Mozart and Rossini Finales

August 18, 2010

The Grant Park Music Festival is to be commended for showcasing the talents of these performers who have distinguished themselves in such a variety of operatic roles.

During a recent concert at the Grant Park Music Festival, held on this occasion in the adjacent Harris Theater, members of the Ryan Opera Center of Lyric Opera of Chicago presented ensembles from four operas, two each by Mozart and by Rossini.

The finales from Act I of Rossini’s La Cenerentola and Act II of Don Giovanni were featured in the fist half of the program; after intermission, the finales from Act I of L’Italiana in Algeri and Act II of Le Nozze di Figaro concluded the program. Carlos Kalmar conducted the Grant Park Orchestra.

Already in the first ensemble from La Cenerentola a strong impression was made by the individual voices and their abilities to interact in the collective spirit of the composition. Tenor René Barbera and baritone Paul La Rosa began the famous “Zitto, zitto: piano, piano” [“Hush, hush: softly, softly”] as the characters Don Ramiro and Dandini evaluate Cinderella’s step-sisters. Both men showed appropriate dramatic sensitivity, just as the sisters Clorinda and Tisbe, sung by Jennifer Jakob and Katherine Lerner, entered with their frenetic appeals and comments. Ms. Jakob and Ms. Lerner acted well with their accomplished voices, with the others all leading to an announcement by Alidoro that a “dama incognita” [“an unknown woman”] had arrived at the festivity. In the role of Alidoro, Evan Boyer displayed a sonorous and eloquent bass-baritone voice which he used to good effect in this important role. Attention then centered on the Cenerentola of Emily Fons, who entered the stage with both lyrical and physical grace. As her presence increased, Ms. Fons enhanced the impression she gave with an assured vocal technique and a mezzo-soprano range with an upper extension equal to the demands of so many female Rossinian lead roles. Her decorations on “Sprezzo” [“I scorn”] and “rispetto” [“respect”] were impeccable and sung with a florid and clearly traced line. Don Ramiro’s reaction to the unknown woman led to a well-rehearsed conclusion in which all delivered their impressions of confused gaiety.

In the finale from Don Giovanni several of the above singers were joined by additional members of the Ryan Center. After a bright orchestral introduction under Kalmar’s direction Mr. La Rosa gave a lyrical and confident assumption of the role of Don Giovanni. His Leporello was sung by Sam Handley, whose deeper and equally well-schooled bass-baritone made him a believable foil to the Don. Ms. Fons took on the role of Donna Elvira with superbly dramatic top notes in her fervent appeals; Amanda Majeski sang Donna Anna with an exquisite sense of pitch and believable dramatic poise, both qualities so vital to the wronged noblewoman. Craig Irvin gave solid and even intonation to the role of the statue, and Ms. Jakob was a sprightly, memorable Zerlina.

In the second half of the program several singers shifted to leading roles in the excerpt from L’Italiana in Algeri. Ms. Lerner delighted as Isabella with her combination of acting and descent to a lower register, while Ms. Fons and Ms. Jakob sang smaller yet important roles contributing to the atmosphere of the Eastern court where Isabella, the Italiana, is captive. Perhaps most impressive in this scene was Mr. Handley’s fluid, seamless approach to the bass role of the Mustafá. So often taken simply as a comic part, it is refreshing to hear a truly fine, young basso cantante give lyrical expression to the ruler’s yearnings. The onomatopoetic conclusion received a dramatically disciplined and comic touch.

The final selection from Act II of Le Nozze di Figaro featured Mr. La Rosa as the Count and Ms. Majeski as the Countess. Both sang committed, believable performances as the noble couple caught in their own misunderstandings and comic, marital deceptions. The supporting characters, especially the Susanna of Ms. Jakob, lent a sense of collective confusion in the spirit of Mozart’s delightful ensemble writing. The Grant Park Music Festival is to be commended for showcasing the talents of these performers who have distinguished themselves in such a variety of operatic roles.

Salvatore Calomino, Opera Today