October 24, 1997
Idomeneo October 25,
October 26, 1997
Chicago Lyric Opera
As a fitting
tribute to their recently departed general director Ardis Krainik
the Lyric Opera of Chicago continues its tradition of excellence.
The new Elijah Moshinsky/ Michael Yeargan production of Verdi's
Nabucco was a smash hit. The temple-like set, constructed of
huge blue-coloured panels on three sides with projections in yellow
Hebraic letters of the word "Jerusalem", was simple and effective.
The mood was set by the lighting designer's ingenious palette of
blue, red and yellow. Maria Gulegina took top vocal honours as
Abigaille - she has all the requisite power and beauty for this
fiendishly difficult role. Samuel Ramey (Zaccaria) was properly
sonorous and dignified. Alexandru Agache in the title role was slow
to warm up but by Act Four he delivered a brilliant "Dio di Giuda" .
Robynne Redmon as Fenena held her own in such illustrious company.
Patrick Denniston's Ismaele, short on volume and tonal beauty, was
the cast's only weakness. Under the direction of Canadian Opera
Company choral consultant Donald Palumbo, the Lyric Opera Chorus
delivered a "Va, pensiero" that would be hard to top anywhere. The
classical Verdian conducting of the soon-to-retire Bruno Bartoletti
will be sorely missed in future seasons.
John Conklin, known for his breath-taking Ring cycles in
San Francisco and Chicago, took a more conventional approach his new
Idomeneo. Fragments of Cretan architectural elements
decorated the stage and were suspended in mid-air. Side panels were
adjusted to make the stage large for the big scenes and small for
the intimate ones. Kudos again to lighting designer Duane Schuler
for a magical storm scene. The sensation of the production was
undoubtedly Bulgarian mezzo Vesselina Kasarova as Idamante. Noble of
bearing, with a golden voice (nonobstant a few guttural attacks
before she was fully warmed up) Kasarova surpassed even the great
Idamantes of von Stade and Troyanos. Tenor Vinson Cole sang his
first Idomeneo with great feeling and tonal beauty. Carol Vaness
enjoyed a successful reprise of one of her most celebrated roles as
the vengeful Elettra. Mariella Devia (Ilia) displayed shimmering
pianissimi, but her fortes tended to be unsteady. With both of his
arias cut Arbace, sung by Richard Drews, was reduced to a few
utterances here and there. Conductor John Nelson favoured expansive
tempi, allowing the music to breathe, but in Act Three the leisurely
pacing approached the desultory.
Ben Heppner was the
indisputable star of the Lyric week and this, his fourth incarnation
of Peter Grimes , must rank as
his greatest. Heppner's characterization is immensely powerful, even brutal
at times, yet curiously vulnerable, making the denouement
that much more heart-rending. Heppner was in excellent voice,
singing with molten tone and searing intensity. His Grimes was
complemented by the youthful, gorgeously sung Ellen Orford of Emily
Magee. Brent Ellis gave an understated performance as Balstrode,
while Timothy Nolen's Ned Keene tended to slapstick. Minor character roles
were all well played, particularly that of Mrs. Sedley (Susan
Gorton) and Adams (Jerold Siena). Sets and direction were
unobtrusive, allowing the drama of Britten's masterpiece to unfold
unimpeded. Mark Elder conducted with a brisk and knowing hand.
For stellar casting, production quality, and exemplary orchestral and
choral forces, the Chicago Lyric Opera surely ranks among the best in
the world. The possibility of seeing three such excellent productions
in as many days in Chicago makes the short trip from Toronto
well worth while.