PostHeaderIcon Lyric Duo Worth Singing About

Each year, around Christmastime, arts critics recollect top performances of the past year. Well,  90 days later (due to other commitments), I’m ready to offer my own compliments to Lyric Opera. My tardiness offered the unexpected bonus of seeing an additional production, “La Boheme” last month. So far, my Lyric viewing has consisted of two stellar productions and Lyric appears set to end its season on a high note with Anna Netrebko in “Boheme” and Renee Fleming in “A Streetcar Named Desire”.

Christine Goerke

Christine Goerke

While I am a great fan of Strauss, opening the season with his challenging “Elektra” took courage. I even confess that I was not sure I wanted to relive the Trojan War and hear Greeks venting full-throated anger. But I am so glad I went. Christine Goerke’s incredible portrayal of Elektra will remain an all-time operatic high point. Her full-out singing and committed portrayal of a woman in the throes of grief and vengeance earned her the lustiest curtain calls I have ever heard at Lyric. Those who missed it now know they missed a milestone.

Thomas Hampson & Feruccio Furlanetto

Thomas Hampson & Feruccio Furlanetto

Following “Elektra,” Lyric paid the first of two tributes to the bicentennial of Giuseppe Verdi’s birth with the rarely-performed “Simon Boccanegra.Proper respect was paid with a strongly-cast production headed by baritone Thomas Hampson as Simon and great Italian bass, Ferruccio Furlanetto, as the wronged father, Jacopo Fiesco. The story is packed with political and romantic intrigue that, at times, is hard to follow, just like Italian politics today. The opera had its premiere 156 years ago this week (March 12, 1857) and is full of Verdi’s passionate commitment to the unification of Italy that resulted 13 years later.

It was a treat to hear the musical interplay between these two great voices. When they took their final bows, their respect and enjoyment of one another’s artistry was visible. While I exited the hall after Elektra feeling emotionally overwhelmed, I left Simon in a mood of pure contentment, having heard two master singers deliver a stirring performance.

My reaction to “La Boheme” must be more muted. I had the misfortune to attend a performance in which the role of Rodolfo was played by an understudy, Jose Luis Duval. This, unfortunately, affected my enjoyment. Duval, reportedly, has sung lead roles in Houston, Dallas, LA Opera and Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, but I’m sure not recently. He is now a singer in his late 50s with a very weak middle register that made it hard to hear his words. He gave a game performance but was unable to make Rodolfo’s youthful ardor for the young seamstress, Mimi, believable.

Anna Netrebko & Joseph Calleja

Anna Netrebko & Joseph Calleja

One could have no qualms about Ana Maria Martinez performance. She was in fine voice and endowed her arias with colorful phrasing. Soprano Elizabeth Futral was a winning and vain Musetta who brightened the proceedings at the Cafe Momus. Catch the remaining performances through March 28 when two new operatic stars take over.  Anna Netrebko, the international diva of the moment, will be Mimi with Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo. I’m willing to give Lyric a mulligan on that ill-starred performance and bet the new duo makes everything right.

Rigoletto at the Met

"Rigoletto" at the Met

Let me close with  a note about “Rigoletto” which also continues this month. Lyric is presenting the classic staging set in 16th Century Italy. Since I haven’t seen it, I must rely on critics who have proclaimed it ‘first-rate.” Instead, I had the pleasure, and that’s the word, of seeing the Metropolitan Opera’s production, set in 1960s Las Vegas with the Duke of Mantua and his retinue evoking the Sinatra “Rat Pack” and Cosa Nostra cronies.

It was perhaps a touch gimmicky but great fun nonetheless. It proved that moving the setting over 400 years forward to our recent memory could be done without trashing the original. Based on the MetLive performance I saw, Lyric director, Anthony Freud, should give Chicagoans a chance to hear Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, an outstanding Duke, while bass Stefan Kocan as Sparafucile looked and sounded like the new Sam Ramey and the perfect Mephistopheles for a future “Damnation of Faust”.

Perhaps Lyric had sound artistic reasons–or financial ones?–for sticking with its version. But if it wants to fill seats with a more youthful audience, it might adopt some of Peter Gelb’s thinking. The news that 7 of Lyric’s 8 operas next season will be new productions augurs well and shows Freud seems ready to set Lyric on a more adventurous course.

Lyric’s season continues through April 7. Performances of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” start in May. For tickets, visit

Leave a Reply