‘The Nutcracker’ magic still exists

Cara Marie Gary (Marie) and The Joffrey Ballet. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)
Cara Marie Gary (Marie) and The Joffrey Ballet. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

4 stars

Imagine what if. What if Marie Stahlbaum’s nutcracker Christmas gift and her dream, a tale by E.T. A. Hoffmann, and adapted by Alexandre Dumas that was first presented with Tchaikovsky’s music in 1892, changed location and style.

What if it moved from a wealthy, European estate to Chicago where dreams were possible for a young girl who lived in a shack. And, what if the story kept the late 19th century date.

What was going on in Chicago that year was preparation for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition also called the Chicago World’s Fair. It celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’1492 landing in the “new world.”  Indeed, the Chicago World’s Fair dedication was in 1892 but the fair didn’t open until 1893.

Imagine all the possibilities the fair with its multi-cultural pavilions and its noted (first) Ferris Wheel as a background might hold for a ballet.

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Around town in December

Certainly Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” and Macy’s State Street holiday windows are on many folks’ traditional “do” list. But there are also other good shows to see and fun places to go as December 2018 turns into January 2019.

Cendrillon (Cinderella)at Lyric Opera. (Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago)
Cendrillon (Cinderella)at Lyric Opera. (Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago)

Shows

“Into the Woods,” Stephen Sondheim’s “not happily ever after” take on traditional fairy tales, is at Music Theater Works at Cahn Auditorium on Sheridan Road in Evanston Dec. 22-31. Music Theater Works was formerly called Light Opera Works.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is about magic, love, and in this production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, is backed by a mash-up of rock, jazz, blues and doo-wop., Dec. 6, 2018 -Jan 27, 2019.

“La Ruta” world premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre  Dec. 13-Jan. 27. At U.S.-owned factories in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, La Ruta is just a bus. But to the women who live, work and often disappear along the route, it’s much more.

Opera

“Cendrillon” (Cinderella) at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, select dates from Dec. 1 through Jan. 20.

Concerts

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass plays numbers from Holst to Tchaikovsky, 8 p.,. Dec. 19, at Chicago Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave. and the CSO does Handel’s “Messiah” at 8 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Symphony Center.

Activities

Ice skating at rink in Millennium Park (Photo courtesy of City of Chicago)
Ice skating at rink in Millennium Park (Photo courtesy of City of Chicago)

Ice skate free in Millennium Park if you bring your skates, skate rental is $13 weekdays and $15 Friday-Sunday and holidays. Skating rink is street level on Michigan Avenue below Cloud Gate (The Bean) between Washington and Madison Streets.  Hours and more information at Millennium Park.

Take a “Holiday Lights, City Lights’ bus tour with the Chicago Architecture Center, 111 E. Wacker Dr., Chicago and then check out CAC’s diorama on the main floor and skyscraper exhibit upstairs.

However, you can still find traditional holiday ideas at After Thanksgiving and Holiday shows and shopping plus light sights.

Enjoy!

Jodie Jacobs

 

Superb voices meet Verdi’s ‘Il Trovatore’ challenge

Tamara Wilson (Lenora) in Il Trovatori at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Todd Rosenberg photo)
Tamara Wilson (Lenora) in Il Trovatori at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Todd Rosenberg photo)

3.5 stars

Thanks goodness, the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “Il Trovatore” has much more going for it than the famed “Anvil Chorus” (“Vedi le fosche notturne”) in which some of the workers overdo their loud clangs, forgetting that the gypsies are singing to Verd’s music and the anvils ought to be an interesting accompaniment.

This production is an opportunity to hear Soprano Tamara Wilson, making her Lyric debut as Leonora . Wilson lets the audience know right away that she was well chosen as the doomed heroine with her “Tacea la note placida, a beautiful cavatina with its high c, and the passionate “Di tale amor che dirsi” aria made even more impressive by its trills.

It is also an opportunity to hear mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, last heard at the Lyric in as Giovanna in Donizett’s Anna Bolena in 2014. Read More

Around Town: After Thanksgiving

Once the food and fuss of Thanksgiving has been set aside in the fridge and dishwasher there should be more to holiday fun than trying brave the crowds in stores on Friday and shop on line on Monday.  There is a wonderful ballet and opera that opens, an art show full of gift ideas and a zoo that becomes magical on the weekends.

Shop the art at the One of a Kind Show. (OOAK photo)
Shop the art at the One of a Kind Show. (OOAK photo)

One of a Kind Show

Find gifts  at the One of a Kind Show at the Mart. Artists bring their sculptures, paintings, jewelry, ceramics, furniture and fashions. And vendors bring gourmet foods. The show is fun and it’s hard to leave without finding something for others or oneself.

The show runs Dec.6 through 9 at Merchandise Mart, on the north side of the Chicago River bordered by Kinzie, Wells and Orleans Streets. For tickets, hours and other information visit One of a Kind Show.

Enjoy Brookfield Zoo at Night during Holiday Magic (CZS photo)
Enjoy Brookfield Zoo at Night during Holiday Magic (CZS photo)

Brookfield Zoo Holiday Magic

Visit Brookfield Zoo when more than a million colorful lights edgbe buildings, form larger-than-life animal shapes and line the paths – thanks to Comed and Meijer. Holiday Magic is on Saturdays and Sundays of December weekends and also Wednesday through Monday of Dec. 26-31.

Tip: look for the Talking Tree and the special entertainment scheduled each weekend. Park and enter at the North Gate, 8400 31st St. (1st Avenue at 31st Street), Brookfield. For admission, hours and a complete schedule of Holiday Magic activities and entertainment call (708) 688-8000 and visit CZS Holiday Magic.

Alberto Velazauez in The Nutcracker. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)
Alberto Velazauez in The Nutcracker. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

Two December First show openings

Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” and the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “Cinderella” open Dec. 1, 2018.  “The Nutcracker” runs through Dec. 30,2018 at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on Congress Blvd. at Michigan Avenue. This is the re-imagined staging by choreographer/director Christopher Wheeldon that takes place at the 1893 World’s Fair. The music is Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s famed ballet. For tickets and more information visit Joffrey Nutcracker.

“Cinderella,” Jules Massenet” magical “Cendrillon” comes to life with funny, wicked, charming characters and delightful arias at the Lyric Opera House at six performances from Dec. 1, 2018 to Jan. 20, 2019.  For tickets and information visit Lyric Opera Cendrillon.

Jodie Jacobs

In ‘Siegfried’ playful staging mixes with outstanding voices

 

Matthias Klink (Mime) in playpen and Burkhard Fritz (Siegfried) in the third segment of Wagner's Ring cycle at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Todd Rosenberg photos)
Matthias Klink (Mime) in playpen and Burkhard Fritz (Siegfried) in the third segment of Wagner’s Ring cycle at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Todd Rosenberg photos)

3.5 stars

Opera goers who saw “Das Rheingold” in 2016 and “Die Walküre” in 2017, Lyric’s first two operas segments of Wagner’s four-part “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” will find the next segment, “Siegfried,” still has tall scenery towers bookending the stage. They deliberately remind audiences that Wagner’s The Ring cycle is theater.

It is theatrical and musical drama. But where the productions of the first two segments were highly creative but serious, “Siegfried” is playful, fanciful, serious fun.

The tone is set when a somewhat menacingly large, three-nail-claw and an eye of Fafner, the giant-turned dragon who guards the ring, appear under the curtain and draw audience laughter. The curtain then rises to reveal Siegfried’s playroom of oversized art work and children’s furniture including a tall playpen.

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A salute to the queen . . . and other fabulous women

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Cast of A Woman of Soul at Black Ensemble Theater. (Alan Davis photo)
Cast of Women of Soul at Black Ensemble Theater. (Alan Davis photo)

The Black Ensemble Theater, founded in 1976 by Jackie Taylor, has been dazzling audiences ever since with original musicals.  Its current production, “Women of Soul,” written and directed by Associate Director Daryl D. Brooks, is a tribute to many powerful female singers who cover different genres and numerous years.

The female cast includes Cynthia Carter, Robin DaSilva, Hannah Efsits, Jerica Exum, Colleen Perry, Rhonda Preston, Jessica Seals, Ariel Williams and Jayla Williams-Craig.

These nine talented women —with one wonderful male cast member, Dwight Neal who plays their various partners—portray well over fourteen famous soulful singers.

The production also includes these fabulous musicians: Robert Reddrick, Adam Sherrod, Gary Baker, Mark Miller and Dolpha S. Fowler.

Cast members give the background of each of the well-known singers plus some newly-revealed details such as how their careers blossomed and how some of their lives unfortunately ended. Then the singer portrayed performs one of her hits.

From Mahalia Jackson’s “Trouble of the World,” Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Blind” and Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby” to Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out” and Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be An Everlasting Love,” the fabulous cast practically rocks people out of their seats.

An amazing salute to female vocalists, the production also includes hits of  Whitney Houston, Anita Baker, Janet Jackson, Mavis Staples, Gladys Knight, Donna Summer, Chaka Khan and more.

The musical ends with a medley of songs giving tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, with “Ain’t No Way,” ” I Say a Little Prayer for You,” ” Respect” and “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.”

When the cast lined up in the lobby while audience members were leaving the theater, two statements came from my heart: their performances were fabulous and the closing tribute to Aretha Franklin brought joyful tears to my eyes. “Women of Soul” celebrates all women!

DETAILS: “Women of Soul” is at the Black Ensemble Theater, 4450 N. Clark St., Chicago, through Jan. 27, 2019. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (773) 769-4451 or visit Black Ensemble Theater.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

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Around town: Ethnic and scary events end the month of October

 

See Young Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein at the CSO (Photo courtesy of CSO)
See Young Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein at the CSO (Photo courtesy of CSO)

Frankenstein is back in town

See the scary “Bride of Frankenstein” and funny “Young Frankenstein” movies with background music by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave.  Oct. 26 For tickets and other information call (312) 294-3000 and visit CSO.

Or see Remy Bumppo’s scary production of Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein,” Oct. 28-30 (Oct. 27, 27 and 31 are sold out) at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. For tickets and other information call (773) 975.8150 or visit RemyBumppo.

 

Historic African American Design exhibit

“2019 African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce and the Politics of Race” opens Oct. 27, at the Chicago Cultural Center. The exhibit runs the advertising gamut from illustration, cartoons, and graphic design to architectural signage, product and exhibit design and sign painting.

Located up on the fourth floor and continuing   through Mar. 3, 2019, the exhibiti s part of the current Art Design Chicago events that explore the city’s art and design history. Art Design Chicago is partially funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.

The Chicago Cultural Center is at 78 E. Washington St. For more information visit City of Chicago.

 

Historic designs by African Americans on exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center. (Photo courtesy of City of Chicago)
Historic designs by African Americans on exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center. (Photo courtesy of City of Chicago)

 

Hobnob with mummies

The Oriental Institute, an internationally known center for study of ancient Middle Eastern civilizations, is holding Mummy Tours every half hour Oct 27 from 4 to 7 p.m. Space is limited so registration is  needed. Admission is free but adults are asked for a $5 donation.  The event also includes Mummy Simulations. Tickets to the Mummy Simulations (also every half hour) are free to adults, $3 per child, and can be purchased at the event.  For registration and other information visit Oriental Institute. .For questions call the OI Public Education Office at (773) 702-9507. The Oriental Institute is at 1155 E. 58th St. on the University of Chicago campus..

 

Dia De Los Muertos

Maxwell Street Market is celebrating the Day of the Dead Oct. 28 from 10:30 a.m. to-2 p.m. with the dedication of a surrealist Mexican mural, pumpkin carving. An ofrenda (altar) workshop, other arts and crafts and live music. The Maxwell Street Market is at 800 S. Des Plaines Ave. For event times and more information visit Maxwell Street Market.

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

Idomeneo makes awkward deal with Greek god

RECOMMENDED

 

Matthew Polenzani and cast of Mozart's Idomeneo at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Kyle Flubacker photo)
Matthew Polenzani and cast of Mozart’s Idomeneo at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Kyle Flubacker photo)

If you have ever been caught in a storm while sailing or found yourself on a rough boat ride in Lake Michigan you can understand why Idomeneo is ready to bargain with Neptune in return for a safe harbor after being tempest tossed while returning from the Trojan War.

Neptune, willing to make a deal with Idomeneo says he will assure his safe arrival at shore but in return the hero must sacrifice the first person he sees.

Like many mythological Greek gods of yore Neptune seems to really enjoy some irony. As it turns out the first person Idomeneo spots is his very own son Idamante. Ah! The stuff great opera is made of.

This Lyric Opera of Chicago’s revival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Idomeneo with a stellar cast of singers and awesome orchestra led by Music Director Sir Andrew Davis, is indeed lyrical.Read More

Lyric Opera back in business

Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Maria Agresta (Mimi) meet when she comes to his garret in La boheme. (Todd Rosenberg photo)
Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Maria Agresta (Mimi) meet when she comes to his garret in La boheme. (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Opera lovers expecting to see the second performance of Puccini’s “La boheme” and the opening of Mozart’s “Idomeneo” last week found that they had to reschedule because the Chicago Federation of Musicians Local #10-208 (CFM) went out on strike last Tuesday. The notes of contention were salary and number of performances.

But after a short week of back and forth negotiations, CFM and the Lyric Opera of Chicago have reached a contract agreement that goes through the 2020-2021 season.

As a result of the compromise, the Lyric Orchestra receives a 5.6 percent weekly salary increase over three years, the orchestra will be reduced by four instead of five musicians beginning next season, the main portion of the opera season will be 22 weeks, instead of 24 and Wagner’s “Ring Cycle will include five additional weeks.

Lyric has added gwo performances of La Boheme in January 2019 to make up for the canceled performances. They are Jan. 29 at 2 p.m. and Jan. 31 at 7 p.m.

Ticket holders to cancelled performances can exchange them this week. New tickets to the added performance go on sale to the public Oct. 19.
But tickets for Puccini’s “La Boheme” Wednesday performance and the opening of Mozart’s “Idomeneo”  Thursday are now on sale as are other operas. For tickets and more information call (312)827-5600 and visit Lyric Opera.

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

Extraordinary ‘La bohème’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Maria Agresta (Mimi) meet when she comes to his garret. (Todd Rosenberg photo)
Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Maria Agresta (Mimi) meet when she comes to his garret. (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème”opened the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 64th season Oct. 6. And what an opening it was.

Not only is the set more creatively stylized from the one opera goers have seen at the Chicago Opera House for more than 40 years, Puccini’s lyrical music and the drama in Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa’s libretto were also given more depth by English director Richard Jones and Venezuelan-Swiss conductor Domingo Hindoyan then in earlier Lyric productions.

Based on Henri Murger’s  “Scènes de la vie de bohème,”the playful interactions of poet Rodolfo (American tenor Michael Fabiano) and his friends, painter Marcello (American baritone Zachary Nelson), musician Schaunard (Puerto Rican baritone Ricardo José Rivera) and philosopher Colline (Romanian bass Adrian  Sampetrean), are emphasized as are Marcello’s  temperament and Rodolfo’s multi-faceted character.

But what really made the opening a “happening” was Fabiano’s soaring delivery of each aria from “Che gelida manina” to “La più divina delle poesia,” to  “Ebenne no, non lo so.”

Thank you, Lyric, for introducing this amazing tenor and his powerfully rich voice to Chicago audiences. Fabiano has already wowed audiences with his Rodolfo at London’s Royal Opera House in 2017 and at the Met earlier in 2018.

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