“Beyond the Aria” Review – Lyric Opera Serenade on Pritzker Stage

 

Taking a seat where the Grant Park Chorus usually sits on the Pritzker Stage, we had a similar thrill to first time Terrace seats in Symphony Center.  The pavilion seats and lawn, save a few flash camera equipped tourists, were an empty expanse seen through the floor-to-ceiling glass wall enclosure that makes the stage into a separate theater space for colder weather.   Knowing that superb music emanating from this spot where we were sitting usually delights thousands of fans in seats and lawn before us seemed to give the room an extra charge.

 

 

The pre-curtain excitement ticked up a notch too by spotting Renée Fleming in the crowd, long before we learned that mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges’ selection of the Ravel song cycle “Shéhérezade” for part of her performance was inspired by Fleming making it part of her repertoire.

 

 

Accompanied by concert organizer and pianist Craig Terry, Grammy Award® winner Ana Maria Martinez came onstage in an elegant red gown to sing the opener in her native Spanish, Pablo Luna’s “De Espana Vengo”. 

 

 

With sparkling diamond-like earrings and necklace accompanying a chic mauve gown, J’nai Bridges then sang Xavier Montsalvatge’s “Canción de cuna para dorminr un negrito”, a soothing lullaby. 

 

 

Danish baritone Bo Skovhus, who later told us he has long made his home in Vienna, sang Shubert’s “Willkommen und Abschied”.   Skovhus is currently playing the Count and brother to Fleming in the Lyric’s production of “Capriccio”.

 

These opening notes in this setting quickly immersed us in the feeling of being in an intimate operatic soirée.  Martinez next sang selections from Gabriel Faure and later returned us to Spain, she explained, by singing several selections by Joaquin Rodrigo.   When she sang a song that was to convey mischievous playfulness the spirited character that Martinez is playing on Lyric stages in Don Giovanni seemed to join us on the stage.

 

After Bridges had sung her Ravel selections, Bo Skovhus became a commanding presence on the stage singing selections from “Schwanengesang” by Franz Schubert.  He explained that these were songs of longing and indeed the emotional quality of these songs seemed to be a key unlocking our hearts and souls to better hear the affect of all the music before us.  If you weren’t engaged in the performance before, this was the clincher.

 

 

How nice that Craig Terry, the Artistic Director for this and other upcoming “Beyond the Aria” performances also included American popular music tunes, given new expression by these superb voices.  First Skovhus sang “Fools Rush In”, followed by his duet with Martinez of “Yours is My Heart Alone”. 

 

 

Gershwin was given his due first by an inspired rendition of “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” by Bridges.   Martinez singing “Do It Again” with naughty winks was absolutely charming as Skovhus sang an accompanying “Lady Be Good”. 

 

The three singers’ finale of Gershwin’s “Love is Here to Stay” was made all the more poignant by Terry’s introductory comments explaining that this was actually George’s homage to his dying brother, and not the romantic love song one might otherwise imagine.

 

To sate the appetite shown by the warm standing ovation from the crowd, the four performers were well-prepared for their encore, “Soave sia il vento” from “Cosi fan tutte” by Mozart.

 

While a fully staged production at the Lyric—replete with set design, lighting, costumes and libretto—is always a treat, there is something to be said for song without such trappings.  These are world-class singers, as will be the performers in the remaining three “Beyond the Aria” concerts, and you get to hear their unadorned voices in their true glory in an intimate cabaret-like setting. 

 

Check it out and get tickets for the remaining “Beyond the Aria” series on November 10, January 14 and March 10 by calling 312 334 7777 or visiting the Harris Theater Box Office at 205 East Randolph or visit the Harris Theater website.

 

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Photos:  

Marcin Cymmer unless otherwise indicated

 

 

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