The Chicago Theater Season

heater venues range from Chicago's Lookingglass theatre in the historic Water Works (top left) and the lyric Opera House, bottom left to Goodman Theatre in a remodeled former movie theater building to the new Yard at Chicago Shakespeare on Navy Pier, bottom right. (J Jacobs photo)
Theater venues range from Chicago’s Lookingglass in the historic Water Works (top left) and the lyric Opera House, bottom left to Goodman Theatre in a remodeled former movie theater building to the new Yard at Chicago Shakespeare on Navy Pier, bottom right. (J Jacobs photo)

Normally we would be talking about what productions are coming this fall and winter to the Lyric Opera, Goodman, Chicago Shakespeare, Steppenwolf, Broadway in Chicago, Lookingglass, Northlight, Court, Music Works, Citadel and several other Chicago area theater stages.

And normally, what’s coming would be divided up by regions because in 2019 there were about 250 theater companies in the area.

Maybe when the coronavirus is under control and artists and patrons feel safe attending live rather than virtual shows, we will know which Chicago theater groups survived the pandemic.

But here is a sample of what we are hearing now about our next theater season.

 

Goodman

Calling the season “Our Next Act,” Artistic Director Robert Falls and Executive Director Roche Schulfer announced that the Goodman Theatre would have eight plays in its 2021 subscription (membership) series when safe for everyone. That number doesn’t include “A Christmas Carol” which isn’t a subscription show but details on the popular holiday show are expected to be out soon.

“We’re proud to announce four exciting world premieres, including a Goodman commission – Cheryl L. West’s “Fannie.” Directed by Henry Godinez, it is a passionate rallying cry inspired by the life of famed civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer that features E. Faye Butler in the title role,” said Falls.

Another world premiere is “the ripple, the wave that carried me home” by Christina Anderson, a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre. “It is a stunning meditation on protest, legacy and reconciliation; and we’re delighted to welcome back Christina, whose bold, imaginative How to Catch Creation was a memorable favorite last year,” said Falls.

The third world premiere is “Good Night, Oscar” by Doug Wright, directed by Leigh Silverman and starring Sean Hayes (Will & Grace) as Oscar Levant.

Falls added, “Finally, we’ll produce the highly anticipated new musical we postponed due to COVID-19—”The Outsiders” based on the novel by S.E. Hinton and Francis Ford Coppola’s film. A beloved story of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ that defined a generation it is told anew.” (Book is by Adam Rapp, music and lyrics by Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance) and Justin Levine, choreography by Lorin Latarro and directed by Liesl Tommy.)

Three Chicago premiers include “School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play” by Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Lili-Anne Brown that was interrupted by the pandemic, “A Paris Love Story” featuring the Music of Claude DeBussy that is written and performed by Hershey Felder and directed by Trevor Hay and “American Mariachi” by José Cruz González, directed by Henry Godinez and is a coproduction with Dallas Theater Center.

In addition, Goodman will be doing “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci” adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman.

“We can’t wait to welcome back our audiences for our dynamic 2021 Season that exemplifies the very best of our art form,” said Falls. “As we continue to prioritize the health and safety of our artists and audiences, we remain flexible in our planning and will share production dates when the time is right.”

Subscription memberships to the upcoming season are available, including the “Whenever Membership” flexible package. A five-play Membership package starts at $100. Visit GoodmanTheatre.org/2021season. Single tickets will be available at a later date.

 

Lyric Opera

The Lyric will open a reimagined fall season with “For the Love of Lyric,” a virtual concert from the Lyric Opera House, that will be available for free streaming beginning at 5 p.m. CDT Sept. 13, 2020.

The event is in place of the opening night opera and ball, according to Anthony Freud, Lyric’s general director, president and CEO.  “…we are proud to present “For the Love of Lyric- a very special concert presentation available to the largest possible audience via streaming,” said Freud.

Renowned soprano Renee  Fleming teams up with special guests including Tony and Grammy award-winner Heather Headley (Aida, Lion King), soprano Ailyn Perez, bass Soloman Howard and mezzo soprano J’Nai Bridges.

For more information visit For the Love of Lyric. A first screening at sponsor level will be available Sept. 12 at 7:30 p.m. and can be found at LyricOpera/Support.

 

Music Theatre Works

Formerly called Light Opera Works, Music Theatre Works is moving from its Evanston home at Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium to the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie,  beginning with its 2021 season.

A 40-year-old, not-for-profit company that has produced several highly recommended shows, Music Theatre Works has basically honored the classics with great direction, voices and orchestrations that range from the best “Pirates of Penzance” and “Mame” that I have seen to what other CTA writers say is the best “Anything Goes” and “Into the Woods” that they have seen.

Administration and rehearsals will continue at the Paul S. Mavros Center and Joyce Saxon Rehearsal Hall.

The performance move to North Shore Center’s large and small venues means the organization can do more productions and have longer runs, better parking and more exposure.

“For 40 years, Music Theater Works has been a cornerstone of high-quality professional music theater in the Chicago area. Our history demonstrates our dedication to bringing great music and great theater to our audiences. The community along with the many artists, board members and staff have built the company to what it is today,” said Music Theater Works Producing Artistic Director Kyle A. Dougan.

“Music Theater Works’ move to its new performance home at the North Shore Center is a testament to our community’s support for our art. In addition, this outlet strengthens Music Theater Works’ pledge to explore the full spectrum of music theater with the availability of multiple performance spaces within the North Shore Center,” Dougan said.

North Shore Center for the Performing Arts General Manager Michael Pauken said, “It is very exciting to welcome this well-respected organization and its productions to the North Shore Center as I have long admired them as an audience member.”

Pauken added, “I know Music Theater Works’ customers will find the North Shore Center’s location near numerous restaurants, convenient access to public transportation and free parking to be an enhancement to their theatergoing experience and Music Theatre Works performers will enjoy ample backstage space and the technical capabilities of our facility.”

In advance of its formal move to the Center next year, Music Theater Works presented two sold out performances of “Richard Rodgers’ Greatest Hits,” August 28 and 29, as part of the North Shore Center’s outdoor concert series, “Out Back Summer Sessions.”

For more information visit  Music Theater Works/New Home and Music Theater Works/About Us.

 

Three experiences to try while waiting for Chicago to reopen

Lyric Opera House on North Wacker Drive (J Jphoto)
Lyric Opera House on North Wacker Drive (J Jphoto)

Some of us miss seeing a stage performance in person. Some miss going to the Lyric for a grand opera. Other folks miss visiting Chicago’s world class museums. The following opportunities hit these three targets while sitting at home.

Theater

Citadel Theatre has a unique experience scheduled for 6 p.m. May 21. Viewers register for what is called “The Defamation Experience.” It begins with a 70 minute film that is a one-act courtroom drama. Then there is the Deliberation. You and your fellow jury members deliberate the case on Zoom to decide the outcome.

After the deliberation and verdict, expert facilitators lead a brief post-show discussion.

Registration is free. A zoom meeting link is provided upon registration.

Opera

Hear and watch an opera segment, lecture or tour the Lyric Opera of Chicago building. The Lyric has a weekly newsletter available on its blog. Here is one aria, many audiences will find familiar.

“La donna è mobile” (“Woman is fickle”) is from the fall of 2017 performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto featuring Matthew Polenzani as The Duke. It comes in the third act where Maddalena (Zanda Švēde) flirts with the Duke.

For more Lyric gems visit LyricOpera/lately.

Museum

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been taking field trips to the city’s exceptional institutions so that the rest of us staying home can visit these places virtually.

Each field trip shows up on line on Wednesdays and then on PBS’ WTTW on Friday and replayed the following Monday.

This week she visits the National Museum of Mexican Art. To join her go to hitplayChicago. Founded in 1987, the museum is a very special cultural destination in the Pilsen neighborhood.

To see the last two field trips scroll down to the Shedd and the Field Museum.

Jodie Jacobs

Related: Dazzling voices seduced lyric audiences

 

 

Grand entertainment online

 

Berliner Philharmonie. (Photo courtesy of Berliner Philharmonie)
Berliner Philharmonie. (Photo courtesy of Berliner Philharmonie)

Where are you? I’m working from home but am also at the Berliner Philharmoniker Digital Hall watching Sir Simon Rattle conduct Joseph Haydn’s “Oxford” Symphony No. 92 in G major  and Johannes Brahms Symphony No. 1 in C minor.

The concerts are free. The digital concert hall site asks you to redeem a voucher. Once done you go to trailers and/or the various concerts.

I’ve started with Concert 39 to hear the Oxford and the Brahms First but will return to check out the other concerts.

 

Metropolitan Opera is streaming Wagner's Ring cycle. (Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera)
Metropolitan Opera is streaming Wagner’s Ring cycle. (Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera)

Then, sad that the Lyric Opera of Chicago had to cancel its much anticipated  “Ring” this spring due to the C Virus,  I took a time-machine back the to the Metropolitan Opera’s Ring cycle that began in 2010.

The Met is doing nightly opera streams. However, it also has free videos that can be watched any time of day. During week 2, now through March 29, 2020, videos concentrate on Wagner.

I loved “Wagner Dreams,” a fascinating behind the scenes journey of producing an unusual Ring. It depended on a giant machine with moving steps and platforms and terrific lighting but also spectacular voices and performances. I will try “Wagner Leitmotifs,” later.

To watch “Gotterdammerung,” slated for today, March 27, 2020 which stars Deborah Voigt, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Waltraud Meier, Jay Hunter Morris, Iain Paterson, Eric Owens, and Hans-Peter König, (conducted by Fabio Luisi. From February 11, 2012) means signing up for a Met on Demand subscription. There is also a rental for about $5.

Jodie Jacobs

Related: Enjoy performances online

Glorious vocals shine against spare set in ‘Madama Butterfly’

 

Ana María Martínez in Madama Butterfly at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Todd Rosenberg photo)
Ana María Martínez in Madama Butterfly at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Todd Rosenberg photo)

4 stars

Brian Jagde’s powerful tenor and Ana Maria Martinez’s delicate and expressively lyrical soprano were worth the slosh through the snow for Lyric Opera’s opening of “Madama Butterfly,” Thursday.

No matter how audiences feel about Giacomo Puccini’s anti-hero, US Navy Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton, and his callous disregard of a 15-year-old Geisha’s heart, or the disastrous results, it is the composer’s arias, duets and a subtle chorus that make “Madama Butterfly” an opera-house staple and featured in concerts.

However, what original director Michael Grandage’s bare-bones production (revived by director Louisa Muller with set and costume designed by Christoper Oram), does, is to deliberately allow the leads to shine without the distraction of elaborate set changes and people movement.

Continue reading “Glorious vocals shine against spare set in ‘Madama Butterfly’”

Renee Fleming shines a light in ‘Piazza’

 

Solea Pfeiffer and Renée Fleming in LThe Light in the Piazza. (Liz Lauren photo)
Solea Pfeiffer and Renée Fleming in The Light in the Piazza. (Liz Lauren photo)

 

3stars

No question that soprano Renée Fleming, an opera superstar who has sung leading ladies from Donna Elvira in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” to Nettie Fowler in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” is a fine fit as Margaret Johnson in Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas’ “The Light in the Piazza.”

Her remarkable voice, joyfully greeting  Florence  in the opening scene, heartbreaking in “Dividing Day” following a phone call back home when she realizes her own marriage lacks love, and later swelling with a renewed understanding of love versus risks in her final song, “Fable,” makes going to this production at Chicago’s Lyric Opera House worth attending.

Continue reading “Renee Fleming shines a light in ‘Piazza’”

Eighteenth century Mozart opera in perfect tune with #MeToo times

 

Amanda Majeski, Ben Bliss and Rachel Willis-Sørensen in Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Kyle Flubacker photo)
Amanda Majeski, Ben Bliss and Rachel Willis-Sørensen in Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Kyle Flubacker photo)

4 stars

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.

Continue reading “Eighteenth century Mozart opera in perfect tune with #MeToo times”

‘Dead Man Walking’ brilliantly thrusts opera into the contemporary genre

4 stars

Patricia Racette top center, Ryan McKinny bottom left, Susan Graham bottom right and parents of murdered teens bottom center at Angola in Dead Man Walking at the Lyric Opera of chicago. (Ken Howard photo)
Patricia Racette top center, Ryan McKinny bottom left, Susan Graham bottom right and parents of murdered teens bottom center at Angola in Dead Man Walking at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Ken Howard photo)

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.

Continue reading “‘Dead Man Walking’ brilliantly thrusts opera into the contemporary genre”

Verdi romantic revenge opera at Lyric

 

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Todd Rosenberg photo)
Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Todd Rosenberg photo)

4 stars

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 .

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

Seville barber starts Lyric season with a good chuckle

 

Adam Plachetka, Marianne Crebassa and Lawrence Brownlee in the Barber of Seville at the Lyric Opera House. (Todd Rosenberg photo)
Adam Plachetka, Marianne Crebassa and Lawrence Brownlee in the Barber of Seville at the Lyric Opera House. (Todd Rosenberg photo)

3 ½ stars

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.

Continue reading “Seville barber starts Lyric season with a good chuckle”

Passing the Baton at Lyric Opera

Lyric supporters were on hand Sept. 12 to hear that Sir Andrew Davis would be retiring in two years and that Enrique Mazzola would become music director. (JJacobs photo)
Lyric supporters were on hand Sept. 12 to hear that Sir Andrew Davis would be retiring in two years and that Enrique Mazzola would become music director. (JJacobs photo)

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).

 

Jodie Jacobs