When three talented musicians (Madeline Slettedahl on piano; Robert Hanford on violin; and Calum Cook on cello) performed a Mendelssohn Piano Trio after Intermission it simultaneously soothed and sparkled. (Note: Slettedahl is a member of the Ryan Opera Center ensemble; violinist Robert Hanford is Lyric Opera Orchestra concertmaster; and Calum Cook is the Lyric Orchestra’s principal cellist.) Yet, many might have similarly noticed that this exquisite chamber piece wasn’t quite stretching to fill the grand Lyric Opera performance hall. It served not only as a delightful interlude, but also as a spotlight on just how powerful all of the Lyric Rising Star voices are, who had entertained us in this grand hall before and after.
When contralto Lauren Decker sings her solo we feel so much primal energy that we wonder if a seismograph is registering the performance too. When bass-baritone David Weigel takes the stage, towering over all around him yet oozing good nature as he seems to effortlessly boom, it is arresting. The sweetness of Mario Rojas’s tenor voice might trigger an insulin rise, and we are thrilled to learn he recently sang with Placido Domingo in his Mexican hometown. Seemingly ubiquitous mezzo-soprano Kayleigh Decker, with voice that glitters as much as her wardrobe, made us blink at how glamorous a trouser role might be. And more—every performer shimmered in his or her own way.
Yet it was the four singers now leaving the Ryan Opera Center and their heartfelt farewells in the short film that followed the post-intermission piano trio that seemed, at least to this writer, to capture what we were seeing and hearing. These four—bass-baritone Alan Higgs; tenor Josh Lovell; soprano Whitney Morrison, and soprano Ann Toomey—snagged our hearts speaking of the Lyric family they found with their Ryan Center classmates, and how “transformative”, as Toomey so aptly put it, the entire experience of singing at the Lyric has been for them. Their thanks extended also to the many sponsors and supporters. Though they might have been thinking of the big ticket donors listed in the program, there was room for everyone in the audience – all of whom had passed the bar of donating at least $50--to feel part of the family too.
Lyric Opera Showcases the Talents of the Rising Stars
The program itself—including ten composers and fifteen arias, duets, trios, sextets, and ensemble pieces—was striking for how it gave each singer a chance to show what we imagine is a new personal peak in technical prowess. The Rising Stars now concluding their tenure with the program had longer works; the newbies all had works that gave them long stretches to sing sans orchestra as they flexed their coloratura skillset. Though working with a relatively bare stage, Director Louisa Miller also unleashed comic moments to keep us engaged, and to showcase the acting talents on the stage—especially Josh Lovell taking disguise as an old man who playfully flipped his fake beard on and off with Vaudevillean ease.
We will see the remaining Rising Stars again this summer in Millennium Park and in the next season. Indeed, this performance made you hunger for them.
West Side Story will tie up the current Lyric season nicely, which anyone who attended the Rising Stars performance or just walked past the Lyric building would have noticed as they listened to Bernstein’s score being broadcast streetside.
Bookmark these pages for a preview interview with this production’s choreographer for insights on how Jerome Robbins’ work has been adapted to the Lyric’s stage.
For information on West Side Story and the next Lyric season, visit the Lyric Opera website.
Photos: Todd Rosenberg; Rising Stars Video courtesy of Ryan Opera Center and Lyric Opera.
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