Lyric Opera is writing new chapters in Chicago's rich musical record
The Chicago Lyric Opera puts the lie to the myth that opera lives only in New York.Skip to next paragraph
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It has been no secret, of course, that electrifying operatic evenings were possible in the Windy City. After all, it was there that Maria Callas made her American debut. Before Callas, Renata Tebaldi had made herm US debut there. And Chicago became known, under the aegis of the late Carol Fox, as the tenor town par excellence.
Chicago Lyric was the center of a controversy when composer Krzysztof Penderecki was offered the commission for the company's celebration of the American Bicentennial. ''Paradise Lost'' was the first of many serious drains on a company that soon found itself precariously in the red. The crisis resulted eventually in the firing of Miss Fox and the appointment of Ardis Krainek as general director.
Miss Krainek, in the nearly two years she has headed the company, has turned it around and put it in the black, at no ghastly reduction in vocal quality. In fact, the three performances I attended recently were on a consistently higher level than equivalent performances at the Met.
Chicago Lyric is hampered, as is every house in the world today, by the drought in important voices. But this season it managed to attract Alfredo Kraus , Eva Marton, Luciano Pavarotti, Jon Vickers, and Placido Domingo. This year, Hal Prince was staging the company's new ''Butterfly.''
My stay allowed me to hear a curious double bill of Francis Poulenc's ''La Voix Humaine'' and Leoncavallo's ''I Pagliacci,'' as well as Puccini's ''Tosca'' and Mozart's ''Cosi fan tutte.'' All but the Poulenc are heard regularly in New York. In fact, the ''Pagliacci'' and the ''Cosi'' are Met productions, and the ''Tosca'' is seen in the Tito Gobbi staging he later re-created on the Met stage in the Met's old production.
I found the level of performance high. Lesser parts were cast from the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, and several voices were most impressive. More important, I found that each performance embraced a sense of a company at work trying to make something important happen. There were blemishes, but there were high points, too, and one left each evening with a sense of having had an artistic encounter.
The ''Tosca'' presented Miss Marton in the title role. She guaranteed that the evening would be a dazzling exhibition of true operatic theatrics and the very best of prima donna temperament melded into a spectacular incarnation of this celebrated role. She brings a blazing intensity to her portrayal, a voice that easily rides the orchestral climaxes, yet can soothe and haunt in the more lyric moments.
Her Scarpia, Siegmund Nimsgern, offered her a riveting foil and a frightening adversary. He has just taken on the role, and has yet to find his way through it consistently, but at its best - which was most of the time - it was vocally impressive and histrionically strong.
Veriano Luchetti was the somewhat small-scaled, wooden Cavaradossi, Italo Tajo the jovial Sacristan, Florindo Andreolli the superb Spoletta (what a superb comprimariom artist he is). Conductor Julius Rudel led a seasoned performance.