Stars of Lyric Opera: a cheery season preview at Millennium ParkReview
Chicago’s Millennium Park was packed on Friday night for what always feels like the final hurrah of the city’s outdoor concert season: Stars of Lyric Opera. With an ever-so-slight chill in the air, we threw on our jackets (for the first time in months!) and eagerly scooted into our orange plastic chairs for a cheery preview of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2019-2020 season.
The night’s program veered amiably from operatic hits and season teasers to some truly deep cuts of the repertoire, like Fernand’s aria from Donizetti’s rarely-performed La favorite, gamely sung by the always-appealing, always spot-on Lawrence Brownlee. The other unusual bit of programming was “Ves tabor spit” from Rachmaninoff’s one-act, Aleko. That aria, sung by a spell-binding Krzysztof Baczyk ahead of his Lyric debut as Basilio in The Barber of Seville, was easily the highlight of the night for me. Baczyk has a voice of exceptional warmth and beauty, plus wonderfully specific musical instincts, oh, and perfect Russian diction.
Adam Plachetka gave a delightful, polished “Largo al factotum”.
(By the by, Chicago audiences will have the rare chance to see the entirety of Aleko this season. Not at Lyric, but at Chicago Opera Theater, where it will appear as a double-bill with Joby Talbot’s Everest.)
The evening’s centerpiece offering was a substantial preview of the mind-bending patter and athletic vocalism that will open the Lyric’s season: Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Each of the featured cast members proved winsome. Adam Plachetka gave a delightful, polished “Largo al factotum,” Lawrence Brownlee lent his reliably clean, easy vocalism for a lovely rendition of “Ecco ridente in cielo,” and French mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa breezed through a sweet “Una voce poco fa.” The night ended with the madcap Act I finale, featuring Ryan Opera Center alum Levi Hernandez as a pitch-perfect Dr. Bartolo. (Alessandro Corbelli will take the role for the Lyric performances later this month.)
Elsewhere on the program, four current members of The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center shone brightly. Soprano Mathilda Edge’s “Un bel dì” from Madame Butterfly revealed a beautiful, big tone with an enchanting, youthful shimmer. Mezzo-soprano Kayleigh Decker and baritone Christopher Kenney, (who were each recently awarded 2019 Luminarts Arts Fellowships in the women’s and men’s voice categories, respectively), gave a bewitching performance of the Zerlina/Don Giovanni duet “Là ci darem la mano.” Tenor Eric Ferring made a brief but charming appearance as the Sergeant in the Act I Barber finale.
The Lyric Orchestra, under the direction of music director and principal conductor Sir Andrew Davis, sounded fleet and stylish throughout the evening, effortlessly transitioning between the effervescent clarity of the selections by Verdi, Mozart, and Rossini to the lush, ominous sonorities required for the offerings by Puccini, Rachmaninoff, and Tchaikovsky. The Lyric Opera Chorus made winning contributions throughout the evening, at one point mesmerizing all of Millennium Park with the Humming Chorus from Madame Butterfly.
Which Lyric productions do our Chicago contributors look forward to most this 2019-2020 season?
Hannah De Priest: I am very eager to see Richard Jones’ production of Queen of Spades. While the director has proved, shall we say, somewhat controversial in this city, I was spellbound by his vision for Ariodante, which the Lyric put on last season. The dark, surrealist qualities of Spades are sure to prove inspiring to Jones, who is, in my opinion, singular in his ability to create impactful visuals and tease out psychologically-complex themes. And I’ll add, after stumbling across a video clip last year of her singing the Act I Servilia and Annio duet from La clemenza di Tito with Emily D’Angelo at the Met last season, I’m really looking forward to hearing Ying Fang’s Zerlina in the Lyric’s Don Giovanni!
Michael Pecak: I’m really looking forward to setting a week aside to take in my first full Ring Cycle. The opportunity to be fully immersed in these four operas over the course of six days, for a total of 15-odd hours of face-melting Wagner, simply doesn’t come around very often. And hearing the overture last night piqued my interest in Luisa Miller - the only of Verdi’s operas I haven’t yet seen. I’ll add, covering Lyric for the past two years has had the unexpected result of turning me into a nascent fan of musicals, so I’m excited to catch 42nd Street, which I’m told is a Golden Age classic!