Tenors Al Fresco: Brownlee and Spyres in Concert for Opera Philadelpha (for Parterre Box)

CAMERON KELSALL: Step aside, Mary and Ethel… there’s a new mutual admiration society in town. I mean that literally. Although Lawrence Brownlee and Michael Spyres titled their joint concert Amici e rivali—or “friends and rivals,” also the name of their 2020 album of Rossini arias and scenes—there was little evidence of cutthroat, adversarial tenor behavior on display at the Mann Center. If anything, the pair seemed absolutely jovial: they patted backs, high-fived and if there was any sense of competition, it was delivered in a mocking, collegial way. As it should be. These are two singers at the top of their game, as this concert showed, virtually peerless in music as punishing as it is pretty. At 48 and 41, respectively, neither shows much evidence of road weariness, although their voices are clearly still evolving, and both are eminently comfortable feeding off the energy of a receptive audience. That was the other mutual admiration society: After months of screens and stereos, the large audience fielded by Opera Philadelphia for this one-off performance seemed especially appreciative and receptive, a hopeful sign for the season to come even as Delta variant fears remain ever-present. David, I think you know I’m not the greatest fan of bel canto, but even I have to admit that much of this program thrilled me.

DAVID FOX: Well, I am a bel canto lover, as you know, Cameron. In fact, hearing a 78 recording my parents still owned of Amelita Galli-Curci singing “Una voce poco fa” imprinted itself on me when I was five or six years old. It was likely my first exposure to opera, and I was instantly hooked. Even more than that early revelation, this concert brought back another formative moment for me—as a teenager, buying an LP of Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne in duets from Semiramide. Brownlee and Spyres at their best delivered a similar level of mind-blowing virtuosity—who could even imagine that voices can do that?? And the material here was nonpareil for showcasing their gifts, though it did feel less like a dinner than a buffet of exquisite desserts. Semiramide is, of course, Rossini—as was most of the program here (though there were delightful side trips to Bellini, Thomas and Adam). I can’t hear his music now without smiling as I remember a dear friend’s droll remark that Rossini always makes him think of Jane Austen’s bon mot: “You have delighted us long enough.” But for me, that delight is considerable—and when delivered with this level of skill and charisma, I’m happy to have it go on for a long, long time…

Click here to read the full post at Paterre Box.

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