Chicago Sun-Times and suntimes.com, Tuesday May 8, 2012 4:58PM CDT
BY ANDREW PATNER
The Ryan Opera Center of Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Civic Orchestra of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have parallel missions in training young professional classical musicians and giving them performance opportunities. But the two had never worked or appeared together until they present a “collaborative concert” Monday night at Orchestra Hall under Lyric Opera music director Andrew Davis.
The concert was a part of a continued coming out for the Ryan Center, one of the country’s top apprentice opportunities, along with those in San Francisco, Houston, and at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. In addition to their supporting and other stage roles with the main company at the Civic Opera House, participants have sung often with the Grant Park Orchestra, and during Brian Dickie’s wise stewardship of Chicago Opera Theater, they became a regular source for major casting there.
But the Civic pairing marks a new opportunity. Though that orchestra has done some operatic material in the past (CSO principal trombone Jay Friedman led a remarkable Act 1 of Wagner’s Die Walküre back in 1998), as with many symphonic ensembles, opera hasn’t been a part of its daily bread.
The program Monday of full acts from Puccini’s La bohème and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, along with an orchestra-only opener of “The Dance of the Hours” from Ponchielli’s La gioconda, underscored the importance of such crossover and collaboration for the performers and provided great pleasure for the focused and appreciative audience.
The Civic had home court advantage and safety in numbers. Still, the continuing discipline and prep that the members get from their principal conductor Cliff Colnot was on constant display; this probably meant that Davis had an easier time working with the Civic on the support and flexibility that an opera orchestra must show regularly. Once again, the Civic demonstrated that it is as fine as many a regional full-time orchestra.
Ryan singers have one-year appointments, which are usually extended to two terms and can run to a maximum of three seasons. For the Ryan’s current 11 singers, the concert Monday was their first work as a unit, and they proved as balanced and coöperative a group as any yet fielded. There were no apparent superstars in the making, but producing them is not the central purpose of such programs.
Third-year bass Evan Boyer showed some of his best and most stylish work as Colline in the final act of Bohème and as Figaro in the second act of the Mozart. Second-year baritone Joseph Lim displayed attractive confidence and clarity, especially as Schaunard in Bohème, a role he will perform next season at Lyric as well. Second-year tenor Bernard Holcomb and first-year baritone Will Liverman were well-matched as bohemian best friends Rodolfo and Marcello.
As Mimi, Canadian first-year soprano Tracy Cantin made sure there were no dry eyes when her character dies. In the Mozart, Cantin as the Countess, second-year soprano Kiri Deonarine as Susanna, and mezzo Cecelia Hall in the trouser role of Cherubino were stand-outs. Meanwhile, Ryan Center director Gianna Rolandi contributed effective semi-staging, especially in the Puccini, and her young singers were absolutely game. Lyric’s William Billingham took the reduced but still essential harpsichord part in the Mozart.
Let’s hope that this is the beginning of a strong partnership.