Lyric Opera of Chicago Introduces its Season

In this year’s concert the Lyric Opera Chorus was featured in a
variety of pieces under the direction of its new permanent chorus master,
Michael Black. After a prefatory address delivered by the company’s General
Manager Anthony Freud the evening’s performance was conducted by Ward Stare.

As a start to the program Mr. Stare led the Lyric Opera Orchestra in a
spirited performance of the overture to BÈatrice et BÈnÈdict by
Hector Berlioz. Tempos were appropriately brisk in the opening section, while
Mr. Stare showed a nice attention to legato playing in the subsequent,
slower section. Flute and horn passages were especially well controlled in
passages that led the orchestra back to its opening tempos and to an energetic
and effective conclusion.

The remainder of the first part of the concert was devoted to excerpts from
Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which will be featured with two casts in
the upcoming season at Lyric Opera. Ana MarÌa MartÌnez and James Valenti sang
the parts of Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton. As the geisha Cio-Cio-San muses while
alone on the anticipated return of her beloved Pinkerton, she imagines first
the sight of his ship on the horizon. As Ms. MartÌnez intoned the start of her
aria “Un bel dÏ” (“One fine day”) expectation built noticeably on a
rising vocal line until she declared “romba il suo salute” (“will thunder
its salute”) with an impressive forte pitch. MartÌnez expressed
Cio-Cio-San’s determination with her middle range focused on “non mi
pesa” (“will not weary me”), until she envisioned the approach of
Pinkerton from afar, starting as “un picciol punto” (“a tiny speck”) in
an appropriately piano vision. Hints of later tragedy were expressed
with touching innocence, as the words “celia” and “morire” (“to
tease”… “to die”) were interwoven vocally. As she identified with her
character’s unflagging faith, MartÌnez concluded this committed performance
with a valiant top note on “l’aspetto” (“I shall await him”). Mr.
Valenti’s aria from the final act of the opera, “Addio fiorito asil”
(“Farewell, flowery refuge”), was performed with good attention to line, a
technique which emphasized the haunting memories that would continue to plague
him. Valenti’s lower register was somewhat underused yet his high notes in
the conclusion of this brief scene (“ah, son vil” [“Oh, I am
despicable!”]) were exemplary.

The Lyric Opera Chorus performed the “Humming Chorus” from Act III of
Madama Butterfly as a fitting contribution to this first part of the
concert. The final piece from Puccini’s opera featured MartÌnez and Valenti
in the extended love scene from the conclusion of Act I (‘Bimba, bimba, non
piangere” [“My child, do not cry”]). Laura Wilde sang the role of Suzuki,
Cio-Cio-San’s confidante, in the opening of the scene. Once the couple is
left alone by Suzuki, the lovers’ passion seems to bloom. Perhaps because of
the distance implied in the initially shy or awkward dialogue of the
characters, the soloists here sang a convincingly emotional line toward the
close of their duet. With Valenti proclaiming at the close “Ah! Vien, sei
mia!” [“Ah, come you are mine!”]), there was no doubt that love had
indeed been awakened.

In the second part of the concert the Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra
performed highlights from Lohengrin, Verdi’s Otello, and
Il Trovatore. Mr. Black has clearly worked with his forces to achieve
a well-prepared ensemble. The varying ranges and effects in the Act III Prelude
and Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin were distinct yet well integrated.
Tempos were restrained in the Verdian choruses with attention to specific
orchestral details magnifying the overall impression.

The final excerpt presented was Act III, Scene 2 of Donizetti’s Lucia
di Lammermoor.
Again the chorus was given the opportunity to set the tone
of ephemeral happiness, here as the guests celebrated with vocal delights the
wedding of Lucia. At the height of this joy Raimondo interrupts the
ospiti to reveal the tragedy of the bridal chamber: Lucia has stabbed
the husband she was forced to marry and lost her reason. Albina Shagimuratova
shared the stage with Evan Boyer as Lucia and Raimondo, tutor of the young
woman, with Anthony Clark Evans performing the role of Enrico, Lucia’s
brother. Mr. Boyer made a strong impression as the initial soloist. He drew on
a fully developed palette of vocal colors in order to express the conflicting
emotions in Raimondo’s mix of horror and sympathy over Lucia’s actions.
“Dalle stanze” (“From the apartments”) showed a smooth lyrical delivery
with judicious application of vibrato. Boyer’s chilling enunciation of
“insanguinato” (“blood-stained”) made of his voice a convincing witness
to the aftermath of the murderous deed. Boyer’s sense of decoration was
evident on telling lines, e.g., rising pitches on “l’ira no chiami su noi
del ciel” (“may it not call down upon us the wrath of heaven”). At
Lucia’s entrance Shagimuratova communicated immediately the sense of a woman
unhinged. Notes sung piano and diminuendo as a means to
delineate character were in evidence from the start , as she recalled hearing
the voice of her true beloved Edgardo (“nel cor discesa!” [“won my
heart!”]). Seeming happiness was declaimed on “lieto giorno” (“happy
day”), just as Shagimuratova indulged in melismatic richness on the line “A
me ti dona un dio” (“God has given you to me”). As she descended further
into a mad reverie, Shagimuratova became more ambitious in the insertion of
trills and well-chosen decoration. The conclusion was an exciting cap to the
evening with a season of vocal drama still awaiting.

Salvatore Calomino

image_description=Photo by Robert Kusel
product_title=Lyric Opera of Chicago Introduces its Season
product_by=A review by Salvatore Calomino
product_id=Above photo by Robert Kusel