“Beyond the Aria” Season Finale Review –Voices with Power


Anyone who saw Metropolitan Opera’s documentary film “The Audition” is likely to hold a special place in his or her heart for American soprano Amber Wagner.  This was the story of the 2007 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Grand Finals.  In it two female singers were often juxtaposed—one Amber Wagner who shared her feelings that her weight and size might disqualify her from winning and another singer, smaller than Natalie Dessay, who shared that she thought her diminutive size worked against her.  You wanted to hold both of them by the shoulders and say it didn’t matter.  Then again, in Amber’s case, you might have been remembering Deborah Voigt’s “little black dress” episode, where she was cancelled from performing due to her size.  When the film shows Amber winning the competition it scored a victory for every woman that’s ever had a struggle with the scale—and that’s most.



How wonderful to see Amber six or so years later – the film debuted in 2009—striding out onto the intimate “Beyond the Aria” stage with utter confidence.   The vulnerable Amber we fell in love with in the movie may still be there but her persona now oozes confidence.  She has arrived as the diva her talent demands—including two roles this past season at the Lyric.  What a treat to hear her up close!


In the “Beyond the Aria” space, the enclosed stage of the Pritzker Pavilion (where you either sit at small tables where the Grant Park Orchestra and other performers hold forth or in the benches for the Grant Park Chorus above), the power of the performers’ voices simply astounds. 




It was not only Amber Wagner holding forth, but also tenor Brandon Jovanovich and baritone/pianist/composer Will Liverman—each with shining memorable moments that were all the more so because of the intimate space where the concert was held.



Jovanovich, who has been playing Walter in the Lyric’s amazing opera “The Passenger”, began the program with a strong performance of a song by German composer Franz Lehàr.  We learned from the show creator, host and pianist Craig Terry that Jovanovich had once been a singing waiter, fun to imagine, especially if you were also noticing that when he smiles he has more than a passing resemblance to comedian Jim Carrey



Jovanovich’s other solos were in English and drawn more from mainstream repertoire, most memorably including Cole Porter’s “Night and Day”.


Wagner then performed more German works—by Schubert, Liszt and Strauss.



Baritone Will Liverman first helped pianist Craig Terry play a work by his all time favorite, Fats Waller



Then—and this was a major highlight of the evening-- Liverman took over the piano and serenaded us as he played a composition he created by fusing together two works that spoke to the seasons—“If Ever I Would Love You” by Frederick Loewe and “All the Things You Are” by Jerome Kern



Terry’s formula for the “Beyond the Aria” concerts seems to be to let the soloists pick their favorites from the hardcore opera repertoire and then as the evening rolls on move the needle more and more to popular tunes. 



Following this model, the next to last song was Jovanovich and Liverman hamming it up appropriately to sing “Agony” from “Into the Woods”, one holding Rapunzel’s lock while the other held Cinderella’s slipper. 




Then, with a glimmer in his eye Terry shared that he tried to think of works we’d never see this cast do before or after and he selected songs from Gilbert & Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore”.    That was the finale and also a surefire recipe to create smiles in audience members as they left the performance space.



This was the final “Beyond the Aria” concert of the season but it will pick up again next year.  Meanwhile the Harris Theater continues its season of music and dance performances.   For information and tickets call 312 334 777, or visit the Harris Theater website.


Harris Theater Box Office

205 East Randolph





Photos:  Johnny Knight







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