The Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a special “Rising Stars in Concert” on Saturday, April 13, showcasing some young talent in training at the Lyric's Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center. The program featured several crowd-pleasing arias and duets from the up-and-coming young performers. As to be expected, the performers showed a great deal of promise, but also left some room for improvement. Among the successes of the evening was the aria by soprano Tracy Cantin from Donizetti's Anna Bolena, “Come innocente giovane...Non v'ha sguardo”, a piece in which Cantin displayed a real aptitude for bel canto singing, with a strong top range and impressive coloratura. Soprano Kiri Deonarine possessed the most impressive stage presence with a confident, suggestive, and seductive performance of an aria from Richard Strauss's Ariadane auf Naxos, “Grossmächtige Prinzessin”, as she brags of her character's “love and leave 'em” approach to romance. Perhaps the most impressive performer of the evening was soprano Emily Birsan, who sang two numbers from Verdi's La Traviata, the act two duet with her lover's father (baritone Joseph Lim), “Dite alla giovine,” followed by a solo effort of the triple aria that concludes Traviata's first act, “Eh Strano!, “Ah fors' e lui,” and “Sempre libera”, the latter being one of opera's most famous arias. She displayed a remarkable talent, sailing through the piece with a great deal of confidence and charisma, though her high notes were a shortcoming. She was also a victim of slow conducting by Ward Stare, who led the Lyric's orchestra, which prevented her from expressing the joyousness of the piece with more abandon. I would not be surprised to see her in the role of Violetta some day, and she clearly is hungry and determined to inhabit perhaps the ultimate prima donna role.
On the whole, the women fared far better than the men. The concert opened with the duet from Bizet's Les pecheurs de perles, which featured tenor John Irvin and baritone Will Liverman. Irvin's tenor lacked weight or dramatic heft, but Liverman was a highly competent baritone, further demonstrated when he performed the always-fun “Largo al factorum” from Rossini's Barbiere di Siviglia. Another tenor, Bernard Holcomb, sang selections from Verdi's Rigoletto, and the duet that opens Gounod's Faust, and was disappointingly light-voiced in both roles, though his Italian and even his French diction was excellent. I was especially impressed with the technical acumen of virtually all the performers, which indicated to me the pride that Lyric should take in its training program, which is clearly doing its job well training future opera stars. This was demonstrated, for instance, by bass-baritone David Govertsen, who showed off his ability to work his way through the vocal gymnastics of the aria from Rossini's La Cenerentola, “La del ciel nell'arcano profundo.” Govertsen was Mephistopholes to Holcomb's Faust, and in both performances his voice seemed disappointingly lightweight despite his huge stature. Probably the most successful of the male performers was Joseph Lim, who possessed a strong baritone in the duet from Traviata, as well as a brief aria from Tchaikovsky's Iolanta, though on stage he seemed uncomfortably stiff.
Among the other performers was mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall,who performed a number from Handel's Ariodante,“Scherza infida” quite competently.The other mezzo was J'nai Bridges, who performed an excerpt from Mahler's DesKnaben Wunderhorn, as well as teaming with Cantin for the emotional climax of the second act of Puccini's Madama Butterfly, when the title character observes the return of her husband's warshipto the Nagasaki harbor. The ensemble was well-received, and though it was far from a perfect performance, it was a highly enjoyable one. It was great to hear these young, up-and-coming voices. Many of the individual singers have bright futures, and I know that they willcontinue to improve from the already impressive levels they have reached.
Photos: Courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago