Chicago's Grant Park Music Festival Offers Mozart, Donizetti, and Rossini

August 10, 2011

by James L. Zychowicz, Seen and Heard International

At the Grant Park Music Festival, the annual concert with members of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center is an excellent way to hear engaging performers in the early part of their careers. This occasion featured arias and ensembles in Mozart’s Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario), the second act of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, and the final act of Rossini’s La cenerentola. The concluding piece was memorable for various reasons, starting with the exceptional performance of mezzo soprano Emily Fons, who executed the role of Angelina (Cenerentola) with skill and grace, demonstrating her command of the intricate role, along with her textured tone and stage presence. Her polished, engaging voice never seemed studied or forced, and only illuminated her talent, particularly in the passage “Nacqui all’affanno e al piantor.” In the final section, “Non più mesta,” neither Fons nor the ensemble flagged, concluding with appropriate finesse.

David Govertsen was similarly convincing in the Rossini excerpt, and stood out for his resonant tone and articulate bass-baritone timbre. His solo passages were memorable, with his ensemble work at once distinctive and supportive of his colleagues. He also sang the title role from Don Pasquale with commanding sound and stage presence. As someone new to the Ryan Opera Center, it will be good to hear him in other roles.

The other singers gave fine performances, as with Jennifer Jakob’s nuanced portrayal of Norina in Don Pasquale – a role that fits her well. Likewise, Paul Scholten was effective as Dandini in Cenerentola, a part that he delivered convincingly, and Kiri Deonarine gave a notable reading as Madame Goldentrill in The Impressario. In the latter, Chicago personality Jack Zimmerman served as the narrator, gave an amiable delivery of the translation’s rhymed couplets (including some topical references), and interacted nicely with the singers.

This concert was among the few given in the Harris Theater, thus taking the usually out-of-doors venue into the concert hall. Yet the acoustics were somewhat uneven, with the balance sometimes shifting between instrumental and vocal sounds, and the orchestra occasionally dominating the singers. And in some parts of the theater it was difficult to hear the mid-range sounds. That is not to detract from the performance, which the Grant Park Orchestra did with aplomb. The low strings were particularly effective in offering solid support, and the brass were sturdy, particularly the solo trumpet in the excerpt from Don Pasquale. Some of the tempos seemed tenuous in the Rossini, but the orchestra eventually resolved those moments where the ensemble was not up to its usual tight sound. Again, it may be the theater, since René Barbera’s entrance aria as Ernesto in Don Pasquale echoed off the walls when he delivered it the end of the stage.

On the whole, though, the performance was effective as both a showcase of Chicago musicians and also repertoire that succeeds in excerpt. The availability of texts and translations was useful in helping the audience to follow the details, especially in The Impresario, which did not have an omnipresent narrator. As familiar as some of these works can be, it is good to hear them performed by singers investing so much energy, and many of them will have roles in the Lyric’s 2011-2012 season.