By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic
Once again Lyric Opera of Chicago has made the transition to fall exciting and glamorous with their annual “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” concert. The 2017 edition took place Friday night featuring notable internationally acclaimed singers, up-and-coming youngsters, the Lyric Opera Orchestra, and the Lyric Opera Chorus, all led by conductor Sir Andrew Davis.
The concert began with the uplifting Overture to Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Davis marshaled his forces well, producing a perky and bright start to the evening. This was followed by an excerpt from the same opera, “Giunse alfin…Deh vieni, non tardar” sung by Lauren Snouffer, who had shine at the top of her register and good substance at the bottom.
Tenor Matthew Polenzani offered a fine rendition of “La donna è mobile” from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” His attention to the text and splendid diction was matched by his masculine bravado and beautiful tone. The Act Three quartet from the same opera, where Polenzani was joined by J’Nai Bridges, Andriana Chuchman, and Anthony Clark Evans, was similarly pleasing. Polenzani was commanding and Bridges seductive. Chuchman was lovely in her anguished singing and Evans provided a firm anchor.
Janai Brugger was compelling and created great drama in “Tu che di gel sei cinta” from Puccini’s “Turandot.” Her voice sparkled like the jewels she was singing about when she took on “O Dieu! Que de bijoux!” from Gounod’s “Faust.”
Two opera choruses put the Lyric Opera Chorus on display and they did not disappoint. They were robust and joyful in “Vot tak Syurpriz!” from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” and vibrant in “Ad Arturo onore” from “I puritani” by Bellini.
Dmitry Korchak offered a touching account of “J’ai perdu mon Eurydice” from Gluck’s “Orphée et Eurydice,” which will open the Lyric Opera season later this month.
After the intermission Andriana Chuchman gave a controlled performance of “Quel guardo il cavaliere…So anch’io la virtu magica” from Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale,” and Korchak returned to the stage for an attractive performance of “Pourquoi me réveiller” from Massenet’s “Werther.”
J’Nai Bridges had the most gorgeous gown of the evening (and it was an evening of many gorgeous gowns) — a tight fitting fuchsia confection with a mermaid skirt and undulating ruffles at the neck and down the back. She was equally gorgeous in “Va! Laisse couler mes larmes” from “Werther.” Her approach was thoughtful, the result was moving, and she had particularly lovely dark sound in her lowest notes.
The popular “Au fond du temple saint” from “The Pearl Fishers” by Bizet found Polenzani and Evans providing a thoughtful and gentle approach, never flashy, which was tremendously satisfying.
The concert closed with two excerpts from Wagner’s Die Walküre. The orchestral arrangement of “Ride of the Valkyries” showcased the energy of the orchestra. And the closing excerpt saw Eric Owens take on “Leb’ wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind.” He sang with power, authority, and graciousness and was never overpowered by the great surges of swirling music all around him.
The Lyric Opera season begins on Sep. 23 with “Orphée et Eurydice.” Visit lyricopera.org for more information.
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The Chicago Music Association (Branch No. 1 of the National Association of Negro Musicians) gave a concert of wide-ranging music on Sunday afternoon at the South Shore Cultural Center. The three headliners were soprano Kim Jones, tenor Cornelius Johnson and violinist James Sanders.
Jones and Sanders got things started with “L’amero saro constante from “Il re pastore” by Mozart. Both violin and soprano were sweet, and the high note near the end found Jones with a gloriously whispered sound of tremendous beauty.
Sanders then joined Johnson for “Élègie” by Massenet, where the tenor was full of passion, fire, and conviction.
Jones and Johnson closed the first half of the concert with an exciting performance of “Tonight” from Bernstein’s “West Side Story.”
The second half of the afternoon featured an extended jazz set by Sanders and pianist Leandro Lopez Varady, where virtuosity and musicality fused resulting in engaging sound. Sanders later offered a really fine performance of “Here’s One” by William Grant Still.
Jones shined in “Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington and was smoky in Gershwin’s “Summertime.” Johnson was captivating in “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin,’” also by Gershwin.
The concert closed with an uplifting performance of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand.”