Rising Stars In Concert Review – New Opera Stars Shine Brightly

Because I do not often get the chance to attend the Lyric Opera of Chicago, I could not pass up the opportunity to see the annual Rising Stars in Concert on Saturday, March 29th at 7:30pm. One of my greatest passions is singing and I love opera so this was a special treat.


The performers of this concert were all ensemble members of the 2013-2014 Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, which was established in 1974 as the professional artist-development program for Lyric Opera of Chicago. - See more at the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center website. The concert’s orchestra was conducted by Kelly Kuo. The live concert that was held on Saturday evening was also broadcast on 98.7 WFMT on Sunday, March 30th at 7pm.


The magnificent Rice Grand Foyer of the Civic Opera House


Featured ensemble members included Emily Birsan, J’nai Bridges, Tracy Cantin, Anthony Clark Evans, John Irvin, Will Liverman, Julie Anne Miller, Richard Ollarsaba, Laura Wilde, and Maureen Zoltek.


The talented singers who performed in the Lyric’s Rising Stars in Concert were truly magnificent. Listening to and watching them was a memorable experience for me. The staging was lovely as well. It was a simple and inviting backdrop with semi-curved traditional Spanish architecture, based upon a scenic element from The Barber of Seville. It wove around the back of the stage with high arches and openings, and displayed a pleasant cream color.


Richard Ollarsaba


The performers began their numbers mostly in a female/male alternation for solos, including some duets and group singing. I enjoyed the lovely soprano or mezzo voice in contrast to the deep, rich baritone or a high, animated tenor. Though some voices were stronger or had more technique than others, it was obvious why these singers were chosen for the 2013-3014 Lyric Opera season. They all had excellent stage presence and were confident in their performances as well. 


I found the second part of the performance more captivating than the first part. Though the voices were amazing, the performance felt more distanced. Yes, they did have amazing voices, but at a concert or show it is nice to be entertained. In addition, the pieces chosen for the first act tended to be heavy, morose and dark. I would have found it more comfortable had the songs been alternated with some happier, lighter numbers.


However, during the first part, I did have several favorites. The first was Richard Ollarsaba (“Tutto è disposto…Aprite un po’ quegl’occhi” from Le Nozze di Figaro) whose beautiful, rich baritone voice rang through my ears. He was an avid and likable performer. Then there was Anthony Clark Evans (“L'orage s’est calmé” from Les Pêcheurs de Perles), who was one of my favorite male singers of the evening. His commanding, baritone voice filled the theater.


Tracy Cantin & Anthony Clark Evans


Mezzo - soprano J’nai Bridges was also sensationally talented– her voice was angelic, mysterious and sensuous. Her rendition of the aria “Où suis-je?...O ma lyre immortelle” from Sapho was luminous. Finally, I couldn’t get enough of tenor, John Irvin. His first aria, “Dein ist mein ganzes Herzfrom Des Land des Lachelns was superb. With such a fantastic, romantic voice, I was disappointed this aria was so short-I wanted to hear more from him!


Will Liverman & J'nai Bridges


The second act was much more animated and joyous. I loved the selection from Porgy and Bess, which is one of my favorite operas. The duet, “Bess, you is my woman now,” was sung by the wonderful J’nai Bridges and baritone, Will Liverman. They sounded lovely together and their singing lyrics wove beautifully into romantic, sweet music. Will Liverman also possesses a thrilling, booming baritone voice. Their duet was gorgeous and reminded me of why Porgy and Bess was among my favorites.  


John Irvin & Emily Birsan



I also thoroughly enjoyed soprano Laura Wilde singing “Jewel Song: O Dieu! Que de bijoux!” from Faust. Wilde’s light, airy soprano voice was perfect for Marguerite, who girlishly adorns herself in jewelry left to her by her admirer, Faust.


Laura Wilde


The finale of Act Two, Aaron Copland’s “The Promise of Living” from The Tender Land was a feast for the ears and an appropriate and perfect ending to a wonderful concert. The quintet included Emily Birsan, Julie Anne Miller, John Irvin, Anthony Clark Evans, Richard Ollarsaba, and full ensemble. This lovely, simple piece was beautifully sung by these singers and I wanted this number had been longer as well. 


Curtain call with conductor Kelly Kuo


I left the Lyric Opera absolutely thrilled and in awe of the talent I witnessed at The Rising Stars concert. I hope to attend next year!


Photos: Lyric Interiors (Jenny Lunz), Concert (Robert Kusel/Lyric Opera of Chicago)


For more information about Rising Stars in Concert, please visit the Lyric Opera website.



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