Operapalooza Review - A Night to Remember

August 08, 2011

by Barbara Keer, Chicago Splash

Recently, I heard a CD of The Gift, with Jack Zimmerman reading his own memoir.  Typically, I read Jack Zimmerman's informative articles about one of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s performances in Lyric Opera News and generally don't hear him. When I saw he was to narrate The Impresario, a comedy with music in one act by Mozart, I was intrigued.  This took place at Operapalooza, an event that takes place for two nights during Lollapalooza. The night I was there, The Grant Park Music Festival, in it’s seventy seventh season, featured Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center ensemble members performing with the Grant Park Orchestra at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

It was a wonderful night.  In fact, for my friends Amy and Peter, it was two wonderful nights as they explained to me their review of this performance was attending it a second time. Carlos Kalmar conducted the Grant Park Orchestra, many of whom are also members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra. Excerpts of two rollicking Italian bel canto comedies were performed – Donizetti’s Don Pasquale and Rossini’s La Cenerentola – plus Mozart’s delightful German one-act opera, The Impresario, with Lyric’s own Jack Zimmerman narrating in English.

The Ryan Opera Center members that participated were: sopranos Emily Birsan, Kiri Deonarine, Jennifer Jakob; mezzo-sopranos Emily Fons, Cecelia Hall; tenors René Barbera, Bernard Holcomb, James Kryshak; baritones Paul La Rosa, Joseph Lim, Paul Scholten; bass-baritone David Govertsen; and bass Evan Boyer.

Barbera, a third-year ensemble member, just rocked Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition in Moscow, winning the three top prizes for opera, zarzuela, and audience favorite. He was certainly a favorite at Saturday night’s concert, as well.

In contrast to a typical production of Lyric Opera of Chicago where the orchestra is heard but barely seen, the stage is filled with amazing sets, the singers are costumed, and subtitles are in place, this offering was very different.  The members of the Grant Park Orchestra graced the stage in their beautiful white tuxedos, there were no sets, the singers were in beautiful evening dress and fortunately, Jack Zimmerman told us what was going on.

The singing was magnificent and each of the participants was so skilled it was difficult to decide who was best, and in fact, we couldn’t. With these young people participating in Lyric’s upcoming season, it promises to be spectacular.

The Grant Park Music Festival is the nation’s only free, municipally-supported, summer-long outdoor classical music series of its kind.  It was founded by Chicago Park District in 1935 and co-presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and the Grant Park Orchestral Association since 2001.  Concerts are typically presented on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights until August 20, 2011.  

The attendees of the concert we attended included many children introduced to opera, and Chicagoans appreciative of this gift to the city.  It was thrilling to feel the enthusiasm as the audience offered a standing ovation for this fabulous performance.

To find out about the wonderful concerts you can still see, call: 312.742.7638 or go to: www.grantparkmusicfestival.com