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Songs on heat and passion of ‘Sun and Love’ billed for Lyric’s Ryan singers, new maestro

Submitted by on Feb 20, 2021 – 8:54 am

A cameraman framed pianist Enrique Mazzola with baritone LeRoy Davis for Lyric Opera’s virtual concert “Sole e Amore,” which begins streaming Feb. 21. (Photos by Kyle Flubacker)

Preview: Music director-designate Enrique Mazzola, at piano, will lead training center artists in virtual concert on ‘a very Italian topic.’
By Lawrence B. Johnson

It may be a while yet before opera buffs can reconvene to take in Puccini, Donizetti and Verdi at Lyric Opera of Chicago. But in these pandemic-distanced times, the company has cued up an off-beat reminder of what we’re missing – with a pre-recorded virtual concert of love songs you don’t know by composers you love.

Lyric Opera music director-designate Enrique Mazzola leads “a journey into the song world of major Italian opera composers.”

Conductor Enrique Mazzola, Lyric’s new music director-designate, presides at the piano over a selection of these rarities sung by the young professionals in training at Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center. Bannered as “Sole e Amore” – Sun and Love – the free program streams for the first time at 6 p.m. Feb. 21. For details on how and where to watch, click here..

“It’s more than a concert,” declared Mazzola by phone from his home in Montepulciano, Italy. “It’s a musical experience, a journey into the song world of major Italian opera composers. There are no arias, but what the Germans call lieder – although in some cases you may recognize the first sketch of something that later became an aria. In visual art, it’s like a pencil sketch that becomes a fresco.”

Mazzola, who sees the bright talents of the Ryan Center participants as a focal point of his impending directorship, said he was mulling a way to do something with the singers now when he hit upon the idea of a program of songs by Italian opera’s leading lights. For source material, all he had to do was pull scores from the shelves of his studio in Montepulciano.

Mezzo-soprano Kathleen Felty sings with fellow Ryan Center artists in the sun-and-love program.

“I’ve been an avid collector of vocal scores since I was 15,” he said. “When I see something unique, I buy it. In a bookshop in Hanover, I found a Mascagni lieder album printed at the end of the 1890s. It’s here with a collection of Puccini songs and others by Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi.

“When the idea began to come together and I really began digging, I found maybe 200 songs, which I cut down to 20 or so for our program. But there will also be a surprise. You have to watch the concert to find out about that!”

Tenor Martin Luther Clark is a first-year member of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center training program.

The maestro decided on the theme of love – with all its heat, tenderness and passion – because it is universal, timeless and “a very Italian topic.” (Mazzola did not laugh audibly but I’m sure he was smiling.) “We will be exploring the meaning of love,” he said, “across various periods from Bellini to the verismo of Mascagni.

“Some of the songs are melancholy, others are funny. Together, they reveal the many colors of how Italians express love in music. There is darkness here, too. One song, by Verdi, is about girl who is seduced and abandoned. All that remains of her is a cross in a field, without a name.”

Mazzola said he was doubly impressed when he came to Chicago and discovered the Ryan Center – not only by the quality of the dozen young artists in this pre-professional training program, but also by Lyric’s commitment to provide such an opportunity for young singers to work with celebrated conductors and singers from all over the world.

“I will always personally support the Ryan Opera Center,” he said. “I want to be very near to the young artist. They are super motivated.”

Everyone, the conductor said, is waiting for opera to restart. “We grew up to make music. To be silent during this pandemic period is very difficult.”

Like Mazzola, Ryan Center soprano Maria Novella Malfatti meets the pandemic with a smile.

Mazzola acknowledged that his own plans remain uncertain: “I’m scheduled to conduct two different orchestras in March, as well as (Donizetti’s) ‘Anna Bolena’ in Amsterdam and (Verdi’s) ‘Luisa Miller’ at Glyndebourne. Yet we don’t know if the concert we have in 10 days will happen or not. We live with this ticking, ticking, ticking – watching as our plans are slowly canceled.

“But my mood is always optimistic. I am a smiling artist.”

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