If all had gone in accordance to plan, Chicago Opera Theater would have introduced a uncommon efficiency of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Kashchej the Immortal” over the weekend.
But the coronavirus pandemic has pressured opera corporations round the world to readjust, which is strictly what COT did on Saturday night time, providing a “Rimsky Rebooted” live performance on-line that had been prerecorded at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. The program gave listeners a style of what we have been lacking, in the type of “Kashchej” excerpts, augmented by further repertoire. Though this was a far cry from COT music director Lidiya Yankovskaya’s authentic imaginative and prescient, it was a testament to the company’s refusal to surrender to right this moment’s tough circumstances.
The “Kashchej the Immortal” vignettes supplied the night’s spotlight, thanks to the work of mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen, baritone Will Liverman (making his COT debut) and bass Wilbur Pauley. Each sang authoritatively in a gnarly, technically difficult rating and a devilishly advanced Russian language replete with consonants (onscreen subtitles supplied translation).
In the night’s culminating “Scene with Prince and Wind Spirit,” the smoldering love duet between Rosen and Liverman finally blossomed into a plush trio together with Pauley. Though every singer poured ample ardour into Rimsky-Korsakov’s long-held notes and sinuous strains, there was no lacking the readability of their supply. Liverman’s deep-amber tones discovered counterbalance in Rosen’s pristinely ringing pitches, their contributions buttressed by Pauley’s resonant low register.
Pianist Michael Pecak, additionally making his COT debut, dispatched fistfuls of notes in an accompaniment that simply might have been mistaken for a Russian piano sonata unto itself. Amid all that keyboard exercise, Pecak persistently made music.
Mezzo Rosen preceded the finale with “Night has come,” additionally from “Kaschej the Immortal,” the singer dramatizing her character’s murderous intentions not solely with insinuating vocals however by elevating a sword for the dastardly deed. Rarely has such a weapon been extra lovingly caressed.
Russian music dominated the program, nowhere extra menacingly than in “Gamayun, Bird of Prophecy,” from Shostakovich’s “Seven Romances on Verses by Alexander Blok.” As Rosen unfurled pressing strains that amounted to an outcry, Yankovskaya produced darkish tones and unyielding martial rhythms at the piano.
And in alternatives from twentieth century Russian composer Georgy Sviridov’s “Russia Cast Adrift,” Liverman ranged from the forlorn tone of “Where Are You, O My Father’s House” to the hovering phrases of “Beyond the Hills of the Milky Way.” Yankovskaya supplied the Rachmaninoff-like accompaniment.
The program’s vocal portion opened in a rather more translucent tone, with Rosen, Liverman and Pauley in the “Tower Scene” from Debussy’s “Pelleas et Melisande.” Rosen and Liverman duetted delicately right here, their bodily distance onstage – necessitated by social distancing – an apt metaphor for the area separating the title characters.
As a type of sneak preview of COT music but to come, mezzo Rosen and pianist Pecak carried out an excerpt from Kamala Sankaram and Jerre Dye’s “Taking Up Serpents,” scheduled for its Midwest premiere subsequent February. That the firm selected to characteristic the aria “For days I’ve sat and watched him die” might have been a commentary on the world’s present pandemic woes; this startling deathbed scene unsparingly evoked grim scenes which have been in the information most of this 12 months. Singer Rosen and pianist Pecak’s efficiency was chilling, not least due to the repeated excessive pitch on the piano, designed to recommend the beeping of a coronary heart monitor.
The night opened on a brighter word, with pianist Pecak taking part in modern composer Errollyn Wallen’s “Louis’ Loops,” a piece initially penned for toy piano. Pecak underscored the level with a playful, rhythmically buoyant method. In so doing, he provided a type of overture for what can be a most interesting live performance.
“Rimsky Rebooted” tickets are $20 at cot.org/rebooted; tickets can be found to buy till 7:30 p.m. Nov. 24, and purchasers then have 72 hours from their time of buy to view.
Howard Reich is a Tribune critic.