Send in the Tenors
Mann Center for the Performing Arts
Gioachino Rossini: Otello: “Ah si, per voi giá sento” “& Ah! vieni, nel tuo sangue” – Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra: “Deh! scusa i transporti” – “Il barbiere di Siviglia”: Overture & “Largo al factotum” – Ricciardo e Zoraide: “Donala a questo core” – Guillaume Tell: “Asile héréditaire...Amis, amis secondez ma vengeance” – Tancredi: Overture
Vincenzo Bellini: Il pirata: “Nel furor delle tempeste...Per te di vane lagrime”
Ambroise Thomas: Raymond ou Le Secret de la reine: Overture – Hamlet : “O vin dissipe la tristesse”
Adolphe Adam: Le Postillon de Lonjumeau: “Mes amis écoutez l’histoire”
Lawrence Brownlee, Michael Spyres (tenors)
Opera Philadelphia Chorus, Elizabeth Braden (choral director), Opera Philadelphia Orchestra, Corrado Rovaris (conductor)
M. Spyres, L. Brownlee (© Sofia Negron)
On a steamy August evening in Philadelphia at the Mann Center in Fairmount Park, the temperature was hovering around 90 as tenors Michael Spyres and Lawrence Brownlee sauntered on stage, as cool as ever, to vocally square off with their tour version of “Amici e Rivali.” Which not coincidently is the name of their hit album of Italian tenor repertoire. Their concert marked the return of live performance events by Opera Philadelphia, after 18 months of virtual presentations due to the pandemic.
Behind them the full Opera Philadelphia orchestra, 20 choristers and Corrado Rovaris. Opera Philadelphia executive director David Devan introduced the concert, with brief comments welcoming the audience back to live performance.
Without doubt this was a beautifully crafted program for a musical night to remember as most of all of the other venues in Philly have remained closed throughout the summer. Brownlee has many Philly fans, after starring as jazz giant Charlie Parker Yardbird (2015) and Cycles of My Being (2018), both having their premieres with Opera Philadelphia.
Both singers are renown for their mastery of Italian bel canto repertoire, and both are formidable Rossini tenors, with different vocal qualities. Both singers sustain precision technical artistry, and as was evident throughout this program, are consummate actors as, despite the heat, they breeze through extended dramatic scenes from Otello, Elisabetta, Hamlet, and Tancredi.
Spyres dives right in with Rossini’s “Ah si, per voi già sento” from Otello, a marker that this would be more than a showcase for vocal high-wire feats. Brownlee is similarly understated in “Nel furor delle tempeste” from Bellini’s Il pirata. Their vocal signatures were in full bloom in the court rivals Leicester and Norfolk in Rossini’s Elisabetta, an intensely dramatic scene and a masterclass by this duo of how smolderingly subtle a tenor can be.
Meanwhile, Maestro Rovaris is a master at unleashing operatic thunder, but not at the expense of orchestral depth of sound, especially with Rossini, a roiling inner rhythmic drive, that breaks into a blazing gallop in the Overture to Elisabetta.
Spyres dazzled the crowd, snapping his fingers in a Flamenco pose and vamping every note for Figaro’s “Largo al factotum,” proof that he is the baritenor all vocal trades, from soprano trills to basso roulades. Not to be outdone, Brownlee’s boffo performance of “Amis, Amis, secondez” from Guillaume Tell with the full Rossini blaring orchestra drama, a full force chorale and Brownlee’s blazing tenor riding on top of the sonic wave like a comet.
The OP orchestra which was coming back from not performing regularly and not playing in their regular venue was in top form. The heat index, for one, didn’t seem to affect the strings, and for the high heat the amped mixing was spot on. Not an easy feat in with opera in an open-air venue. Rovaris’ and Braden piloting a richly crafted and joyous musical night to remember.
The crowd was on its feet for Spyres and Brownlee encores Granada and Be my Love, the last beloved by this crowd of Philly opera fans because it was a signature song for legendary South Philly native Mario Lanza in the day.