Chicago on the aisle, March 20, 2014
|by Nancy Malitz
Konzert: Renée Fleming und Jonas Kaufmann, Chicago, 19. März 2014
Fleming, Kaufmann offer Lyric Opera faithful festive tribute to love and the art of singing
Review: Lyric Opera of Chicago annual subscriber appreciation
concert crowns 59th season with soprano Renée Fleming, tenor Jonas Kaufmann,
Andrew Davis conducting, March 19 at the Civic Opera House.
Charting a memorable arc from the flustered panic of love’s first rush to
the sorrowful tenderness of lovers whom death has parted, soprano Renée
Fleming and tenor Jonas Kaufmann gave Chicago’s Lyric Opera loyalists quite
the evening of music to treasure on March 19.
Make no mistake about
the enthusiasts in the seats, who were mostly longtime aficionados enjoying
a “subscriber appreciation” night, meaning they had first dibs on tickets to
see a richly beloved soprano and tenordom’s brightest new star.
were fans who knew their opera, and if they cut off the graciously amused
maestro Andrew Davis and the Lyric Opera Orchestra with their wild applause
— just a few bars too soon after Kaufmann’s ringing rendition of Don
Alvaro’s song to his beloved Leonora, whom he believes to be among the
angels — well, it was their night, and they were gobsmacked, and what’s a
few more bars from “La forza del destino” anyway? (If you want to hear the
way the clarinet gently ties off that aria, since Charlene Zimmerman’s
admirable effort was covered, you can try an audience-free recording.)
The opera lovers’ season is winding down now, notwithstanding the
variety coming up at the Lyric — a “Barber of Seville” for families, a
concert by young opera singers in training, a recital by violinist Itzhak
Perlman, a mariachi opera fest and the spring-into-summer “Sound of Music”
filling the slate. Still, true operaphiles know it’s that time of year: With
the last performance of Mozart’s “La clemenza di Tito” on March 23, that’s
it in terms of glamour on the bill for another season.
well-planned joint recital by diva and divo with orchestra had the festive
air of auld lang syne. Fleming looked ravishing in gowns by Vivienne
Westwood and glam jewels by Ann Ziff, and Kaufmann got his own share of wolf
whistles, but it was their singing that carried the show on a stage set that
cleverly borrowed facades from “Clemenza” and wrought-iron filigree from
“The Barber of Seville.”
Kaufmann and Fleming offered three popular
tenor-soprano love duets, all from operas that end in death for the soprano,
though happily not where we intervened. The first, from Gounod’s “Faust,”
involved Faust’s romancing of Marguerite, whose chaste innocence is on the
line. The scene was a model of balance and counter-balance, with the tenor
alternately stoking the soprano’s expressions of mounting passion and
assuaging her alarm.
The second, from “Otello,” was Verdi’s greatest
of all love duets, between the Moor and his wife, alone and intimately
reflective on a starlit night, mere hours before Iago would plant the mortal
seed of suspicion. Desdemona has been a signature role of Fleming’s for more
than two decades, and she was comfortably assured here, but the recital
marked a first for Kaufmann, who has been singing Wagner of late, causing
many to wonder if he might have Otello in him. Surely in this scene he
showed a promising mixture of ardent gentleness and ringing power, and his
voice throughout the concert showed dark mahogany colors in the chest range
in addition to an almost ethereal top. It’s possible Lyric’s audience will
be able to say they heard him do Otello first.
The two singers saved
their finest collaboration for last, the stormy St. Sulpice encounter from
Massenet’s “Manon,” in which the furious and heartbroken Des Grieux,
formerly abandoned by Manon, tries to resist her pleas to return, only to
relent degree by shattering degree. The two, who had clearly gone to some
trouble to stage it, were intricately responsive to each other and both in
fine voice throughout. This time it was Kaufmann who melted and Fleming who
pressed the cause.
What a pleasure to have the Lyric Opera Orchestra
on stage for a change, although one has to admire the torque in Davis’ back.
He not only managed to direct the singers behind him, but also to draw in
the audience for an event that he clearly wanted to feel like a family
party. And cellist Walter Preucil was first among orchestral soloists who
got a chance to shine — his playing set the ravishing tone for the “Otello”
duet and for the 1935 Italian art song, “Ombra di nube,” a Fleming staple.
If there were times when the purely orchestral music seemed like so much
incidental filler, to allow for costume changes, it can be said that two
movements from the “Suite in D Major for the Birthday of Prince Charles,” by
the late 20th-century English composer Michael Tippett, were a complete
delight. And in the first encore duet of the evening, “Lippen schweigen, ‘s
flüstern Geigen” (also known as the waltz from Franz Lehár’s operetta “The
Merry Widow”), being able to watch Davis schmaltz it up with his orchestra
was half the fun.
The most welcome solo songs were Fleming’s lovely
“Adieu, notre petite table,” from “Manon” — which was as artfully measured
and credible as her long, drawn-out rendition of “Danny Boy” was not — and
Kaufmann’s Flower Song from Bizet’s “Carmen” and “Pourquoi me réveiller”
from Massenet’s “Werther,” which brought down the house.
program’s many appealing touches was the duo’s second encore, “Marietta’s
Lied,” a bittersweet song of true love in the face of death whose
late-romantic chromaticism sent the crowds floating out the doors on a
The song was from the 1920 opera “Die tote Stadt”
by Czech-born American composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who was adored by
Mahler, Zemlinsky and Strauss. Fleming could not have sounded more lovely in
it, a circumstance that bodes well for her starring role in Strauss’
similarly lush and introspective “Capriccio,” which is scheduled for Oct.
6-28 at the Lyric with Davis conducting.