If you knew before seeing “Don Giovanni” (Il dissouto punita, ossia il Don Giovanni), the outstanding production now at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, translates as “The Rake Punished, namely Don Giovanni (also The Libertine Punished), you would have some idea that the opera was not about a lover but about a powerful man who felt entitled to take sexual liberties.
However, directed by Robert Falls, artistic director at Goodman Theatre, the Lyric production skillfully makes the comic moments funnier, the sexual attempts more offensive, the violence more dramatic and the punishment more tumultuous.
Aside from the ending (no alert here) what particularly makes this production worth the three hour, 20 minute sitting time, is the cast. All are excellent actors and superb vocalists.
Every season opera houses around the world include at least one story of murder and often, its consequences. But whether clothed in lyrical or dramatic music by famous composers, their librettos typically focus on mythology or historic tales. Those productions seldom produce the kind of gut-wrenching reactions and post opera discussions sparked by “Dead Man Walking,” now at the Lyric Opera of Chicago through Nov. 22, 2019.
Written by composer Jake Heggie and librettist/playwright Terrence McNally and first produced by the San Francisco Opera at the War Memorial Opera House in October, 2000, the opera is based on a 1993 non-fiction book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun.
Sister Helen, a member of Sisters of Saint Joseph of Medaille in New Orleans, was against capital punishment and served as a spiritual adviser to two convicted murderers on Death Row. The phrase “dead man walking” was commonly used in American prisons for a man who received the death penalty for his crime.
Heggie and McNally’s opera is not about the innocence of murderer Joseph De Rocher, dramatically portrayed by bass baritone Ryan McKinny. He is convicted of raping and then brutally stabbing to death a teenaged girl. His younger brother, Anthony De Rocher, received a life sentence for participating in the crime and shooting the girl’s boyfriend.
The opera, primarily taking place in the early 1980s at the Louisiana State Penitentiary known as Angola for its site on the former Angola Plantation in Louisiana’s West Felicianna Parish, starts with the murders.
Sister Helen, soprano Patricia Racette, is leading youngsters in a spiritual piece, “Gather Us Around, ” before she announces she has to go to Angola because Joseph who had been corresponding with her, asked to meet, face to face.
Elaine J. McCarthy projections take Sister Helen and audiences on a long, hot drive to Angola. Some comedic relief comes in the form of a motorcycle cop who stops her for speeding, then tears up the ticket when he learns she is a nun.
There are a few other comedic moments but set against Michael McGarty’s magnificent set design, the opera really is about the interaction between Sister Helen and Joseph.
Audiences do hear the heartbreak of the teens’ parents, the Harts and the Bouchers, at a board hearing. And at that hearing, Joseph’s mother (mezzo soprano Susan Graham) pleads for her son’s life.
“Dead Man Walking” does not excuse or rationalize a horrible murder. The book and the opera is about crime and punishment, guilt and redemption.
A number of factors make the Lyric production particularly powerful. Racette and McKinny perfectly act out McNally’s cut-to-the-heart libretto. Heggie’s dramatic music is well-interpreted by conducted by Nicole Paiement of San Francisco’s Opera Parallele.
Leonard Foglia’s directing and staging with Brian Nason’s lighting and Roger Gans sound design create an edgy emotionalism that leaves the audience saying wow as they exit.
“Dead Man Walking” is at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago, on select dates through Nov. 22, 2019. Running time: 2 hours, 55 minutes. For tickets and other information call (312) 827-5600 or visit Lyric Opera/Dead Man Walking.
Love, lust, and quest for power lead to despair and death in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Luisa Miller,” directed by Francesca Zambello at Lyric Opera of Chicago.
The seemingly outlandish story based on the play “Kabale und Liebe” (Intrigue and Love) by Friedrich von Schiller, none-the-less may resonate with modern audiences familiar with such television programs as “American Greed” and “Dateline” that often have devious plots designed and perpetrated by individuals to preserve financial power or exert influence over those they purport to love.
In this case, Rudolfo (Joseph Calleja), the son of Count Walter (Christian Van Horn) falls in love with the peasant girl, Luisa Miller, (Krassimira Stoyanova). However, Count Walter’s aide-de-camp, Wurm, (Soloman Howard) also has designs on the local beauty resulting in love triangle number one.
Luisa’s father (Quinn Kelsey) feels there is something odd about Rudolfo who has been hanging around the village under the pseudo name Carlo.
Meanwhile, knowing that the Count was planning to wed his son to the local Duchess Federica (Alisa Kolosova) who has just inherited a fortune after her father’s death, tattletale Wurm tells Count Walter how Rudolfo has fallen in love with a common village girl.
The alliance between Rudolfo and Federica would increase the power and influence of the family, and secure his son’s future, resulting in love triangle number two.
The Count orders his son to marry Federica while Wurm imprisons Luisa’s fathe. Then coerces her into signing a declaration stating that she never loved Rudolfo but instead loves Wurm in order to gain her father’s release and save him from death.
In her despair, she begins to write a letter to Rudolfo suggesting that he meet her at midnight when the two will die together rather than submit to the unhappy fate that has been thrust upon them.
Finding the letter, Luisa’s father, persuades her that in the morning the two of them will simply leave town together because the death of his daughter, and seemingly only offspring, would cause him too much anguish.
During the night while her father is asleep, Rudolfo comes to Luisa whom he tricks into drinking poison. He has taken it as well out of revenge for her recanting her love. Thus is the murder suicide that actually fulfills Luisa’s original plan for them.
The couple reconciles and Rudolfo manages to curse his father and mortally shoot Wurm before the poison takes its full effect.
There is little to say about the spectacular quality of the entire ensemble except to add that Stoyanova as Luisa delivers at every opportunity.
Perhaps part of the popularity of Verdi operas is that they are very accessible to the general public because the music is not overly complex. Though this opera does not have any of the popular famous arias such as “La donna e mobile” or “Celesta Aida,” it follows musical lines that are familiar to the ear.
If you are a lover of mid-century American musicals, I think you will find the structure of Verdi’s operas to have a familiar form.
Reflective of opera’s romantic period which introduces more theatricality into the productions, we can enjoy how the composer uses what have become traditional musical dynamics to convey the emotions of the characters in their over-the-top dramatic situations.
For the singers in this production, it is something of an athletic event as they have very little rest and are seemingly on stage all of the time. They are often performing complex imbroglios that at times seem akin to a wrestling match or singing competition.
It has been said that Verdi hoped to break out of the imposed traditional operatic format that for instance dictated that the production begin with a chorus number.
Interestingly, it was my impression that the opening of “Luisa Miller,” though entertaining and important in terms of setting the context and introducing the characters, has an obligatory quality that seems out of place when compared to the more intimate aspects of the rest of the production.
Perhaps, like the audiences in Verdi’s day, we might feel cheated if we did not have an opportunity to hear, in this case, the exceptional Lyric Chorus. They do appear again but actually each time it seems a bit out-of-step with the story.
Of course part of the reason to visit Lyric Opera Chicago is the opportunity to experience their fine orchestra conducted by Enrique Mazzola and led by Music Director Sir Andrew Davis. It is possible that the overture alone is worth the price of admission.
The scenery, painting, construction design and costumes used in this production are the property of the San Francisco Opera.
The primary scenic element, a large painting suspended from a crane in front of a curved panoramic modular background has an overall post-modern quality even though it is in a muted-toned, 19th century pastoral landscape style.
A standout for the costume department was a dramatic profusion of red riding apparel for the equestrian scene as well as the variation on a theme of green uniforms provided to the gentlemen of Count Walter’s court.
Details: “Luisa Miller” is at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago through Oct.31, 2019. Running time is about 2 hours 45 minutes with one intermission. For tickets or other information call (312) 827-5600 or visit lyricopera.org/Luisa .
What a joy to see and hear an opera that pokes fun at opera but does so using top tier voices and leads who know how to act.
And so Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its 2019-20 season with Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” a wildly popular opera buffa.
After first debuting as “Almaviva, o sia L’inutile precauzione” in 1816 in Rome, the opera took on the title of The Barber of Seville, or the Useless Precaution” with an Italian libretto by Cesare Sterbini that is based on the 1975 comedy in French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais’ trilogy.
Presented as a Rob Ashford production with a revival under the direction of Tara Faircloth, the scenes move from one delightful, chuckle moment to the next beginning with when Figaro has trouble getting rid of musicians asked to help Count Almaviva serenade the beautiful Rosina to when Almaviva and Rosina try to touch fingers in the balcony scene.
To people who know that Chicago’s Lyric Opera famed Music Director, Sir Andrew Davis, has been talking about retiring, the news announced Sept. 12, 2019 that he will do so after the 2021 season did not likely come as a surprise.
What did seem to delight donors, board, staff, chorus members and other Lyric supporters and may have been a surprise, was that the baton will be passed to Italian conductor Enrique Mazzola who will be moving to Chicago as music director designate before he takes up his post in the 2021-22 season.
“I love Chicago,” said Mazzola when introduced during the Lyric’s announcement.
He also revealed he loved deep dish pizza, baseball and the Riverwalk. A Spanish-born Italian conductor particularly known for his interpretations of bel canto operas, Mazzola explained his liking for pizza as “I’m basically Italian.”
Feted in the Lyric’s lobby with wine and cheese before the hall opened, the audience was encouraged to bring their glasses inside.. Thus, several glasses were raised when General Director Antony Freud offered a double toast to Davis and Mazzola.
Davis is currently readying Rossini’s The Barber of Seville to open Lyric’s 65th season, Sept. 28. He will also be conducting Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades and the four operas of Wagner’s Ring cycle (Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung).
“I will have been here for 21 years,” Davis said. “It’s time for me to give myself a little more free time. People say to me, ‘You know, there are other things in life.’ I said, ‘Really?'”
His parting words before sitting back down was “I love this company.” Davis will be back as a guest conductor.
Mazzola will soon begin rehearsals for Verdi’s Luisa Miller, opening Oct. 12. He was Principal Guest Conductor at Deutsche Oper Berlin for the 2018/19 season).
Think “The Music Man.” Then add such shows as “Come From Away,” “Frozen” and “Hamilton.” But as the guy on TV says, “Wait, there’s more.” Add in opera star Maria Callas to make three spectacular evenings – one in July, another in August and the third one in early September.
“The Music Man”
Goodman Theatre and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) has a double bill of a short performance by “The Music Man” cast members followed by a screening of the movie featuring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones.
When: July 23, 6:30 p.m. remarks, 6:34 p.m. performance and 6:45 p.m. film.
Where: The Jay Pritzker Pavilion and The Great Lawn at Millennium Park at Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue.
Broadway In Chicago Summer Concert (Coming shows peek)
Co-sponsored by DCASE and ABC 7, several shows from Broadway In Chicago’s 2019-2020 season will be live in concert including “The Phantom of the Opera, The Band’s visit, Summer: the Donna summer Musical, “Once on this Island, “My Fair Lady”, “Mean Girls,” Hamilton” Fronzen, “Dear Evan Hansen and “Come from Away.”
When: Aug. 12 at 6:15 p.m
Where: Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park at 201 E. randolphg st.
Some of Callas’ greatest performances have been digitally re-mastered using state-of-the-art 3D hologram technology by Base Hologram Productions. They will be backed by the Lyric Opera Orchestra conducted by Elmear Noone.
When: Sept 7, 2019 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive.
Co-presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago and Live Nation.
Located on the city’s popular Navy Pier, CST is currently doing “Six” a fun, pop-concert-style musical about Henry VIII’s wives that has been so popular it’s been extended through Aug. 4. Also there is the family musical “The Wizard of Oz” which opens July 6 and continues through Aug. 25, 2019.
The theatre is on Dearborn Street at Randolph Street near downtown attractions such as Millennium Park and the city’s Piccasso. Shows are on stage in the Albert Theatre and smaller Owen Theatre.
Currently, Goodman is doing “The Music Man” helmed by famed director Mary Zimmerman, June 29-Aug. 11, 2019 (Albert). Then “Hanna H. is Sept. 6-Oct. 6 (Owen) and “Bernhardt/Hamlet,” Sept. 14- Oct. 20 (Albert). “A Christmas Carol,” a family holiday favorite, continues for its 42nd annual production Nov. 16 – Dec. 29, 2019 (Albert).
The Lyric Opera House. a historic building on north Wacker Drive at Madison Street, will resound with the sounds of Rossini and Verdi, Wagner and (Jake) HeggieL as the 2019-2020 season mixes the popular with the provocative.
Opening the season is Rossini’s popular “The Barber of Seville” Sept. 28-Oct. 27 followed by Verdi’s “Luisa Miller”Oct. 12-31. Then Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s unusual “Dead Man Walking” opera is Nov. 2-11. The series returns to the classics with Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” Nov. 14-Dec. 8 but offers a gorgeous vocal treat with Sondra Radvanovsky singing the finales of Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux in a semi-staged performance of Donizetti “The Three Queens” Dec 1-7, 2019.
Now located in the Ruth Page Center, Porchlight will open the 2019-20 season with “Sings: 25 years of Porchlight,” a benefit concert Aug. 5 that celebrates its past 25 years on Chicago’s musical theater scene.
A leading lady of Chgo theater, Hollis Resnik, makes her Porchlight debut in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard” Oct. 11- Nov. 24. However, there will also be a quick revisit to Irving Berlin’s “Cal Me Madam,” Nov. 20-21. Next is the Ruffians’ “Burning Bluebeard” Dec 13-27.
Fans of opera, American soprano Renée Fleming and the Lyric Opera of Chicago were treated to an extraordinary program March 23 to honor Fleming on the 25th anniversary of her Lyric debut in1993 with Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah.”
Chicago audiences may have heard her in other operatic roles such as Marguerite in “Faust” in the 1995-6 season and more recently as Hanna Glawari, in “the Merry Widow” in the 2016-17 season.
But what the program and Lyric President Anthony Freud mentioned during the concert is that there is a lot more to Fleming’s accomplishments than her vocal talent. As an advisor and innovator of public programs through the Lyric in Chicago and through the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Fleming has been behind several outreach initiatives.
Arguably less known is that she was on the soundtrack of Best Picture and Best soundtrack 2018 Academy awards for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “The Shape of Water,” is a 16-time Grammy nominee (four-time winner) and is on the movie soundtrack of the “Lord of the Ring” and “The Return of the King.”
Hosted by Tituss Burges, the program also featured well-known opera stars soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, tenor Lawrence Brownlee, baritone Quinn Kelsey, and bass-baritones Eric Owens and Christian Van Horn, plus members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center. Patrick summers conducted the Lyric Opera Orchestra.
Fleming started out with what some consider her trademark piece of “Porgi amor” from Mozart’s “the Marriage of Figaro.”
Other pieces in the first part of the program were Eric Owens doing “O tu Palermo “ from Verdi’s “I vespri sicilarni,” Radvanovsky singing “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca,” Brownlee doing “Ahmes amis…” from Donizetti’s ”La fille du regiment,” Van Horn singing “Eddo il mondo” from “Boito’s La Mefistofele” and the Ryan Opera Center artists doing Faltaff’s “Un oro e terminiam la scena…”
Radvanovsky sang an aria from “Susannah” later in the concert. Then, to herald her role in a special musical production in December, Fleming did “Fable,” from Adam Guettel’s “The Light in the Piazza.” Tickets to the run, Dec. 14-29, 2019, go on sale March 28, 2019. For tickets and more information visit LyricOpera/light.
As a bonus Saturday, many of the designer gowns worn by Fleming were on display at the Lyric. For the concert she wore a navy tulle gown designed by Carolina Herrera and a rose-gold sequined gown by Vivienne Westwood.
Another interesting not is that the acoustic Pritzker Family Concert Shell designed by Studio Gang for Lyric’s 60th Anniversary Gala Concert in 2014 was the backdrop for Saturday’s concert.
Summer events are not as far away as we may think when it comes to planning which Ravinia Festival concerts we want to attend. The Ravinia organization just released its summer schedule and it is jammed with pop, classic and rock concerts.
Lionel Richie June 11-12, Buddy Guy June 14, Tony Bennett June 21, Jennifer Hudson July 14 to Gershwin Concerto in F July 13, Renée Fleming July 28, Ringo Starr and the Beach Boys Aug. 3 and Sting Aug. 23, there’s something for everybody. Of course there’s the Tchaikovsky spectacular, 1812 Overture Aug 18
So the first question is where to see the schedule.
Go to Season at a Glanceto print an easy to copy Ravinia program to put on the bulletin board (or into your mobile devise). For an easy to read schedule visit Ravinia.
Next question is when tickets are available.
According to the Ravinia website, the first opportunity goes to patron and higher donors, March 19–28. Next, affiliate donors have access to tickets April 22–25. Then, tickets are available to Friend donors April 26–28 and Bravo and Encore donors can order Lawn tickets April 29–30.
Tickets will be available to the public beginning May 7 for the May/June/July concerts. Then the tickets open for August/September concerts on May 8. Visit Ticket Info.
No, you don’t have to plan what to bring now but you might want to decide if you and family or friends are going to try one of Ravinia’s dining-in or take-out options.
Just reading over all the choices at the Ravinia Market, the new Lawn Bar, the Park View and the Tree Top makes me want to try all of them just to see which I prefer and experience something different than “I will bring dessert.”
Finally, print out the schedule or put dates on the calendar so you don’t miss the concert you really want to see.
The Lyric Opera’s “Ariodante” by George Frideric Handel (of “Messiah” fame) satisfies the sensibilities of a modern audience.
The storyline of this eighteenth century Baroque opera has elements familiar to a twenty-first century TV audience including love, sex, drugs, infidelity, deception and a missing person. Oh! and puppets.
The plot-line would benefit from a chart. But essentially, Ginevra and Ariodante are in love and soon to be married, however, the villainous Polinesso is also in love with Ginevra who incidentally, can’t stand the sight of him.