and Brewer’s creamy, luxuriant voice rolled through the enclosed Pritzker Pavilion stage.

One of the most inspiring elements of this series is how Terry and the singer have consistently pushed the repertorial envelope, mixing musical and popular items with serious contemporary and American repertory. 

And so it proved again, with the song cycle, Vignettes: Letters from George to Evelyn. Written for Brewer by Alan Louis Smith, this 2002 song cycle is drawn from a series of letters written to his wife from a WWII G.I. who was killed in action weeks before the end of the war. 

Even Brewer’s ample voice and pristine diction were sometimes defeated by the venue’s cloudy acoustic, and one wished words were clearer. Even so, the soprano brought great feeling to the eloquent letters and Smith’s lyrical cycle is strikingly well crafted, varied and impassioned yet never sentimental. Brewer’s affecting performance and Terry’s sensitive keyboard work made a compelling case for an American song cycle that deserves to be much better known.

Brewer played the Mother Abbess in Lyric’s Sound of Music. Tuesday she eschewed that character’s “Climb Every Mountain” for “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” with the young tenor Donner. This inter-generational duet could have veered into camp but both singers played it largely straight with charming results. Brewer also offered a hilarious rendition of Celius Dougherty’s “Review,” a dead-on, rapier-like dissection of music critic tropes and cliches.

Local audiences will remember Annie Rosen for her memorable Lyric Opera debut last fall as Tisbe, one of the evil stepsisters, in Rossini’s La Cenerentola.

Tuesday night, the young mezzo was just as impressive.  If her wry rendition didn’t quite convey the tragic element of Thomas Ades’ Life Story, Rosen brought out the yearning and melancholy of the Tennessee Williams text, and handled the score’s myriad challenges and pitch-bending with aplomb.

Rosen and Brewer engaged in mock one-upsmanship in Arthur Sullivan’s “Coming Home” duet. With Donner, the mezzo delivered the light romance of Harry Warren’s Romberg-esque “Shadow Waltz.” The mezzo-soprano also delivered a rapt and affecting rendering of Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow.”

Donner displayed his polished, low-lying tenor to fine advantage in an ardent rendering of Liszt’s song “O lieb” (better known in its solo piano version as Liebestraum), offered a heroic “Love Went A-Riding” by Frank Bridge, and engaged in some whimsical comedy in Flanders and Swann’s “The Gnu.”

Following a lively “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” for all three artists–Donner doing an impressive soprano–Brewer closed the evening with a poignant rendition of “Mira” from Bob Merrill’s Broadway musical Carnival.

Terry provided his usual sensitive and simpatico keyboard support throughout. “Beyond the Aria” will return for a third season in the fall.

Posted in Performances

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