Sometimes the enchantment of music can draw back the curtain on ordinary life and transport us to a world of magic. And sometimes a pandemic can draw back the curtain on galas that are normally rare privileges and make them accessible to the general public through streaming. So it was this year with the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s annual Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center performance. Usually, this fundraiser is a one-night-only affair that showcases the talents of the student performers in the Lyric’s highly competitive training program. But this year the entire cabaret revue is free on the Lyric’s YouTube channel, in hopes that supporters of the students’ and the alumni’s dreams will feel inspired to help support live performing arts survive into a post-pandemic world. The show features excerpts from operas and classical Broadway, as well as folk songs from the performers’ ancestral homelands, presented under a dazzling, shimmering backdrop.
Rossini’s Enchanting Humor
A certain musical vocabulary has developed around fairy tales in Western music thanks to some select operas and their adaptations by the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Disney. We hear from several of them in the first half of the gala performance, beginning with host and pianist Craig Terry and Chris Reynolds playing a medley of The Magic Flute, Falstaff, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, before switching to Katherine Beck and Lunga Eric Hallam in a duet from Rossini’s La Cenerentola. Rossini’s adaptation of Cinderella utilized the same sort of snappy, happy melodies that opera audiences know from The Barber of Seville. Both Beck and Hallam have warm voices as well as demeanors, and if love at first sight stretches an audience’s credulity, at least Rossini’s music makes this viewer hope for the young lover’s hopes to succeed. But for those whose taste in fairy tales tends more toward grandeur, Ricardo José Rivera provides a princely aria from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
Eclectic Sounds of Love
After another Fairy Tale back-to-back, this time on the subject of Sleeping Beauty, the concert switches to ballads from the mid-twentieth century. Fans of old Broadway and Hollywood musicals may recognize the collaborations of Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, or of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. But to make good on the show’s international promise, it also features Denis Vélez’s rendition of the Mexican narrative song El Faisán. The sonic swells in this fairy tale seem almost big enough to burst the seams of a small screen; this reviewer found it easy to forget there was only a single instrument accompaniment, and Vélez gets to show off her story-telling skill as well as her dramatic soprano voice. And to bring a completely different style of music, Hallam returns to sing two songs from his native South Africa, demonstrating as much comfort with modern pop as comedic opera.
Lyric Opera makes a Heartwarming Appeal
Intercut between the performances are testimonies from Ryan Center graduates affirming that the program was a great boost to their careers. Followers of the Lyric Opera will recognize many of them, some of whom are currently engaged in countries where opera houses reopened. That the Ryan Center concert was recorded under pandemic conditions is undeniable. You will likely agree with this reviewer that it is unlikely that anyone really thinks having two lovers stand six feet apart from each other during their duet is ideal, and in the past, these galas included more chorus numbers, scenes, and transitions. However, the video’s sound quality is excellent, as is each performer’s mastery of the camera. Although magic as a theme has applicability in classical music far beyond fairy tales and Jule Styne revues, the cabaret delivers a consistent presentation of a diverse selection, and makes a case for the Ryan Center’s vitality even while its students wait to return in full productions.
Running time is eighty-one minutes.
Cast: sopranos Maria Novella Malfatti and Denis Vélez; mezzo-sopranos Katherine Beck, Katherine DeYoung, and Kathleen Felty; tenors Martin Luther Clark and Lunga Eric Hallam; baritones Leroy Davis and Ricardo José Rivera; bass-baritone David Weigel; bass Anthony Reed, pianist Chris Reynolds; host, musical director, and principal pianist Craig Terry.
Streaming, any time
Lyric Opera YouTube channel.
This story has been added to the Picture This Post roundup article on OPERAS WE LOVE.
Watch this video preview here--
Images courtesy of Lyric Opera
About the Author: Jacob Davis
Jacob Davis has lived in Chicago since 2014 when he started writing articles about theatre, opera, and dance for a number of review websites. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Theatre, where he specialized in the history of modernist dramatic literature and criticism. While there, he interned as a dramaturge for Dance Heginbotham developing concepts for new dance pieces. His professional work includes developing the original jazz performance piece The Blues Ain’t a Color with Denise LaGrassa, which played at Theater Wit. He has also written promotional materials for theatre companies including Silk Road Rising.
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