For its first couple of decades, it was a September concert called “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park.” Then-music director Sir Andrew Davis would lead the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus and star singers who would be performing in operas during the upcoming season in excerpts from those operas.
During the Enrique Mazzola era, a different template is emerging. It’s now a summer concert and the singers are ensemble members of the Ryan Center, Lyric’s school for young artists. But the goal is still to serve as an “appetite-whetter” for the new season, as Lyric general director and CEO Anthony Freud told the large crowd on a steamy Sunday evening.
Sporting a gold-and-black sport coat over a Lyric Opera T-shirt, Mazzola was all smiles and waves as he began the concert with what came off largely as a read-through of the Overture to Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” the first opera of the season that opens September 23. The tempos were slow, tension absent, the colors muted. The music starts with a storm with rollicking waves portrayed that instantly pulls us on the violent sea. But needed urgency was never felt. The Overture is the overall opera in miniature with sudden shifts of mood climaxing with the redemptive music of Senta’s sacrifice. It is often performed effectively on its own in concert but it came off blandly. In fairness, the performances themselves are still a month away, but given that this is Mazzola’s first foray into Wagner at Lyric, it was surprising such familiar music was presented in such a lackluster manner.
Ryan Center conductor Donald Lee III managed to get some nuance and color out of Daland’s aria “Mögst du, mein Kind” capably sung by bass Wm. Clay Thompson. Mazzola fared better with “Johohoe! Traft ihr das Schiff (Senta’s Ballad)” which tells the story of the Dutchman’s ghostly wandering, serviceably sung by soprano Kathryn Henry.
Feeding into the perception that Mazzola is a bel canto specialist, nearly half the evening contained excerpts from Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” (Cinderella), conducted by Mazzola in a buoyant and flexible manner with superb singing throughout. This was the highlight of the evening. Those January to February 2024 performances will not be conducted by Mazzola, however, but by Yi-Chen Lin in her Lyric debut.
Mazzola is scheduled to conduct the Lyric premiere of Terence Blanchard’s “Champion” and Verdi’s “Aida.” But it was Donald Lee III who conducted a moving aria from “Champion” with bass-baritone Christopher Humbert Jr. and a brisk but nuanced Act II ballet from “Aida.”
Not surprisingly, Mazzola also conducted the duet “Au bruit de la guerre” from Donizetti’s “La fille du régiment,” although Speranza Scappucci will conduct the November performances.
But it was a surprising evening highlight that though Jakub Hruša will conduct the performances in his Lyric debut, Mazzola conducted the finale from Janácek’s “Jenufa,” the duet with Jenufa and Luca movingly rendered by soprano Kathryn Henry and tenor Ryan Capuzzo.
Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” opens the 2023-24 Lyric Opera season on September 23.