Concert saluted singer Renée Fleming

Renee Fleming at the Lyric of Chicago in an anniversary concert. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)
Renee Fleming at the Lyric of Chicago in an anniversary concert. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

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.

Jodie Jacobs

 

Ravinia Festival schedule is out

 

Ravinia Festival. (J Jacobs photo)
Ravinia Festival. (J Jacobs photo)

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 Glance  to 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.

Ravina Festival is at 418 Sheridan Road, Highland Park, IL

Jodie Jacobs

 

‘Ariodante:’ love and lust, deception and trust

 

'Ariodante'in a shadow-box type set woks well at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Photo by Cory Weaver)
‘Ariodante’ in a shadow-box type set woks well at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Photo by Cory Weaver)

4 Stars

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.

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Shagimuratova worth the ticket to ‘La traviata’

L-R: Giorgio Berrugi/Alfredo, Mario Rojas/Gastone, Albina Shagimuratova/Violetta -- in La Traviata at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)
L-R: Giorgio Berrugi/Alfredo, Mario Rojas/Gastone, Albina Shagimuratova/Violetta — in La Traviata at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

3 stars

Giuseppe Verdi’s music always gets four stars and played by the Lyric Opera orchestra conducted by Michael Christie, the popular La traviata, certainly is no exception.

The music and Francesco Maria Plave’s libretto  beautifully express the emotions of fun-loving, delightful, but doomed (think Camillia ) courtesan Violetta.

Gloriously sung by Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova, her “È strano! … Ah, fors’ è lui…” (“Ah, perhaps he is the one”) and her famed, declared choice of freedom “Sempre libera” (“Always free”) are opera highlights. Just hearing her is worth the trip.

La traviata also has one of opera’s great drinking songs. Alfredo Germont, who loves Violetta toasts her with the crowd at her party in “libiamo ne’ lieti calici” (“Let’s drink from the joyful cups”).

Italian Giorgio Berruci making his Lyric debut as Alfredo, is OK, but he doesn’t have the full, soaring voice of other tenors who have played the role. However, as the opera ends and the lovers are reunited though Violetta is fading away, their  “Parigi, o cara, noi lasceremo,” (“We will leave Paris, O beloved”) and their “Gran Dio!…morir sì giovane” (“Great God!…to die so young”) are beautiful and touching.Read More

Emotional and explosive ‘Elektra’

Nina Stemme as Elektra at Lyric Opera of chicago. (Photo credit Cory Weaver and Lyric)
Nina Stemme as Elektra at Lyric Opera of chicago. (Photo credit Cory Weaver and Lyric)

3 1/2 stars

A stormy Nina Stemme filled the Lyric Opera House with a powerful interpretation of Richard Strauss’ “Elektra,” Feb. 6.

Known to the Met and European house for her vibrant vocals in Wagner and Strauss operas the Swedish soprano is making her Lyric debut this month as the tragic Elektra whose only motive for living is to avenge the death of her father, Agamemnon.

Stemme not only brings the expected explosive passion to the role, she also tempers the portrayal with wistfulness and contemplative anguish.

A one-act opera, there are no gaps for well-deserved applause and bravo! after each of Stemme’s arias.

The other two important female roles are Elektra’s sister, Chrysothemis, sung beautifully by acclaimed South African soprano Elza Van Den Heever and their mother, Klyamnestra, expressively sung by internationally known American mezzo-soprano Michaela Matens.

The two male characters vital to the story, Elektra’s, long lost brother, Orest, and the queen’s lover, Aegisth, don’t appear until the end. Scottish bass-baritone Iain Patterson who was recently Creonte in Medea at the Berlin State Opera sounded right at home in this dark mythological tale as was American tenor Robert Brubaker, a frequent artist at the Met.

Michaela Martens as Klytamnestra with confidante Whitney Morrison and train bearer Emily Pogorelc in Elektra at Lyric Opera of chicago (photo by Cory Weaver)
Michaela Martens as Klytamnestra with confidante Whitney Morrison and train bearer Emily Pogorelc in Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago (photo by Cory Weaver)

Directed by Nicolas Sandys as a revival of Director David McVicar’s production, the 2019 “Elektra”  is not a stand and sing to the audience opera. Instead, it is dramatic theater that combines exceptional singing and acting  with Strauss’ turbulent music played by the Lyric Opera Orchestra conducted by Donald Runnicles.

What audiences may not recall from this tale based on Sophocles’ Electra, is that the queen was enraged by Agamemnon’s supposedly appeasing a goddess by sacrificing another daughter, Iphigenia, before he left for Troy.  But no matter the motivation, Greek mythology makes potent opera.

My only problem with the production was the costumes of Klyamnestra and her court. The rubble in and around the courtyard where the action takes place and the ruinous state of the palace,  itself, seem to symbolize decay. I got that. However, the queen and her court appear to be over grotesquely costumed in apparel from a 1931 “Cabaret” nightmare so they distract from the opera’s action.

DETAILS: “Elektra” is at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. WackerDrive, Chicago, through Feb. 22, 2019. Running time: 1 hr, 40 min. with no intermission. For tickets and other information visit Lyric Opera.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Delightful ‘La boheme’ revisited

Parisian street scene in "La boheme at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Todd Rosenberg photo)
Parisian street scene in “La boheme at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Todd Rosenberg photo)

3 stars

Opera lovers who hoped to see “La boheme,” Lyric’s attractively updated version  directed by Richard Jones when the 2018-19 season opened in the fall, still have a few opportunities.

After the musician’s strike cancelled one performance, this fresh version of Giacomo Puccini’s popular opera is back with more January dates added to the schedule.

The new production is beautifully sung, featuring Zachary Nelson (Marcello), Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Maria Agresta (Mimi). In the performance I saw, Ann Toomey (Musetta) stood in for Danielle De Niese who had a cold.

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Around town: Not gone yet

 

With everything you have to do, places to go, people to visit there might not have been time to fit in everything you hoped to see by Dec. 31. No worries. Some of the fun shows, exhibits and festivals will still be around in January, 2019.

Siobhan Stagg in Cendrillon at the Lyric Opera
Siobhan Stagg in Cendrillon at the Lyric Opera

Shows

Lyric Opera’s delightful “Cendrillon” (Cinderella ) runs through Jan. 20 and its exceptional “La boheme” continues at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago, through Jan. 31. For tickets and more information  visit Lyric Opera.

Steadfast tin Soldier at Lookinggglass Theatre in the Chicago Water Works at 821 N. Michicagn Ave. runs through Jan. 13. For tickets and other information visit Lookingglass.

Women of Soul” at the Black Ensemble Theatre goes to Jan. 27. See tickets and more information at Black Ensemble Theater.

“ A Midsummer Night’s Dream“ at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, opens this weekend (Dec. 14 2018), and runs through Jan. 27. Tickets and more information at Chicago Shakes.

At Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted, “Familiar” continues through Jan. 13 and “”La Ruta” goes through Jan. 27.  Visit Steppenwolf.

 

Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo
Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo

Festivals

Illumination” at the Morton Arboretum, 4100 Il Hwy 53, Lisle, goes through New Year’s Day, Jan. 1.

Winter Wonderfest” continues at Navy Pier, Chicago, through Jan. 6. For tickets, parking and other information visit Navy Pier.

Wonderland Express” is at the Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe (just east of Edens Expressway) through Jan. 6. (This is a time and date ticketed show)  For tickets and other information visit . For parking check Chicago Botanic.

Zoo Lights” at Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark St.,, Chicago, is open New Year’s Day and continues through Jan. 6.

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Top 10 shows of the year

 

Lyric Opera House (J Jacobs photo)
Lyric Opera House (J Jacobs photo)

Chicago area theaters put on so many excellent productions that picking our top 10 shows is not merely challenging, it also reflects individual points of view, entertainment preferences and theater and music backgrounds. Readers are welcome to disagree and comment with their own suggestions.

This year, we also are including Broadway in Chicago and Lyric Opera contenders because Chicago audiences attend those productions and support those organizations with subscriptions.

A bit about our reviewers: Reno Lovison, Pam McKuen, Francine Friedman, Mira Temkin and editor Jodie Jacobs are professional writers who have contributed over the years to a variety of publications. Read more in the About section of Chicago Theater and Arts. Their selections could each have extended to five and more but were narrowed down to two apiece.

 

Reno Lovison

“Haymarket”

“Haymarket” was an important Chicago story, well performed and included appropriate Bluegrass music reminiscent of labor-oriented folk songs. See review of this Underscore Theatre Company’s production at Haymarket.

“The End of TV”

“The End of TV” made me a Manual Cinema fan, offering a fresh way to experience live performance utilizing old and new technologies. See review of the Manual Cinema production at The End of TV.

(***: In spite of my two picks I find myself periodically thinking about “Arcadia” and “Fear and Misery in the Third Reich” but probably more as a result of the playwright than the players.)

 

Pam McKuen

“Once”

A Paramount Theatre production, “Once” is a sweet but short-lived romance with an imaginative set and an upbeat cast of congenial music-makers that was put on at a suburban jewel. See review of Once.

“On Your Feet”

A Broadway in Chicago presentation at the Cadillac Palace, “On Your Feet” is the life story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan. It has everything you’d want in a musical: global hits, glitzy costumes, dramatic lows and comedic punches. I’d see it again. See review at On Your Feet.

 

Francine Friedman

“Miss Saigon”

Loosely based on the opera “Madame Butterfly,” the musical “Miss Saigon” embraces the relationship between an American GI and a young Asian woman while it follows the final days of the Vietnam War.  The play’s touring company of wonderful actors, singers and dancers, along with real photos of orphaned, war-born American/Asian children displayed in its second act, brought the musical to life.  See review at Miss Saigon.

“Women of Soul”

At the Black Ensemble Theater through Jan. 21, 2019, “Women of Soul” is a tribute to many well-known female singers, covering their different genres and numerous years.  In addition to the wonderful performers who sing their famous tunes, many newly-revealed details of how their careers blossomed and how some of their lives ended adds insight to their backgrounds. And the closing tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, brought everyone to their feet. See the review of Women of Soul.

 

Mira Temkin

“The Buddy Holly Story”

An American Blues Theater production, this high-energy biopic of singer/songwriter Buddy Holly kept the music going at a frenetic pace as a testament to the amazing talents of star, Zachary Stephenson and the entire cast. Even though “it was day the music died, according to Don McLean,” the audience never wanted it to end. See review at Buddy Holly Story.

“A Shayna Maidel”

What is family? Can it be created or reborn? “A Shayna Maidel” performed as a revival by TimeLine Theatre, answers these  thoughtful questions in a most profound way. See review at A Shayna Maidel.

(*** Also agree that “Miss Saigon” is among the year’s best. This new versio, now on on tour ,takes out all the stops in theatrics, wowing audiences as one of the most spectacular musicals ever written and produced. Contemporary theatre goers can’t help but get caught up in the past, knowing how the war ended with the cost in human life and how many Vietnamese orphans the U.S. left behind.)

 

Jodie Jacobs

“La boheme”

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “La boheme” was extraordinary theater. It had everything from inventive scenery and creative staging to exceptional acting, singing and orchestration. Fortunately, it continues in January, 2019.  See the review at La boheme.

“Steadfast Tin Soldier”

Audiences have come to expect unusual presentations from Lookingglass Theatre. However, Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation and direction of the “Steadfast Tin Soldier,” has to be seen to really appreciate its outstanding pantomime and puppetry. See the review at Steadfast Tin Soldier.

 

Cendrillon perfect for family outing

Siobhan Stagg in Cendrillon at the Lyric Opera
Siobhan Stagg in Cendrillon at the Lyric Opera

4 stars

Adults and youngsters alike should easily laugh, applaud and fall in love with “Cendrillon,” Jules Massenet’s operatic interpretation of “Cinderella.”

Certainly the version now at the Lyric has been traveling the opera circuit since opening at the Santa Fe Opera in 2006, but the telling clue to its humor is that when it premiered in 1899 it was at Paris’ Opéra-Comique where it was also remounted in 1911.

That the opera is a fairy tale comes across immediately with Barbara De Limburg’s delightful storybook set design.

That this opera, unlike Gioachino Rossini’s operatic drama “Cenerentola” (Cinderella), is a lighthearted version of the familiar fairy tale,  becomes obvious with Laurent Pelly’s hysterical, balloon-shaped costumes for the step sisters and the comedic costumes worn by the step mother and other female hopefuls at the prince’s ball.

From left: Kayleigh Decker, Elizabeth Bishop and Emily Pogorelc in “Cendrillon.” (Todd Rosenberg photos)
From left: Kayleigh Decker, Elizabeth Bishop and Emily Pogorelc in “Cendrillon.” (Todd Rosenberg photos)

And that the prince also stepped out of an amusing story book comes across when Pelly, who is also the opera’s director, introduces him as somewhat peevish, uncooperative, hardly charming, pajama-wearing kid in his bed chambers.

Revival choreographer Karine Girard (and original choreographer Laura Scozzi) play up the  opera’s nose-thumbing, pseudo-sophistication side with wonderful marching steps by palace couriers and the introduction of females who hope to win the prince.

But humor aside, the Lyric’s Cendrillon is still an opera that requires fine voices. And they are.

English mezzo-soprano Alice Coote is superb in the “trouser” role of the prince and a good contrast (as it should be) to Australian soprano Shobhan Stagg’s quieter, sweet, Cendrillon in her American debut.

Bass-baritone Derek Welton, another Australian making his American operatic debut, convincingly portrays Cendrillon’s comically pathetic father, Pandolfe. And French-Canadian coloratura Marie-Eve Munger stands out in her Lyric debut as the Fairy Godmother.

Cinderella (Siobhan Stagg) far left, Fairy godmother (Maie-Eve Munger) atop the books center and Prince charming (Alice Coote) far right kneeling with cast of Cenrillon at the Lyric Opera.
Cinderella (Siobhan Stagg) far left, Fairy godmother (Maie-Eve Munger) atop the books center and Prince charming (Alice Coote) far right kneeling with cast of Cenrillon at the Lyric Opera.

In the step family, American mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop making her Lyric debut is a perfect Mme. De la Haltiere. She’s backed up by daughters Noémie sung by American soprano Emily Pogorelc, and American mezzo-soprano Dorothée sung by Kayleigh Decker, both a Ryan Opera Center members.

As with many fairy tales there still is a poignant side, but the story still turns out well.

Although Rossini’s “Cenerentola” has appeared at the Lyric, Massent’s “Cendrillon” has only now come to town. It’s magic is perfect for the holiday season or anytime.

DETAILS: “Cendrillon”  is at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago through Jan. 20, 2019. Running time: 2 hrs. 45 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information visit Lyric Opera.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

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