When it was formed in the mid-80s, the Chicago Sinfonietta was fairly unusual in the midwest as one of a handful of rainbow-coalition orchestras. Now, of course, even the slow-moving Chicago Symphony Orchestra can boast ethnic inclusiveness, but the Sinfonietta is still a step ahead of its senior colleagues in championing worthy nonmainstream composers and soloists on the rise. Its program this weekend features both. Soprano Harolyn Blackwell got her lucky break four seasons back when she subbed for Kathleen Battle in a Metropolitan Opera engagement–and garnered more enthusiastic notices than the aging diva might have. She’s been a Met regular ever since, singing lead roles in operas by Verdi and Mozart; she’s also been cast in Broadway revivals of Porgy and Bess and Candide. Her ascending-star status was recently affirmed by her CD of Bernstein songs (BMG), on which her acrobatic and expressive voice swoops seamlessly from exuberance to ennui. Blackwell’s concert dates in Chicago have been rare, although she’s done minor roles at the Lyric. As the Sinfonietta’s guest she’ll take on not only Mozart’s coloratura showcase Exsultate, jubilate, whose last movement bedazzles with a cascade of hallelujahs, but also an aria from Ernestine, a forgotten opera by Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Though imitative of prevailing 18th-century styles, his writing shows clever craftsmanship and an ear for emotional nuance; but as the son of a French bureaucrat and an African woman, Saint-Georges was denied a royal appointment. This dramatic aria owes quite a bit to Gluck, yet it’s affecting in its own right. Another pioneer on the program is Mexican nationalist Silvestre Revueltas, whose symphonic suite Redes, to be accompanied by a slide show by the Mexican Fine Arts Center in Pilsen, depicts the ebb and flow of life in a fishing village. The conductor is music director Paul Freeman, a boring baton wielder whose skills are no longer suitable for this accomplished orchestra. Sunday, 2:30 PM, Lund Auditorium, Dominican University, 7900 W. Division, River Forest; 312-857-1062. Monday, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-857-1062 or 312-294-3000.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Harolyn Blackwell/ Paul Freeman photos.