Singers’ versatile artistry warms up a rainy night at Beyond the Aria

Fri Jan 20, 2017 at 1:00 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Christiane Karg performed at the Beyond the Aria concert Thursday night at the Harris THeater. Photo: Rui Camilo
Christiane Karg performed at the Beyond the Aria concert Thursday night at the Harris Theater. Photo: Rui Camilo

It was a cold and rainy Thursday night but the Beyond the Aria concert provided ample vocal warmth on the enclosed Pritzker Pavilion stage. Now in its third season, this Harris Theater series, helmed by pianist/artistic director Craig Terry, has clearly found its audience, offering a unique opportunity to hear Lyric Opera singers perform in an intimate club-like setting.

Two stars from Lyric’s current production of The Magic Flute, Christiane Karg and Adam Plachetka, were on hand for this third program of the season. Teamed with Lindsay Metzger, a second-year member of the Ryan Opera Center, and with Terry the engaging host and pianist, Thursday’s event provided one of the most varied and enjoyable concerts in the Harris Theater series to date.

Karg emerged as just as assured a recitalist as she has been in the opera house with her Pamina, leading off the evening with an elegant rendering of Poulenc’s “Voyage a Paris.” She later paired two wry settings of songs that she humorously said reflected her peripatetic life as a traveling artist, with Poulenc’s “Hôtel” and Barber’s “Solitary Hotel.”

Karg showed her stylistic versatility with Xavier Montsalvatge’s Cinco canciones negras, which proved a real discovery and deserves to be heard as often as de Falla’s better-known Siete Canciones populares Españolas.

The German soprano was clearly in synch with these colorful musical portraits of black Cuban life. Singing with pure, silvery tone and fully idiomatic Spanish, Karg conveyed the lilting charm of “Punto de Habanera” as surely as the romantic yearning of “Chevere” and the sassy fire of “Cantio negro.” Most affecting was “Cancion de cuna para dormir a un negrito,” a gentle lullaby sung with rapt and inward feeling.

Similarly Adam Plachetka did an effective 180 from his comic Papageno with a dramatic aria from Smetana’s The Secret (Tajemství), wielding his robust, dark baritone with dramatic force. The Czech singer was equally characterful in music of another compatriot, with Plachetka wistful or swaggering as needed in five settings from Dvorak’s Gypsy Songs. “The forest is quiet all around” was especially beautifully sung, with a rapt, searching quality.

Lindsay Metzger showed herself more than capable of holding her own in this fast company. If the rapid-fire humor of Argento’s comic “Manners at the Opera” was fitfully undermined by the cloudy acoustic, the Mundelein native showed charismatic stage presence and comic flair.

To his credit Craig Terry always manages to work some intriguing American rarities into these programs, and did so again with Vignettes: Ellis Island by Alan Louis Smith. Metzger performed seven excerpts from this expansive six-part cycle, which takes its texts from oral histories of Americans who passed through Ellis Island as youthful immigrants. With her easy stage manner and refined voice, Metzger’s communicative singing gave Smith’s music the finest possible advocacy, conveying the humor, unease, poignance and hopefulness of these settings.

The lighter items that closed the evening proved wholly delightful. Plachetka offered an echo of Lyric Opera’s recent Don Quichotte with a stirring rendition of “The Impossible Dream” from Mitch Leigh’s Man of La Mancha. And where else do you get to hear opera singers perform music from Eric Idle’s Spamalot? Plachetka and Metzger joined forces in a quite hilarious rendition of the wry Broadway deconstruction, “The Song That Goes Like This.”

Considering the evening’s weather, “Singin’ in the Rain” provided an apt and light-hearted close to the evening for all three singers, Karg strolling onstage with an oversized Cubs umbrella and Platchetka doing his best Gene Kelly moves. A lovely encore of the trio “Soave sia il vento” from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte sealed the evening.

Terry provided his usual stellar keyboard support throughout and also shared the welcome news that Beyond the Aria will be back for a fourth season in the fall.

The next Beyond the Aria program will feature Elizabeth DeShong, Russell Thomas and Patrick Guetti 7:30 p.m. February 21.

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