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YEASS IV. American Appassionata: Renata Tebaldi @ 100 OFC 2022.VII.15

Updated: Aug 19, 2022

La Renatona's Chicago midsummer centenary,

fêted by the voices of Lillie, Hjelle, Pomponi, Azzarra

Renata Tebaldi @ 100


Ganz Hall, Roosevelt University

Angel Azzarra, soprano

Heather Hjelle, soprano

Reuben Lillie, tenor

Franco Pomponi, baritone

Doug Han, piano

Roger Pines, commentary

Opera Festival of Chicago

01. Verdi: Simon Boccanegra – terzetto, secondo atto (FP, RL, HH)

02. Puccini: Manon Lescaut – Donna non vidi mai (RL)

03. Boito: Mefistofele – L'altra notte in fondo al mare (HH)

04. Catalani: La Wally – Ebben? ne andrò lontana (AA)

05. Verdi: La traviata – Parigi, o cara (RL, HH)

06. Verdi: Aïda – Ciel! mio padre! (AA, FP)

07. Verdi: Otello – Ave Maria (HH)

08. Giordano: Fedora – Amor ti vieta (RL)

09. Giordano: Fedora – Ed ecco il suo ritratto (AA)

10. Cilèa: Adriana Lecouvreur – No, la mia fronte (AA, RL)

11. Puccini: La bohème – quartetto, terzo atto (RL, HH–Mimì, FP, AA–Musetta)

By virtue of its repertoire focus, Opera Festival of Chicago offers its artists and its public the opportunity to enhance their familiarity with the deep end of the Italian repertoire. (Impressions of their recent L'inganno felice can be found here.) For their lecture-concert honoring the centenary of eternally cherished Renata Tebaldi, OFC chose eleven selections from la Renatona's Verdi-and-verismo core repertoire, divided among four singers and bound together by the gustatory commentary of Lyric Opera of Chicago dramaturg Roger Pines.

The OFC audience witnessed three still-maturing talents testing their mettle in these pieces, joined by seasoned baritone Franco Pomponi, who at this point of his career is expanding into more forceful characters—e.g. Michele in OFC's 2021 Tabarro and Seid in their upcoming Corsaro. Heather Hjelle and Reuben Lillie are under the tutelage of two esteemed strong-repertoire artists based in the area, respectively Alexandra LoBianco (a Prior Hotspot Installment reported favorably upon her Aufseherin in the Met's Elektra) and Allan Glassman. (An erstwhile baritone whose young artist credentials include Des Moines Metro Opera and Santa Fe Opera, Lillie undoubtedly must be gaining from Glassman's own experience shifting from baritone to excellent dramatic tenor.) Angel Azzarra returns for her second season with OFC fresh from her second season with OTSL (Opera Theater of St. Louis), where she earned plaudits as Ariadne with the St. Louis Symphony on their concluding Center Stage concert.

Performing in six out of the eleven selections, Lillie was boyishly clarion of timbre – not inapposite for these obligatory impetuous romantic youths –and continually revealed an urgent top register.

Hjelle's most potent vocal asset is direct projection, the voice climaxing most excitingly towards the high B-natural of Margherita's mad scene. As she is actively pursuing further cultivation as a Wagnerian, one is curious to hear her gifts in that branch of repertoire.

That stage animal Franco Pomponi, true to form, was unstinting in performance commitment, intense of physical presence, and prodigal of voice. One couldn't help but wonder how his energies might invigorate other core roles of this heftier repertoire he is pursuing—for starters Compar Alfio, Tonio in Pagliacci, and Iago.

Young Angel Azzarra is a talent bound to arouse passionate responses: a darkly lustrous timbre which this reviewer hears as «moody», amply projected and meant for broad-stroke writing, yet unmarred by the unequal oscillations and queered pitch heard in too many big voices. Her temperament came to the fore while facing off against Pomponi in the Aïda and Bohème excerpts, the two artists edging each other in drama and decibels, and Azzarra unleashing a blazing high B-natural at Aïda's «Pietà! pietà! padre, pie

Given the robust repertoire and the singers' respective professional trajectories, chances are that this was new material for all involved, thus as is inevitable with maiden voyages of freshly-acquired repertoire, there were imperfections. There also was a mutual full-throated engagement such as one had craved in vain during the recent CSO Ballo wherein Muti too frequently insisted his cast explore shades of sottovoce.

Absent a conductor, ensemble was a matter of singers' teamwork. The cast's efforts of pacing and sonority were bolstered by Doug Han's pianism. The protracted dimuendi allargati with which he concluded the Aïda and Adriana excerpts were greeted by suspended audience silence prior to relieved applause.

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