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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 3, No. 3 November 1997

Nabucco October 24, 1997
October 25, 1997
Peter Grimes
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. 

 Joseph So

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