‘Stars of Lyric Opera’ use their outside voices

SHARE ‘Stars of Lyric Opera’ use their outside voices

The Lyric Opera orchestra, chorus and soloists perform at the Stars of Lyric Opera concert at Millennium Park on Saturday. | TODD ROSENBERG

By Andrew Patner/For Sun-Times Media

After another distinguished summer season, the Grant Park Music Festival has passed on its Jay Pritzker Pavilion home to the Chicago Jazz Festival, Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the last weeks before autumn sets in.

The jazz festival was reported a success and a happy tenant in Millennium Park after years as a misfit in the second-rate Petrillo Music Shell to the south. The CSO and its music director, Riccardo Muti, return to the Pritzker for their biannual free downtown concertSep. 19(alternating years with presentations in underserved communities), all Tchaikovsky this time.

Saturdaynight belonged to Lyric and its annual free season teaser/gift to Chicago billed rather grandly as “Stars of Lyric Opera,” even if the year’s biggest-name luminaries, including creative consultant and upcoming “Capriccio” lead Renee Fleming, were not present.

Still, a good time was had by the more than 11,000 people who filled the seats and Great Lawn on a beautiful, clear and right-temperatured night. Thousands more listened via live simulcast on WFMT-FM (98.7) and online atwfmt.com.

And good times were present on stage too, for the most part, with Lyric music director Andrew Davis in top enthusiastic form and the Lyric Orchestra and Chorus —ably prepared by chorus master Michael Black — making the one-night adjustment to al fresco performance well.

The guest singers ranged in their proximity to perfection, but all were quite good or better, and a last-minute substitute saved the day: Seattle tenor Robert McPherson arrived by plane from his home town just before the concert to replace an ill Italian Antonio Poli as the hedonist Duke of Mantua in the full third and final act of Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” Not only did the Duke’s “La donna e mobile” go on, but the sweet-voiced McPherson fit in to the arrayed, working-from-memory cast as if he had been in the original rehearsals.

Davis opened the evening with the orchestral overture to Wagner’s “Tannhaeuser,” a key opera returning to Lyric this season after a quarter-century absence. His pace was serious but solid and steady, and the brass did well for outdoor duty. Two chorus and orchestra selections were mixed, with the you’ll-never-hear-it-again “Son lo! Son lo, la vita!” from Mascagni’s “Iris” impressing in its appropriate over-the-top quality and “Patria oppressa” from Verdi’s “Macbeth” having to compete with the recent aural memories of Muti and the CSO’s performances of the full opera in concert.

Mark Delavan and Marina Rebeka sing as Andrew Davis conducts at the “Stars of Lyric Opera” concert. | TODD ROSENBERG

Mark Delavan and Marina Rebeka sing as Andrew Davis conducts at the “Stars of Lyric Opera” concert. | TODD ROSENBERG

Because of the late tenor substitution, the “Rigoletto” was switched with the last scene and chorus of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” to close the show, and it was more than worth the wait. Although the work is not on at Lyric this coming year, Mark Delavan gave more than opera-house quality as the cursed title role court jester, with just the right power, nuance and poignancy. Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka seemed born to play his even more star-crossed daughter Gilda, a refreshing discovery about her, and third-year Lyric Ryan Center mezzo J’nai Bridges was more than ready for prime time as the scheming Maddalena. Italian bass Andrea Silvestrelli is always a Chicago crowd pleaser and played that to the hilt as the assassin for hire, Sparafucile.

Before the Verdi act, Delavan and chorus gave the finale to Act 1 of Puccini’s “Tosca” which the baritone will sing in, as the cruel Scarpia, this season, and which was fierce and without ham. The “Don Giovanni” excerpt was torn out of its place, which follows a couple of hours of character introduction and development, but Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien showed why he was cast in the lead for the season-opening new production by Goodman Theatre artistic director Robert Falls: Suave and stylish as he is in voice and presence, you can see how the ladies fall for him and how, even at the gates of Hell, he still falls for himself.

Bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen measured up to the last plot turns of the Don’s servant Leporello, as did soprano Ana Maria Martinez with Donna Elvira, although with less to do at opera’s end. Silvestrelli was the underworld-voiced statue come to life, and the final chorus with Rebeka’s Donna Anna, third-year Ryan Center tenor John Irvin ably subbing for the ailing Poli as Don Ottavio and Canadian soprano and Ryan alumna Andriana Chuchman (Zerlina) and debuting American bass-baritone Michael Sumuel (Masetto) joining in for the final, righteous sextet, surely enticed many to hear and see the actual Civic Opera House staging, openingSep. 27.

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