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.
Chicago is blessed with a terrific pool of actors, directors, choreographers and theater technicians and a community of theater-goers who really appreciate a good production. But it is still amazing that the Greater Chicago area has 250 theater companies. They share venues throughout the city and suburbs. Thus, there are lots of choices of where to go and what to see. (BTW, some of them like to spell theater as theatre. That’s OK.)
Because there are so many companies it is arguably hard to keep track of what everyone is doing so we’ll look at the 2018-2019 season by area starting with downtown from the Broadway Playhouse to Lookingglass Theatre and more.
First off, the expensive ticket shows seen in New York are brought to the Cadillac Palace, CIBC, Ford Oriental, Broadway Playhouse and sometimes Auditorium, by Broadway in Chicago. Here is what to expect so far at those venues during the 2018-2019 season.
Located at 175 E. Chestnut St.at Water Tower Place, it has “Heartbreak Hotel” now extended through Oct. 28, 2018.
Cadillac Palace Theatre
The theatre, 151 W. Randolph St. has the pre-Broadway world premier of “Tootsie” beginning Sept. 11 followed by “Miss Saigon” on Nov. 13 and “Fiddler On The Roof” Dec. 18. Then “Kinky Boots” opens on Jan 22, 2019 followed by “Dear Evan Hansen” on Feb. 12, “Come From Away” opens on July 30 and “The Band’s Visit opens next fall on Sept. 10.
At18 W. Monroe, the theatre still has “Hamilton” which is expected to go through Jan. 20, 2019.
Ford Oriental Theatre
Located at 24 W. Randolph St., the theatre has ” Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” coming Oct. 2, followed by “Hello, Dolly” Oct. 23, then “The Book of Mormon” Nov. 20 and “The Play That Goes Wrong,” Dec. 4. Starting off 2019 is “The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson Musical” opening Jan. 8, followed by “A Bronx Tale” Mar. 12, “Anastasia” Mar. 26, then “Falsettos” May 28 and “Cats” on July 16.
Situated on Navy Piere at 800 E. Grand Ave. (On Navy Pier), CST currently has “Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure” through Aug. 19.
Coming this fall are “Big Mouth” Sept 12, “Nell Gwynn” opening Sept. 20, Circolombia’s “Acelere” on Oct. 23, “Fight Night,” also on Oct. 23, “Q Brothers Christmas Carol” on Nov. 20 and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on Dec. 6.
The season continues with “Us/Them” opening Jan. 22, 2019, “L’Apres Midi D’un Foehn” on Jan. 23, then “Short Shakespeare Macbeth” opens Feb. 16 and “An Inspector Call’s opens Feb. 19, “Two Pints” starts Mar. 6, “Hamlet” opens Apr. 17 and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” on May 30.
For tickets and more information visit Chicago Shakes and call (312) 595-5600.
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
When February weather sticks around for early April then warm up with good music. Go to the Lyric to hear some of the Ryan Opera Center members who sang this season. Or let Rogers and Hammerstein’s lyrical Broadway hits bring back memories. Or turn to Haydn and Beethoven to forget that Mother Nature’s Ap[ril Fool’s day joke has continued through the weekend.
Singers with the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center Ensemble perform works by Tchaikovsky, Bernstein, Puccini and other masters, April 7, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. The program is backed by a pianist and members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra conducted by Edwin Outwater. For tickets and more information visit Lyric Opera. The Lyric Opera of Chicago is at 20 N. Wacker Drive.
Hosted by Daryl Nitz and Laura Freeman with music direction by Andrew Blendermann, the program is at the Skokie Theatre April 7 and April 8 at 7:30 p.m. It features artists Ken Baker, Cynthia Clarey, Sophie Grimm, and Tom Olickal performing songs from eight shows. Tickets are $35. For tickets and other information visit Skokie Theatre. Skokie Theatre is at 7924 Lincoln Ave., Skokie.
The Lake Forest Symphony with Conductor Vladimir Kulenovic are doing Haydn’s Symphony No. 4, Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 featuring Cellist Jay Campbell and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 April 7 at 8 p.m. and April 8 at 2 p.m. The Saturday concert is at the Cressey center for the Arts at Lake forest Academy. 1500 West Kennedy Road
Lake Forest. Sunday’s concert is at the James Lumber Center of the college of Lake County19351 W. Washington St., Grayslake. For tickets and other information visit Lake Forest Symphony.
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.
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.
The movement towards the impending doom of the gods that began with the stealing of a ring in ‘Das Rheingold,’ creeps forward in ‘Die Walküre,’ the second opera of Wagner’s famed four-part Ring cycle.
For those attendees at Lyric’s ‘Walküre’ production who are not familiar with the story, a guilt-ridden Wotan, king of the gods, brings people up to date.
Sung by the fine base-baritone, Eric Owens, Wotan admits to succumbing to the greed, lust and love that trapped him in decisions he detests now, such as allowing his bastard mortal son, Siegmund (Brandon Jovanovich) to die in battle as demanded by his wife, Fricka, ((Tanja Ariane Baumgartner).
How audiences feel about the second part of the story as it unfolds, depends on how they relate to its characters.
If they care that Fricka, goddess of marriage vows, feels dishonored by husband Wotan’s actions and those of Siegmund who rescued his twin sister, Sieglinde (Elisabet Strid) from a forced marriage to Hunding (Ain Anger), they may feel she is justified in her demands.
If they love warrior-maiden Brünnhilde, Wotan’s favorite Valkyrie daughter endearingly played and beautifully sung by Christine Goerke, they will dislike Fricka and wish Wotan could stand up to his wife.
The set, designed by Robert Innes Hopkins (originally designed by the late Johan Engels) is excellently evocative of spring in Act I where Siegmund and Sieglinde fall in love and realize they are brother and sister. In Act II, its darkness equates with the power struggles between foes and the gods. Act III offers the overly bloody hero’s hall of the Valkyrie maidens.
Brünnhilde’s and other Valkyrie’s transportation are delightfully manipulated and a fun part of the opera.
However, the death minions carrying black wreaths move in a silly fashion that distracted from the serious scene when Brünnhilde at first tries to dissuade Siegmund from fighting and begs that he come with her to Valhalla as a hero.
Sir Andrew Davis, conducting the Lyric Orchestra, did justice to Wagner’s heroic score.
Directed by David Pountney, this is a new production with interesting costumes by Marie-Jeanne Lecca reminiscent of early last century.
DETAILS: ‘Die Walküre’ is at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago, through Nov. 30, 2017. Running time is about five hours that include two 30 minute intermissions. For tickets and other information visit call (312) 827-5600 and visit Lyric.
So that in the coming weeks you don’t have to say “oops, I forgot” or “oh, I wish I had known,” here are some fun and interesting choices of what to do now through Nov. 5, 2017.
Short Story Theatre
Short story theatres are trending now in the Chicago area. (See StorySlam). Highwood, a tiny city between Highland Park and Lake Forest known for its restaurants, also hosts short story telling.
Its next time is Oct. 26 when the theme is Survival. Stories are likely to be about lost wives, geese, road trips or angels.
So come to Miramar Bistro at 301 Waukegan Ave. east of the North Line train tracks at 7:30 p.m. Or come earlier and eat there first. Just tell them when making a reservation that you are staying for the Short Story Theatre. Show tickets are $10 at the door, cash or check. Phone 847-433-1078.
Boo at the Chicago Botanic Garden
Hand-carved pumpkins line the paths Oct. 26-29 for Night of 10000 Jack-O-Lanterns. Tickets are date and time specific so get yours before you go to avoid disappointment. Times are from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m.
The Chicago Botanic Garden is at 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe, east of Edens Expressway. For tickets and other information call (847) 835-5440 or visit CBGHalloween.
Broadway in Chicago
At the Cadillac Palace Theatre, ‘Les Miserables, Cameron Mackintosh’s new production that is garnering rave reviews, closes Oct. 29. For tickets visit BroadwayinChicago.
Then, School of Rock’ an exuberant show with new songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber opens Nov. 1. For tickets and other information visit Broadway Rock.
Verdi and Wagner
If you enjoy opera at its best know that Lyric Opera of Chicago has openings, closings and reviews similar to many downtown shows. Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’ that also received rave reviews, has only three performances left: Oct. 26, Oct. 30 and Nov. 3. Wagner’s next Ring cycle opera, ‘Die Walküre,’ opens Nov. 1. For tickets and other information visit Lyric Opera.
Sip and Stroll Festival
Visit more than restaurants and other businesses in Lincoln Square for the semi-annual Ravenswood Wine Stroll. Nov. 2 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $45 and are for one of five different routes: three in Lincoln Square and two in Ravenswood. For tickets and route information see Lincoln Square Wine Stroll.
Really old and last century modern
Winnetka Community House’s famed Antiques + Modernism show runs Nov. 3-5 with an evening, first peek party Nov. 2. Because it’s a 60-year-old nationally known event, dealers bring their fine antiques and excellent mid-last-century modernism jewelry and furniture. For ticket and other information visit Winnetka Show.
Where high-end art and superior design mix
Known as SOFA for bringing together Sculpture Objects Fine Art plus Design, the annual Chicago event is back at Navy Pier Nov. 2-5. Go upstairs to the Festival Hall to see what the international galleries say are trending now in the art world. For tickets and other information visit SOFA.