Last May, I posted some reflections here on the life and career of Senator Edward M. Kennedy following his announcement that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Over these past 15 months he certainly displayed his most positive side both as a public figure and a man. May he rest in peace.
Here is my Monday August 17 Chicago Sun Times and suntimes.com review of Ravinia's Saturday August 15, 2009, concert production of Verdi's Rigoletto starring Dmitri Hvorostovsky with James Conlon leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Photo: Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times, 2008
Ravinia's vivid concert proves Hvorostovsky has the chops
BY ANDREW PATNER
Concluding his fifth year as Ravinia's music director, James Conlon earns audience gratitude for returning opera to the Pavilion stage after the genre was abandoned by his predecessor, Christoph Eschenbach. And say what you will about his orchestral leadership or the nature of his relationship with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Conlon has an excellent Rolodex when it comes to singers.
Saturday night's concert version of Verdi's Rigoletto kept up the pattern -- and then some. Going on 47, Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky is a unique singer today, carefully managing his career and slowly adding challenging operatic roles to his repertoire all the while maintaining -- even building on -- his remarkable technical skills. Whether an opera company in a full staging would cloak his matinee-idol looks to play the title character, a hunchbacked and twisted court jester, Hvorostovsky made it clear that he can claim this key Verdi role musically, dramatically, innately. As he joined his colleagues in reveling in the experience of having the CSO playing with all cylinders behind him, one had the sense that lawn audiences could have heard every sarcastic dig, cry of distress, and vow of revenge even if the park's sound system had failed. And all of this with nary a bark or a forced note.
The performance was significant as well for the Chicago area debut of young Cuban-born, Miami-based soprano Eglise Gutiérrez as Rigoletto's beloved but doomed daughter Gilda. On the verge of a major international career with her season-opening Covent Garden debut next month as Donizetti's Linda di Chamounix, Gutiérrez showed rare dynamic control and dramatic understanding even in a concert presentation, bringing out every poignant aspect of her character without descending into maudlin effects. Hers is a beautifully old-fashioned instrument, following in the tradition of the great Montserrat Caballé. Let's hope that the trajectory continues.
Italian tenor Stefano Secco, little known in the States, brought more nuance and complexity to the role of the despicable seducer, the Duke of Mantua, than one usually hears in a part with two big money numbers ("Questa o quella" *and* "La donna e mobile"). American bass Morris Robertson brought an actor's sensibility as well as a shudderingly deep sound to the assassin Sparafucile. Baritone Jason Stearns was an unusually characterful Monterone, the wronged man whose curse ("La maledizione!") brings an end to Rigoletto's illusions. Steans Institute baritone Jonathan Beyer stood out in a supporting cast of six covering multiple roles.
In their last summer concert of the year, the CSO players seemed to delight in being able to play a great operatic score normally outside of their programming and outside of an orchestra pit. That Ravinia management pinched pennies by replacing the Chicago Symphony Chorus with the amateur if earnest singers of the Apollo Chorus of Chicago was the only dark spot on an otherwise shining success.
On Tuesday, Hvorostovsky offers a do-not-miss, all-Russian recital at Ravinia's intimate, indoor Martin Theatre at 8 p.m.