By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic
It was a generous evening of music when the South Shore Opera Company of Chicago presented their free June concert in the spacious Paul Robeson Theater. This gleaming hall is one of the many gorgeous rooms in the South Shore Cultural Center where the SSOCC is an arts and cultural partner.
On the program were numerous excerpts from familiar operas. There were several memorable performances, but top among them was tenor Jeffrey Burish’s moving account of “Che gelida manina” (What a cold little hand) from Puccini’s “La Bohème.” He sang with both sincerity and emotional sensitivity caressing the text with lovely diction. There was no showboating here, just perfect simplicity matched with skilled musicality.
Burish was also splendid in “Vesti la giubba” from “I Pagliacci” where the protagonist must dress himself for a performance as a laughing clown, even though his heart is breaking.
Soprano Kimberly Jones joined Burish for “O soave fanciulla,” also from “Bohème” and together they created a touching picture of a couple in love. Jones scored a tremendous success with “Un bel di vedremo” the love-drenched aria from “Madama Butterfly.” She navigated Puccini’s soaring showstopper with graceful confidence and infused the musical line with dramatic weight.
Will Liverman, currently a member of the Ryan Center at Lyric Opera, proved he’s a young baritone to watch. He took Figaro’s iconic aria “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” and gave a fresh and relaxed performance, highlighting vocal agility and humorous ability. He followed this up with a charismatic performance of the Toreador song from “Carmen” by Bizet.
Kurt Link, performing only in ensemble numbers, nonetheless made his presence felt. He’s a compact man with an outsized bass voice. His work in excerpts from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” showcased his powerful presence and vibrant low notes.
Juliet Petrus tackled some of the most popular coloratura arias for soprano in the opera canon. In “Der Hölle Rache,” which gives voice to Hell’s vengeance in the heart of the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” she was feisty if a little tight at the top. “Musetta’s Waltz” from “Bohème” saw her walk into the audience where she was nearly upstaged by a fellow all too willing to play along with her character’s flirting.
Mezzo-soprano Jessye Wright also left the stage during one of her selections. In her case it was the “Habanera” from Carmen, where she faced competition with a laptop computer in the center aisle which was showing cartoons. Although it was sometimes hard to see her after she reached the floor, her strong, clear voice was always audible. She has the smokey tone which makes for a good Carmen, although she marred some phrases with awkwardly-timed breathing. She was enjoyable with her “Una voce poco fa” from “Barber of Seville.”
Tenor Jameon Moss appeared only briefly, but made all the right moves. He sang with flair and style, and is a young singer I’d like to hear again.
Baritone Paul Radulescu was consistent: he consistently kept his nose in his music every time he appeared on stage. (Every other singer performed all or most of their music from memory.)
The concert featured an 11-member ensemble on stage — five strings, five winds and piano. One felt a little sorry for them as they waited for the concert to begin (it began only after an unexplained 16 minute delay), because a large screen had been pulled down so that just above the musicians’ heads a small loop of cartoons and movie excerpts played repeatedly. This was the only connection to the concert’s title, “Opera in the Movies,” but as the theater was always well lit and there was lots of amiable chatter in the room until the event began, the visuals were hard to see and the sounds hard to hear.
The concert opened with Leslie B. Dunner (who has recently joined the board of the SSOCC) conducting the overture to Rossini’s “La Scala di Seta” (The Silken Ladder). His apt choices for pacing and dynamics were blunted by the repeated intonation problems of the concertmaster. (These cropped up several times throughout the evening.) The ensemble had their best moment with the Intermezzo from Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana.”
Dunner‘s spoken introductions were entertaining, but contributed to a night of opera excerpts almost as long as a night of a complete opera — the concert clocked in at nearly three hours. His extemporaneous skills were evident, although written notes would have saved him from the understandable lapses which occur when speaking off the cuff. (I know I was not the only one in the audience who found it jarring for him to repeatedly say that Gilda — the young daughter of Rigoletto — was “defrocked.” She’s admittedly very religious, but still …)
All in all, it was a great concert and a worthy way for this company to begin its sixth year of bringing opera music to South Shore, and entertaining the greater South Side. They next return to the Paul Robeson Theater in October. Visit their website for details at southshoreopera.org.