Vengeance! Passion! Kidnapping! Death!
Never mind that the story is unbelievable; the drama is unmistakable. From the first drum rolls of doom to the final dreadful conclusion, this is a grand opera with gripping take-no-prisoners music and performances. Verdi’s dynamic score, which includes the well-known “Anvil Chorus,” ascends from the pit, as the mighty Lyric Orchestra explodes under the baton of Israeli conductor Asher Fisch.
On stage is a powerhouse of vocal ability. Just in time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Lyric’s training program for young American artists, now known as the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, two alumni have leading roles.
Soprano Amber Wagner, who plays Leonora, and baritone Quinn Kelsey, cast as Count di Luna, are stellar examples of the talent that Lyric selects to bring through the gleaming doors at 20 N. Wacker Drive. Their roles make them adversaries—he lusts for her, but she has fallen in love with Manrico, the troubadour of the title. That role is taken by Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee. Manrico has been raised by the gypsy Azucena, sung by American mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe.
Wagner has a commanding range, but on opening night it was her vocal pyrotechnics, her dazzling flexibility that left the audience cheering at every turn. Kelsey has pipes to reach the rafters, as does Blythe, whose dark, textured voice could move from amazing volume to poignant, nearly whispered phrases. We all love a good tenor and Lee has a strong and beautiful tone, plus acting ability to spare.
These world-class voices blend frequently in duets and trios of incomparable harmonies. Whether Lee and Wagner, or Blythe and Lee, or Kelsey, Lee and Wagner, the result is lustrous, smooth and shining, giving the audience moments so lovely they could have gone on forever.
And, once again, it is time to praise the Lyric chorus and chorus master Michael Black. Whether the group sang at full voice or staccato and light, the result was always cohesive. That group is a marvel.
The set by Charles Edwards is gigantic and gloomy, with eerie shadows, courtesy of lighting byJennifer Tipton. The original director was David McVicar, but this muscular revival is directed and choreographed by Leah Hausman.
Get ahold of a ticket, if you can. This is opera at its grandest, and this constellation of singers is just about as good as it gets.