Rising Stars at Lyric Opera of Chicago

All of the singers performed their
chosen pieces and ensembles admirably, indeed each selection as sung was
memorable for the degree of lyrical and dramatic commitment transmitted. As a
supplement to the vocal offerings Maureen Zoltek, the Ryan Opera Center’s new
pianist, played the first movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major. The
conductor for the entire program was Kelly Kuo.

The first half of the program spanned operatic selections, in four
languages, ranging from the eighteenth through the twentieth century. The
second half of the evening was dominated by American and French selections
after the performance of the movement from the Ravel Concerto. Perhaps most
revealing from this program was the opportunity to hear each of the talented
singers in a variety of repertoire, with performances that emphasized an
encouraging versatility. As an example of such range, Tracy Cantin sang, in the
first part of the concert, Cressida’s recitative and aria, “How can I
sleep? … At the haunted end of the day,” from Sir William Walton’s
Troilus and Cressida. Ms. Cantin’s involvement in this brief
evocation of the title character was riveting. Her searing top notes
emphasizing “betrayed” and “a phantom” led to the dramatic concluding
declaration of “my conqueror.” In the second part of the program Cantin was
equally impressive in a very different role, the concluding scene of Jules
Massenet’s ThaÔs. Here as she was supported by the AthanaÎl of
baritone Anthony Clark Evans the vision of ThaÔs came alive and her
transformation from courtesan to saint was believable. Cantin produced soft,
pure pitches in contrast to the appropriately urgent, sincere appeals by Evans.
The final “Je vois Dieu” [“I see God”] communicated the apotheosis of a
blessed figure. A comparable set of performances was offered by bass-baritone
Richard Ollarsaba. In his rendering of Figaro’s Act IV aria, “Tutto Ë
disposto … Aprite un po quegl’occhi” [“All is prepared … open your
eyes a little”], Ollarsaba demonstrated excellent sense of color and the
ability to use his resonant sound as a means to suggesting varying emotional
states. Even within the single word “Ingrata” the expressive range that
Ollarsaba attached to individual vowels communicated both distress felt by the
character portrayed and a growing sense of irritation. Ollarsaba’s later
contribution was also by Mozart, this time in the trio ensemble, “Soave sia
il vento,” from Act I of CosÏ fan tutte, sung together with soprano
Laura Wilde and mezzo soprano Julie Anne Miller. Each of the three performers
retained a distinct vocal personality while also blending effectively at
requisite moments. As Don Alfonso, Ollarsaba’s upper register and fluid
legato connecting multiple pitches outlined an impressive backdrop for
the myriad emotions expressed, just as the women’s voices rose and fell in
touching pathos. In their solo pieces during the concert both Miller and Wilde
also gave exciting performances. Ms. Miller showed a masterful sense of
Handelian style in the aria of the title character, “Dopo notte,” [“After
night”] from Act III of Ariodante. While communicating the sense of
the text, Miller took the word “splende” [“radiantly”] with appropriate
forte emphasis. Especially noteworthy are Miller’s breath control
and Italian diction, both serving her well in the embellishments she used in
the repeat of the A section of the aria. In the second part of the program Ms.
Wilde sang Marguerite’s aria, “Oh Dieu! Que de bijoux!,” [“O God! What
jewels!”] from Gounod’s Faust; she held a mirror in hand and acted
through her character’s delight with the jewel box as she sang this famous
showpiece aria. In decorating the line of this piece Wilde was careful in
observing textual import, so that her decorations on the “princesse,” whom
she fantasized at becoming, were especially well chosen. Her final notes showed
an emotional outburst that spoke more of the character’s naÔvetÈ than of
her entrancement with the jewels produced by Mephistopheles.

Among other singers performing in both solo and shared pieces J’nai
Bridges gave a sublime account of Sapho’s aria, “O˘ suis je … ‘ ma lyre
immortelle” [“Where am I … o my immortal lyre”] from Gounod’s opera
Sapho. Bridges led the listeners into Sapho’s emotional world, the
character’s distress at the end of her life being expressed in contrasting
lines with “nuit eternal” [“eternal night”] and “douleur”
[“pain”], both descending to full deep notes, and her wounded “cor”
[“heart”] showing the singer’s glistening upper register. As Sapho’s
inevitable act of suicide approached, Bridges’s voice rose at the
contemplation “sous les andes” [“beneath the waves”]; she invoked her
watery death with chilling, individual low pitches on “dans las mer” [“in
the sea”] before appealing to the ocean to indeed open itself up [“ouvre
toi”] with a final, shockingly dramatic top note on the repetition of “dans
la mer.” A very different sort of character emerged in her duet from
Porgy and Bess, shared with the Porgy of baritone Will Liverman. Mr.
Liverman has an excellent command of legato which he sustained
throughout, just as Bridges declared “I’s your woman now.” Both
singers’ voices suggested the mutually enveloping emotions of their
characters as the line “We is one now” remained the predominant theme
communicated. In his solo contribution, “Batter my heart” from John
Adams’s Doctor Atomic, Liverman showed very effectively the tension
felt by Oppenheimer as he struggled with the responsibilities of his scientific
research and its effects on humanity. Yet another couple deserves mention for
their vocal and dramatic commitment. Soprano Emily Birsan and tenor John Irvin
sang a delightful account of “Chiedi all’aura lusinghiera” from Act I of
Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. Both artists demonstrated their
ease and technical skill at bel canto singing, while each was
especially sensitive to weaving a lyrical statement that suggested a growing
sense of attraction and an independent resistance to the same. As a fitting
conclusion to the evening the latter two performers were joined by Miller,
Evans, and Ollarsaba, as well as the full ensemble, in “The promise of
living” from Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land.

Salvatore Calomino

image_description=Rising Stars in Concert [Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
product_title=Rising Stars at Lyric Opera of Chicago
product_by=A review by Salvatore Calomino
product_id=Above: Rising Stars in Concert [Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]