With a new home, Haymarket Opera, DeShong mark the Lenten season with Bach

Sat Feb 29, 2020 at 4:13 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Elizabeth DeShong performed Bach cantatas with the Haymarket Opera Orchestra Friday night at Gannon Concert Hall. Photo: Kristin Hoebermann

If the diving stock market, the spreading coronavirus and ceaseless political antagonism have got you down, there is always the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

An oasis of sorts from the world’s inescapable tumult was offered with a concert by the Haymarket Opera Company Friday night at DePaul University’s Gannon Concert Hall. The main event was a pair of Bach cantatas performed by Elizabeth DeShong.

At the top of the evening, artistic director Craig Trompeter provided a news update on the company he founded nearly a decade ago. There was a recent change of leadership at Haymarket with executive director Dave Moss departing Chicago to take up the same post with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra. His successor is Chase Hopkins, promoted from general manager.

Trompeter also noted that Haymarket Opera is in the early stages of establishing a partnership with DePaul University. In addition to Friday night’s concert, Haymarket will present a Monteverdi opera at DePaul’s Jarvis Opera Hall in June. Future areas of collaboration may include tutelary opportunities with DePaul Opera Theatre, which will likely prove beneficial for DePaul students and the Haymarket musicians alike.

In addition to its two or three annual opera productions, Haymarket Opera has started a tradition of observing the Lenten season with a concert of aptly reflective Bach cantatas. Last year the soloist was countertenor Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth DeShong was in the spotlight Friday night.

Currently wrapping up her run as a superb Pauline in Lyric Opera’s dire production of Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, DeShong proved an inspired vocalist in these sacred works as well.

In Bach’s Ich habe genug (I have enough), BWV 82, DeShong scaled down her vast mezzo to chamber dimensions for this ruminative music. Her dark tone, poised singing and contralto-like depths proved eminently well suited to the somber title aria, in which the soloist pines for the release of death and freedom from the earthly enslavement of the body. The orchestra’s backing was alert but too unvariedly loud at times, with the strings needing to recede more to allow Stephen Bard’s sensitive obbligato oboe playing to be heard.

DeShong conveyed the longing for “sweet peace [and] quiet rest” in the meditative “Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen” (Slumber my weary eyes), making dying feel as inviting as sinking into a warm bath. So too she conveyed the childlike joy at one’s imminent demise in the final aria “Ich freue mich auf meinem Tod” (I delight in my death), getting her huge voice around the tight corners of this jaunty music with impressive agility.

In Mein Herz schwimmt in Blut (My heart swims in blood) BWV,199, DeShong adopted a more overtly operatic approach, aptly for the dramatic sections of the text. Still, at full volume her instrument was a bit overwhelming in this very live space and at times one wanted more nuanced light and shade in her expression. But DeShong’s rendering of the expansive aria “Stumme Seufzer, stille Klagen,” was lovely, with stellar obbligato oboe work once again by Bard. Ensemble balances were more finely judged here than in BWV 82, with the strings smoothly going down a dynamic step in the aria reprises.

The cantatas were prefaced by music of Handel and Corelli.

Switching from his usual harpsichord, Haymarket member Jory Vinikour was the solo protagonist in Handel’s Organ Concerto in G minor, Op. 7, no. 5. The usually reliable keyboardist wasn’t at his best in the opening minutes with a couple digital slips and persistent rhythmic unsteadiness. The performance soon got on track and Vinikour displayed some dazzling bravura bursts, with incisive support from his Haymarket colleagues.

The evening began with music of Corelli. His Concerto Grosso in F major, Op. 6, no. 2, made an apt calling card as the first music played by the Haymarket Orchestra at their new DePaul home base. Concertmaster Jeri-Lou Zike led the 13-member ensemble in a vital and lively performance, the tart-and-tangy asperity of the period instruments emerging with fine clarity and bright hues in the pleasing acoustic of Gannon Hall.

Haymarket Opera Company will present Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea June 12-17 at DePaul University’s Jarvis Opera Hall. haymarketopera.org

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment