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.
Hear the voices from the Broadway and opera stages at two free concerts in Chicago’s Jay Pritzker Paviion at Millennium Park
First, and this comes quickly on the calendar, is the Broadway In Chicago Summer Concert, Aug. 13 at 6:15 p.m. So grab a blanket for the grass or get there early for a seat to hear songs from the following shows on the Broadway tour:
“The Book of Mormon,” “Hello Dolly,” “A Bronx Tale: The Musical,” “ Ronald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Anastasia,” “ Miss Saigon,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Cats,” “ Falsettos” and “Come From Away.”
Hosted by ABC 7 Chicago entertainment reporter Janet Davies Pre=Broadway “Tootsie” star Santino Fontana, the concert is sponsored by Channel 7 and presented by the City of Chicago department of cultural Affairs and Special Events.
The Jay Pritzker Pavilion is at 201 E. Randolph St., Chicago but it’s a can’t miss venue because of its billowing steel ribbons topping The Pavilion was designed for Millennium Park by award-winning architect Frank Gehry. For more information visit Broadway In Chicago.Read More
Get the calendar out. It’s time to plan which Ravinia Festival concerts should be marked down, which ones need tickets ahead of time and which might be good for a picnic on the lawn or a seat in the Pavillion. The 2016 season goes from June 1 through Sept. 16.
Donors can get tickets March 20. Tickets will be available to the public May 8 for June and July concerts and May 10 for August and September programs.
New this year: There are more programs inside Bennett Gordon Hall and the Martin Theatre. The season will celebrate the late conductor, composer, pianist Leonard Bernstein’s 100 anniversary of his birth and ; the 30th anniversary of Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute (RSMI).
And the dining spaces and menus have been redone. Park View, a contemporary American restaurant featuring local and seasonal dishes is upstairs the dining pavilion. Mirabelle is still there but specializes in guest chef and themed dishes. The casual Ravina Market take-out menu has expanded but kept popular dishes. Tree Top will go in where PNC Private Dining used to be and the Lawn Bar with indoor and outdoor seating for drinks and small plates will be located on the lower level, north side of the dining Pavilion. The FreehlingRoom is still the Donor Dining Club but will add casual fare on pop concert nights.
Ravinia Festival Park is at the south end of Highland Park from Sheridan Road on the east to Green Bay Road on the west. But best option is to take a free shuttle from the Ravinia or Highland Park train station. For tickets, directions and transportation options visit Ravinia.org.
Enjoy the summer by planning now.
Some Program highlights:
Diana Ross, June 2, Anita Baker June 10, Jackson Brown June 15, Seal June 19, Jill Scott debuts at Ravinia June 22, Roger Daltry and the Who’s Tommy come June 23 and June 25 and Bryan Adams performs June 29.
Buddy Guy and Jonny Lang July 8, Zukeerman Trio does Brahms July 11, Joshua Bell and the CSO performs Bernstein “Candide Overture” and “Serenade” plus Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” July 12, The CSO and Chorus do Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on July 14, vocalist Audra McDonald and the CSO do a “Sunday in the Park program for the Ravinia Gala July 15, the annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular is July 22, Misha and Cipa Dichter are in Bette Hall then Leon Fleisher with Katherine Jacobson Fleisher perform Bach and Brahms in the Martin Theatre July 23, Makoto Ozone plays Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” July 24, Jorge Fredrico Osorio is in the Martin Theatre for the Debussy and Ponce concert July 26, a double Bernstein program starts with a Young People’s concert in the morning then features his “Mass” in the evening July 28.
Whoopie Goldberg comes Aug. 3, CSO does Stravinsky, Strauss and with Garrick Ohlsson on piano Mozart’s concerto No. 20 Aug. 9, Steve Martin and Martin Short plusThe Steep Canyon Rangers and Jeff Babko are in the Pavilion Aug. 12, Michael Feinstein and Kristin Chenoweth are there Aug. 14, opera stars Frederica Von Stade and Laurie Rubin come Aug. 16, Earth Wind & Fire are in the Pavilion Aug. 17, Sugarland returns Aug. 23, The Beach Boys and Righteous Brothers are in town for an evening of oldies but goodies Aug. 24 there are “Good Vibes with Jason Mraz and Brett Dennen on Aug. 25, Culture Club, B-52s and Thompson Twins perform Aug. 31 and Sep[t. 1
O.A.R. and Matt Nathanson come Sept. 2, Sir James Galway returns Sept. 4, Peter Serkin comes Sept. 5, 50 Cent debuts at Ravinia Sept. 6. Tony Bennett’s stylish songs are Sept.8, “Considering Matthew Shepard by Craig Hella Johnson with the Conspirare chorus (poems set to music to mark the Shepard murder that ledto the Hate Crimes Act Sept . 12 and Los Tigres del Norte end the season Sept. 16.
The only problem with the Lyric Opera’s “Celebrating 100 Years of Bernstein” last Saturday, March 10, was that it was a one-time program.
Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, baritone Nathan Gunn in the first half featuring Bernstein’s short opera Trouble in Tahiti and joined in the second half in a variety of his works, by Broadway star Kate Baldwin, deserved their prolonged applause and standing ovation. Indeed, the audience didn’t seem to want to leave but encores were not part of the program.
The audience also appreciated the really fine voices of Ryan Opera Center members soprano Diana Newman, tenor Josh Lovell and baritone Emmett O’Hanlon who added a light touch to the opera which has some seriously funny moments. And they, plus Ryan Center members soprano Ann Toomey and bass-baritone Alan Higgs, joined the stars in the second half.
That part of the program was an interesting mix of popular and lesser known works. For instance, it started with Baldwin’s delightful rendition of “I Hate Music” from the 1943 cycle of “Five Kids Songs for Soprano and Piano.”
It would have been interesting to have seen a show of hands from people familiar with the cycle.
Then, the Ryan Center singers did Candide’s “The Best of All Possible Worlds.” They and the leads closed with the lovely and appropriate “Some Other Time” from On the Town.
What came in between was glorious.
Baldwin sang Eileen’s charming “A Little Bit in Love” from Wonderful Town followed by Gunn doing a fine “Lonely Town” from On the Town.
Based on intermission chat and looks through the program, many in the audience were hoping for something from West Side Story. There were two selections.
Baldwin and Graham each soloed and then beautifully blended their voices in “I Have a Love.” Then Baldwin did a remarkable “Somewhere” that moved people to tears.
At this point, about half way through the second half, comic contrast was needed and provided by Gunn coming up through the floor as Captain Hook from Peter Pan.
Bernstein wrote “Captain Hook’s Soliloquy” for the original 1950 Broadway show but it was supposedly eliminated as unworkable with the voice of Boris Karloff who played Hook.
Wearing a wig that resembled a large black mop, Gunn hilariously interpreted the song somewhat in the manner of King George in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.
Other songs seldom heard were “So Pretty” written by Bernstein for Barbra Streisand to sing in a peace protest against the Vietnam War that was sung by Baldwin and ”To What You Said,” a Walt Whitman verse put to music in Songfest that touched on homosexual attraction and sung by Nathan Gunn.
Peter Pan was on the menu again. This time with Graham singing “Dream with Me.”
A show which didn’t make it long on Broadway was 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue written with Alan Jay Lerner in 1976. But after cuts and revisions it was released in 1990 as A White House Cantata.
Kate Baldwin as Abigail Adams sang “Take Care of this House” which is on the Cantata release. A lovely piece, the song is still heard on occasion.
Before the company’s “Some Other time” closing number, Baldwin ended with another lively ditty, “I Can Cook, Too” from On the Town.
There were many reasons the program left people wanting more.
There was the spot-on direction of Peggy Hickey who had the singers actively move around the stage as if in a musical instead of a concert. The staging was also clever with props and furniture moved on, off and coming up from below.
Another plus was Conductor David Chase’s warm interaction with the audience. He introduced and explained the opera and the musical numbers’ background. Experienced with working on musicals as conductor, arranger or supervisor of more than 30 Broadway productions, Chase had a relaxed attitude that made the entire program fun.
Go to Rosehill Cemetery, 5800 N. Ravenswood Ave., March 10 or 11 for writer/performer Neil Tobin’s Necromancer: Near Death Experience, an interactive Magical theatre about life and death. The performances begin at 3 p.m. in the May Chapel and lasts an hour. (Also takes place April 14-15 and May 5-6). For tickets and other information visit Near Death X.
Male relationship depicted through opera
Hear “Fellow Travelers,” a new opera by Gregory Spears with a libretto by Greg Pierce at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N Southport Ave., March 17-25. Presented by Lyric Unlimited, an arm of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the opera is based on the Thomas Mallon novel about two men in love during the 1950s McCarthy era in Washington D.C. For tickets and more information visit Lyric Opera/Fellow Travelers.
Native art combines with immigration
See Contemporary Native American Art at the Art Center of Highland Park, 1957 Sheridan Rd., Highland Park. The exhibit, open to the public March 10 and continuing through April 6, 2018, combines with personal stories of Immigration. For more information call (847) 432-1888 and visit TAC.
The first clue that the Lyric’s 2018 production of Charles Gounod’s ‘Faust’ will have an unusual rendering comes immediately in the opening scene during the opera’s lyrical introductory music.
While Faust, portrayed as an aged artist and sculptor, is lying on a bed in his studio, a video, possibly of his anxious dreams about the world outside, is projected on a large drape at the other side of the room.
He wakes and while singing of his frustration of a loveless life (Rien! En vain j’interroge ) climbs his scaffolding to a surreal, sculptured figure holding a scientific styled telescopic instrument.
When his attempts to drink a poison there are interrupted by a choir he descends to a table with wood blocks and calls for help from the devil.
It is Faust’s own carving of the devil’s agent, Méphistophélès, shown as a projection on a drape near him, that is another important clue to this production’s tone.
It presents the possibility that Méphistophélès and the demons that will be surrounding him during the opera are the creation of Faust’s own tormented self. The demons definitely look like carved figures.
Faust’s carving of Méphistophélès comes to life behind the drape near him and they sing the fine duet (Me voici). After tempting Faust with a projection of the beautiful, young Marguerite, the suicidal artist is willing to sell his soul to the devil to become young and experience love.
And so, Act I sets the atmosphere created by the opera’s production designer, California sculptor /film maker John Frame, set and costume designer Vita Tzykun, video designer David Adam Moore and lighting designer Duane Schuler.
Under the superb direction of Kevin Newbury, the production team’s magic and the remarkable voices and fine acting of the entire cast all come together for a magnificent “Faust.”
Making his American debut, French tenor Benjamin Bernheim brings wonderfully rich nuances to the arias of Faust, including a beautiful rendition of (Salut, demeure chaste et pure) in Act III.
Ryan Opera Center alumnus Christian Van Horn’s fine bass-baritone is perfect for Méphistophélès. He has the flashy, jazzy demeanor of a ringmaster conducting the action.
It was evident by enthusiastic applause for Bernheim and Van Horn at the end of the first act, that audiences knew they were in for an operatic treat.
A highlight of Act II is baritone Edward Parks singing (O sainte médaille … Avant de quitter ces lieux) as Valentin, Marguarite’s brother. He tells the young boy, Siébel who adores Marguarite, to watch over her. There were more than a few “bravos”for Parks.
Although there seemed to be no worthy reason to make the character of Marguerite handicapped and give her a crutch, soprano Ailyn Pérez impressively takes hold of the role of a young, guileless, religious girl who is seduced, becomes pregnant and then abandoned.
She moves from sparkling in the famed Jewel Song (Ah! je ris de me voir si belle en ce miroir) to sadness in the aria (Il ne revient pas) after abandoned by Faust and then to emotional strength in the love duet she sings with him (Oui, c’est toi que j’aime) when she is in prison.
The excellent cast also includes two mezzo sopranos, Jill Grove as Marguerite’s nosy neighbor Marthe and Annie Rose as Siébel.
As always, the Lyric’s chorus and orchestra sound grand but kudos must also go to Conductor Emmanuel Villaume who beautifully interprets Gounod’s music. Villaume is often called upon to conduct French operas.
Sung in French with English subtitles (often called projected translations), the libretto is by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré. It is based on “Faust et Marguerite” by Carré that was somewhat based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust, Part One.”
The character of Faust has become so popular that similar to Scrooge as a name for someone who is a miser, Faustian has been coined to mean a bargain with the devil or a greedy or promoting action made without thought or care about the consequences.
The Lyric production takes advantage of current technology to project death symbols, the devilishly persuasive magic of a Méphistophélès type of person and the yearnings of someone who knowingly opts for the Faustian path. It does overuse skeletons by having them move too much instead of occasionally shadowing the action.
However, Lyric’s 2018 “Faust” amazingly couples surrealistic art with the story’s surreal aspects while it keeps its centuries-old German flavor. Of course, outstanding voices and Gounod’s lyrical music truly put this production on the must-see list.
DETAILS: ‘Faust’ is at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, now through March 21, 2018 (Ana María Martínez assumes the role of Marguarite on Mar. 21). For tickets and other information visit Lyric Opera/Faust.
Wolfang Amadeus Mozart’s title, “Così fan tuttie (Thus do all women) and Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto will likely elicit more than a few negative shakes of the head while watching Lyric’s current production.
The title and libretto cast women in general as overly emotional, flighty and needy. However, the opera’s subtitle, “The School for Lovers,” gives a bit more insight into the story line or moral that love can be fickle.
The characters going to “school” on love are Ferrando and Guglielmo who agree to a bet with their friend, the cynical Don Alfonso, that when tested, their fiancées Fiordiligi and Dorabella will not stay faithful for 24 hours.
The test proposed by Alfonso is that the two men pretend to go off to war but actually return as two Albanian sailors who then woo each other’s fiancée. If the plot sounds a bit like a Shakespearean comedy, know that at one time there was a proposal to set the music to a libretto that matched the Bard’s “Love Labours Lost.”
But no matter how much the libretto is out of sync with more enlightened views of women, Mozart’s music for Così, expertly conducted by James Gaffigan to bring out all its nuances and playfulness, is a delightful combination of a joyful romp and beautiful solos and duets.
American tenor Andrew Stenson as Ferrando and Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins as Guglielmo are wonderfully nutty in this revival directed by Bruno Ravella (Original Director Jon Cox).
Puerto Rican-born soprano Ana Maria Martinez as Fiordiligi and French mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa as Dorabella are the stand-out voices in this production.
It’s possible the Lyric stage’s depth was not friendly for the male leads or to Italian baritone Allessandro Corbelli who could barely be heard as Don Alfonso. But the female vocalists, including Russian lyric soprano Elena Tsallagova (maid Despina) were always excellent even when blending with the others.
The second act takes on a different tone with the passionate “Fra gli amplessi” (“In the embraces”) duet of Fiordiligi and Ferrando that reveals real rather than the type of put-on emotions displayed as a farce in Act I. And then there is Dorabella and Guglielmo’s lovely “Il core vi dono” (I give you a heart) duet where a medallion she was given with her lover’s picture in Act I is now exchanged for a heart locket.
Robert Perdzioa’s set design of a fancy, Mediterranean resort works quite well with Mozart’s plot as does Perdziols’s costume design for this Così’s placement in 1914.
The problem I have with the opera is not the Lyric production but the libretto and its unsatisfying ending which I won’t reveal here.
“Così fan tuttie” is at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Drive, now through March 16, 2018. Running time; 3 hours, 25 minutes with 1 intermission. For tickets and other information call 312.827.5600 and visit Lyric Opera Cosi.
With so many shows in Chicago it is easy to miss one you really meant to see. So here is a reminder of really fine productions that end this month of January, 2018.
‘Turandot,’ Puccini’s glorious fantasy musical portrayal of a cold-hearted princess in ancient China is at the Lyric Opera for just two more performances: Jan. 21 and Jan. 28. For tickets and more information visit Lyric Turandot and Lyric Opera.
‘Wicked,’ that musical story about the two witches of OZ, closes at the Oriental Theatre, Jan. 21. For more information and tickets visit Broadway in Chicago Wicked.
‘BLKS,’ a play that tells about a day in the life of four young black women in New York City is at Steppenwolf just through Jan. 21. For more information and tickets visit Steppenwolf.
‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ has its final performance at the Cadillac Palace Theatre Jan. 28. For more information and tickets visit Broadway in Chicago Beautiful.
For shear spectacle “Turandot” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago is worth seeing.
Chinese Princess, Turandot, has proffered a challenge to all eligible Princes, that he who can successfully answer three riddles asked by her shall win her love. Unsuccessful suitors will forfeit their life by beheading at sunrise.
The bigger question is whether Turandot is actually interested in love or is she more interested in exacting revenge on all men for the death of her ancestor Princess Lo-u-Ling?
Enter Prince Calaf, a stranger who is immediately smitten by Turandot. He cannot resist the challenge in spite of the pleading of the Ping, Pang and Pong whose duty it is to prepare all matters related to either the execution or the wedding.
Weary of the many deaths, the trio attempts to lure Calaf with the promise of hundreds of other beautiful women but to no avail. Neither can Calaf be dissuaded by his father’s faithful slave woman Liu whose love for him is pure and deep, based on the fact that he smiled at her.
With an impressive, if somewhat cliché, set by production designer Allen Charles Klein and lighting by Chris Maravich, once the curtain is up and the chorus begins to sing the audience is immediately drawn to the performance.
The large lighted glass sphere center stage adds to the exotic illusion of the intersection of heaven and earth as well as the theme of hot and cold. The use of wood, moonlight and lantern-light combined with the muted tones of the costumes contributes to a feeling of a mythological ancient Chinese experience with an overarching sense of foreboding.
Soprano Amber Wagner who appears in the title role has a powerful voice that soars above the entire company providing the character of Turandot with a commanding vocal presence the role requires.
Unfortunately, she has difficulty projecting the complex dichotomy required to be a convincing alluring “ice princess.” This was compounded by her costume being the only one, including the headdress, that seemed inappropriate and did not contribute to the realization of the essence of her character.
Stefano La Colla as Calaf in his Lyric debut is charming though he never really commands the stage. In Act One he was lost in the crowd and at times he seemed unsure where he should be. In spite of that, the much anticipated “Nessun Dorma” in Act Three does not disappoint.
Also appearing in her Lyric debut is soprano Maria Agresta as Liu who offers what is perhaps the most dramatic performance. This is due in large part to the sympathetic nature of the role itself but also to her sensitive portrayal and beautiful voice.
Ping, Pang, and Pong played by Zachary Nelson, Rodell Rosel, and Keith Jameson are veterans of the Lyric who provide wonderful energy and comic relief.
The Lyric chorus and orchestra are outstanding as always. At times the stage is crowded with more than 75 singers including the addition of more than 20 members of the Chicago Children’s Chorus who contribute another level of texture to the vocal tapestry.
Puccini’s score riddled with Asian influences is not driven by melody but is rather a complex nuanced series of compositions more reminiscent of a symphony. This really gives the orchestra an opportunity to shine because they are as important as the singers not simply accompanists.
The third act is dominated by “Nessun Dorma” which is perhaps the most melodious number. It is cleverly reprised for the finale leaving the production with a powerful musical finish and the audience with a tune we can all hum on the way out the door.
This “commercial” ending is a bit out of step and perhaps belies the fact that composer Giacomo Puccini died before he could finish the opera.
The story has a few moral and ethnocentric issues that may be considered to be in conflict with modern sensibilities. This can be a distraction for some but consider using it as an opportunity for thoughtful contemplation and discussion of social change while you simply enjoy the music and the shear spectacle of a grand tradition.
“Turandot” is at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago, through January 27, 2018. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes with two intermissions. For tickets and more information visit Lyric Opera.
No question that opera goers and even many members of the general public are familiar with the music of Georges Bizet’s “Carmen.” Arguably less known is his earlier work, “Les pêcheurs de perles” (The Pearl Fishers).
Now appearing at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the opera is particularly known for “Au fond du temple saint,” my favorite duet for tenor and baritone. Its gorgeous, lyrical strains are delightfully repeated at the end of the opera.
But, featuring Evanston born tenor Matthew Polenzai as Nadir, Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien as his friend, Zurga, and Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka as Leïla, the priestess both men love, what the Lyric production really accomplishes is to remind music lovers that the entire opera contains one beautiful aria after an other.
There is Polenzai’s bravissimo rendering of “Je crois entendre encore” and Rebeka’s passionate “Comme autrefois dans la nuit somber,” then her duet with Nadir, “Léïla! Léïla!…Dieu puissant, le voilà!”.
The production’s charmingly bold sets and costumes, both designed by British fashion artist Zandra Rhodes, reflect the joyous, sunlit culture of an exotic Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
Directed by Andrew Sinclair, the Lyric production was first staged at the San Diego Opera in 2004.
Comparatively short at two hours, 25 minutes including a 30 minute intermission, it is sung in French aided by English subtitles using a libretto by Michel Carré and Eugene Cormon.
This opera, like many of the genre’s plots, whirls around forbidden love and its consequences. The story pits two friends against each other as they grapple with the consequences of loving the priestess who is supposed to protect Ceylon fishermen from the island’s treacherous waters. If she breaks her vow she could die and so would the man she loved.
When it happens and is witnessed by the high priest of Brahma sung by Italian bass, Andrea Silvesrtrelli, he decrees the lovers’ death.
The orchestra led by Andrew Davis and the chorus under Michael Black were both superb. The only problem I had with the production were the dance scenes. They may be true to the culture but they detract from rather than add to the opera.
DETAILS: ‘The Pearl Fishers’ is at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago, through Dec. 10, 2017. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and more information visit Lyric Opera.
The production, seen on Nov. 22, 2017, was dedicated to Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky whose death by brain cancer was announced in London that morning.