Finales from Operas by Mozart and Rossini

August 07, 2010

Congratulations are due to the Grant Park Music Festival for another outstanding evening: judging by the applause and the positive comments heard afterwards this concert was a signal success.

Programming four act - finales from operas by Mozart and Rossini was an ingenious way to do service to both music and the performers in this delightful Grant Park Music Festival concert. Each piece was of sufficient length to convey an idea of the operas’ dramatic elements, and also gave a sense of the musical content of each work. At the same time, the finales selected for the program allowed room for all the performers to define their roles and show off their musical talents. Carlos Kalmar conducted this program inside the Harris Theater (the other side of the outdoor stage of the Pritzker Pavilion), with soloists from the Ryan Opera Center of Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Some of the performers in this program are familiar to Chicago audiences from their roles in operas from the previous season and also from the ‘ Rising Stars’ concert given last Spring at Chicago’s Lyric Opera. They were excellent on the whole even though the Harris Theater is a more intimate venue than the city’s opera house. Several performers stood out, especially Emily Fons, who offered a vibrant and articulate portrayal of the title character in the first act finale to Rossini’s Cenerentola. In this famous ensemble, Ms Fons produced a rich, even tone , fine vocal technique, and a stage presence that commanded attention. She was equally effective as Donna Elvira in the final scene from Don Giovanni, a role that seems to suit her well, and which she delivered masterfully.

Baritone Paul La Rosa demonstrated similar versatility in portraying Dandini in the Cenerentola excerpt and the two Mozart roles later in the evening. His solidly founded technique served him well in all three works, and he was particularly convincing in his well-rounded vocal and dramatic depiction of Le nozze di Figaro’s Count. It was impressive to hear Mr La Rosa create clearly audible, differently style and completely appropriate vocal deliveries in each of his scenes however and he worked especially well with René Barbera, Cenerentola’s Don Ramiro, who also offered a fine reading of a challenging role.

Sam Handley served as La Rosa’s Leporello in the Finale from Don Giovanni, and delighted the audience with his resonant voice. His evenness of tone and clarity in delivery distinguished him in this role, and he drew upon those qualities again to create a memorable Mustafa in the excerpt from L’Italiana in Algeri.

In the same scene, Evan Boyer was also notable in his vocal characterization of Haly and also created a fine presence as Alidoro in the scene from Cenerentola : it would be good to hear him again in something more extended. Similarly, Jennifer Jakob brought a distinctive style to all of her roles and she demonstrated a splended vocal and dramatic portrayal of Susanna in the Finale from the second act of Le nozze di Figaro. Amanda Majeski approached the role of the Countess with style and grace, her voice well suited to the part and Katherine Lerner, another member of the Ryan Opera Center sang both Marcellina and, more prominently in this concert, Isabella in L’Italiana. Again, both were expertly judged performances.

These were concert performances, with the singers in evening dress, so there were no costumes, sets or props to suggest the situations. Performing in front of the Grant Park Orchestra, the cast members all made good use of the stage, acting everything with only movement, gesture and vocal characterization. Some sung passages were slightly difficult to hear at times, (as at the opening of the scene from Cenerentola), but the balance was generally very good. The only point where the orchestra challenged the voices rather too strongly was at the point where the Commendatore drags Don Giovanni to his demise. This might, perhaps, have been the result of over - enthusiasm by the orchestra which otherwise played well through the entire concert with Carlos Kalmar directing them keenly through the stylistically varied scores.

While Grant Park performances are usually offered outdoors, this indoor setting gave the audience the opportunity to enjoy these young artists in some ensemble work that might have been less audible otherwise and which clearly everyone present enjoyed enormously. Congratulations are due to the Grant Park Music Festival for another outstanding evening: judging by the applause and the positive comments heard afterwards this concert was a signal success.

James L. Zychowicz, Music Web International