There’s a portion of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore in which a young man in love eagerly spends his last penny on a “love potion” that is noting more than Bordeaux. That scene had the Lyric Opera’s audience in stitches on April 7 when it was featured as part of the Rising Stars in Concert performance series. Tenor Mario Rojas and bass-baritone Alan Higgs shared a sense of comedic timing that can only come from a close real-life bond. In that sense, it was typical of the concert which, directed by Elise Sandell, featured thirteen members of the Ryan Opera Center, the Lyric’s training program. A sort of talent showcase, it was the graduating performance of Diana Newman, Lindsay Metzger, Alec Carlson, Emmett O’Hanlon, Takaoki Onishi, and Patrick Guetti, all of whom have been regulars on the Lyric’s stage for the past three years. They did the program proud, and the audience that has supported them during their residency gave them a rousing send-off.
Lyric Recruits Conductor with Wide Range
While the ensemble was familiar to Lyric-attendees, conductor Edwin Outwater performed with the Ryan Center for the first time. He jumped right into things by accompanying the boldly romantic baritone Takaoki Onishi in an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta. Throughout the night, Outwater led the Lyric Opera Orchestra through almost three hundred years of musical styles, spanning from Handel’s baroque Semele to Ricky Ian Gordon’s modernist The Grapes of Wrath. He readily adapted himself to each, maintaining the distinctive flavor of every selection as well as the intimate, youthful energy of the night as a whole.
Creative Direction by Elise Sandell
Outwater and the ensemble were able to flow through various tones and tempos in no small part thanks to Elise Sandell’s inventive direction. With a high proportion of the selections being ensemble pieces from Rossini’s comic operas, Sandell was able to use musical-style prop comedy and choreography to hilarious effect. She also allowed the performers to tap into a rhetorical style, when necessary for solo pieces from certain older works, while still maintaining the verisimilitude of more modern ones. Consequently, a three-part selection from Il barbiere di Siviglia featuring Emmett O’Hanlon (Figaro), Josh Lovell (Count Almaviva), and Lindsay Metzger (Rosina) was immediately followed by a confrontation from Verdi’s La traviata, between Whitney Morrison (Violetta) and Onishi (Germont). The first was one of the cutest moments of the night and the second the saddest, with both demonstrating the artists’ talents as actors as well as singers.
Celebrating with the Graduates
The performers clearly have a sense of their own strengths. O’Hanlon played Figaro in one of the Rossini excerpts, but in one taken from Mozart’s version, his haughty bearing made him instantly recognizable as Count Almaviva before the music even started. Newman swaggered as the boastful titular character of Manon, but she and O’Hanlon adapted much more insecure, albeit optimistic personas as Connie Rivers and Rosasharn in The Grapes of Wrath. The chime-heavy modernist music, with its mechanical metaphors, also allowed them to demonstrate their verbal nimbleness. Tenor Alec Carlson’s rendition of Offenbach’s legend of Kleinzach from Les contes d’Hoffmann displayed his impeccable sense of humor, while his duet with bass Patrick Guetti from Verdi’s potboiler I masnadieri was a masterpiece of menacing atmosphere. In another Hoffmann piece, mezzo Lindsay Metzger made good use of her regal voice and bearing, in contrast to her playfulness in ensemble scenes. The artists who are continuing in their Ryan training also did themselves proud, with contralto Lauren Decker and soprano Whitney Morrison making their duet from Semele a joyous harmony. Soprano Ann Toomey took advantage of the opportunity to contribute some high tragedy to the night with her rendition of “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana” from La Wally. The audience was also treated to piano-violin-cello trio Madeline Slettedahl, Robert Handord, and Barbara Haffner playing pieces by Maurice Ravel with great flourish.
People who attend Lyric performances see proof during each production of the Ryan Center’s effectiveness at cultivating new talent. But the Rising Stars concert series is a chance for supporters to join in a celebration of the young performers’ accomplishments. It’s also an opportunity to hear some of the best opera selections, both well-known and somewhat obscure, all in one place without risk of monotony. For all classical music lovers, it’s highly recommended.
The Lyric Opera continues its current season and has announced the performances slated for next season. For more information, visit the Lyric Opera website.
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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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