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Polenzani shines in Lyric Opera’s Entführung

Civic Opera House
03/02/2009 -  and March 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28*
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Matthew Polenzani (Belmonte), Erin Wall (Konstanze), Andrea Silvestrelli (Osmin), Aleksandra Kurzak (Blonde), Steve Davislim (Pedrillo), David Steiger (Pasha Selim)
Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra and Chorus, Donald Nally (chorus master), Sir Andrew Davis (conductor)
Chas Rader-Shieber (director), David Zinn (set design), Christopher Akerlind (lighting design)

(© Dan Rest)

With a successful year in its rearview mirror, Lyric Opera of Chicago closed out its 2008-2009 season with a new production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail. A cast of first rate Mozart singers with solid comedic skills provided for a lively performance, despite some awkward staging decisions.

The star of the production was the Belmonte of Matthew Polenzani. The Evanston native’s tenor has remained true to its naturally light sound since he first emerged on the international scene, and the wise choice he has made in building a career around his Mozart expertise has proven very successful. His Belmonte was no exception. Polenzani showed seamless legato in his opening “Hier soll ich dich denn sehen” and his “O wie ängstlich” rightfully garnered one of the largest applauses of the night for his fine coloratura. Despite successful ventures into bel canto and Verdi, Polenzani seems to feel most comfortable on stage in Mozart. The tenor displayed an endless and effortless amount of pianissimi, drawing the audience into what is often a very introspective role. His Entführung performance showed just how comfortable he can be on stage when he’s on top of his vocal game.

Polenzani’s Konstanze and fellow Ryan Center grad Erin Wall stepped up to the notoriously difficult challenge of Konstanze and showed that while she has the vocal acumen for the role, Italian suits her better. The Canadian soprano has few peers as a lyric soprano, but the long coloratura sections gave her trouble in both “Ach, ich liebte” and “Martern aller Arten.” Wall’s top was too often shrill during the extended runs both in her arias and in her duet with Belmonte; a return to Donna Anna and Fiordiligi will do her well.

Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak saw her Lyric debut delayed when she fell sick on opening night. She made up for it with a strong showing as Blonde, projecting a somewhat fluttery voice into the house and managing to avoid the shrill sound to which many contemporary Blonde’s succumb. Despite having little stage inspiration to work with in the second act, Kurzak’s duet with Silvestrelli had good chemistry and the soprano sang an effectively sprite “Welche Wonne, welche Lust.” As her onstage lover Pedrillo, Australian tenor Steve Davislim sang a rousing “Frisch zum Kampfe” and had great comedic timing. Working with very little scenery in the second act, Davislim managed a convincing drinking duet with Osmin and proved unique enough to stand out despite being in the shadow of Polenzani.

The other major star of the night, however, was Italian bass Andrea Silvestrelli as Osmin. Silvestrelli has defied stereotype and categorization for years, including roles like Hunding, Fasolt and Osmin into his career where few Italian basses before him have ventured far out of their native repertoire. With one of the largest voices on stage today, Silvestrelli utilizes the vast vocal palette available to him like few of his colleagues can. As the consistent comedic presence of the production, the Italian sang a commanding “Solche hergelaufne Laffen” and was a convincing actor in all ensemble scenes. His duets with Kurzak and Davislim were particularly well done, as Silvestrelli blended well with the endless lighter voices that surrounded him the entire night.

Chas Rader-Shieber’s production boasted a colorful proscenium backdrop in the first act and next to nothing in the following two. Rader-Schieber managed to avoid an excessive amount of schtick, but seemed to throw extras onto scenes when he didn’t know the best way to fill the stage. The Pasha Selim of local actor David Steiger was unusually pensive, so much so that Rader-Schieber gave Steiger an on-stage alter ego—what end this device served remains unclear, but it fortunately didn’t hamper the actor’s performance.

Credit should also go to Lyric Opera’s German coaches: all singers boasted clear diction during the spoken sections, at times even outshining Steiger (whose German could use a little work). A safe choice for Lyric’s season ending production, Entführung proved a crowd pleaser as Chicagoans enjoyed the return of native son Polenzani and the near perfect performance of Silvestrelli.

Paul Wooley



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