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)



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.

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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 .

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

Around Town has three exceptional theater events to put on the calendar


Jay Pritzker Pavilion is a concert venue in Millennium Park designed by Fran Gehry. (J Jacobs photo)
Jay Pritzker Pavilion is a concert venue in Millennium Park designed by Fran Gehry. (J Jacobs photo)

Think “The Music Man.” Then add such shows as “Come From Away,” “Frozen” and “Hamilton.” But as the guy on TV says, “Wait, there’s more.” Add in opera star Maria Callas to make three spectacular evenings – one in July, another in August and the third one in early September.


  “The Music Man”

Goodman Theatre and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) has a double bill of a short performance by “The Music Man” cast members followed by a screening of the movie featuring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones.

When: July 23, 6:30 p.m. remarks, 6:34 p.m. performance and 6:45 p.m. film.

Where: The Jay Pritzker Pavilion and The Great Lawn at Millennium Park at Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue.

Admission: Free

For park information visit Millennium Park For the film series visit Choose Chicago/Millennium Park/Summer films.  For Goodman Theatre’s “The Music Man” visit GoodmanTheatre.


Broadway In Chicago Summer Concert (Coming shows peek)

Co-sponsored by DCASE and ABC 7, several shows from Broadway In Chicago’s 2019-2020 season will be live in concert including “The Phantom of the Opera, The Band’s visit, Summer: the Donna summer Musical, “Once on this Island, “My Fair Lady”, “Mean Girls,” Hamilton” Fronzen, “Dear Evan Hansen and “Come from Away.”

When: Aug. 12 at 6:15 p.m

Where: Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park at 201 E. randolphg st.

Admission: Free.

Visit For more information on the Summer Concert and Broadway In Chicago, visit


Diva Maria Callas

Some of Callas’ greatest performances have been digitally re-mastered using state-of-the-art 3D hologram technology by Base Hologram Productions. They will be backed by the Lyric Opera Orchestra conducted by Elmear Noone.

When: Sept 7, 2019 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive.

Co-presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago and Live Nation.

Admission by tickets. Visit  Lyric Opera/Callas


Jodie Jacobs

What is coming to theaters downtown and on the Mag Mile


Chicago Theater and Arts has been looking at what area theater production companies have in store for the 2019-2020 season. The lineup is impressive.

Because Chicagoland has approximately 250 companies the coming season is divided into a series that starts downtown, then winds around  Chicago’s neighborhoods and suburbs.

The series started off with Broadway in Chicago’s coming shows and now moves to other downtown theater venues including a couple on and near North Michigan Avenue.

Shows often sell out as soon as they open so best plan is to print the series, circle what you want and pick up tickets in advance.


Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. (CST photo)
Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. (CST photo)

Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Located on the city’s popular Navy Pier, CST is currently doing “Six” a fun, pop-concert-style musical about Henry VIII’s wives that has been so popular it’s been extended through Aug. 4. Also there is the family musical “The Wizard of Oz” which opens July 6 and continues through Aug. 25, 2019.

Coming this fall are “The King’s Speech” Sept 12-Oct. 20 , “A Man of Good Hope,”  Oct. 4-13 and “Romeo and Juliet” Oct. 31-Dec. 22, 201. After the new year “Emma” is Jan 28 -March 15, 2020 followed by the Royal Shakespeare Company with a production TBA, April 1-30. The season closes with “As You Like It” April 30-June 21

Chicago Shakespeare Theater is at 800 E. Grand Ave. on Navy Pier. For tickets and more information visit Chicago Shakes or call (312) 595-5600.



Goodman Theatre on Dearborn at Randolph (Goodman photo)
Goodman Theatre on Dearborn at Randolph (Goodman photo)

Goodman Theatre

The theatre is  on Dearborn Street at Randolph Street near downtown attractions such as Millennium Park and the city’s  Piccasso. Shows are on stage in the Albert Theatre and smaller Owen Theatre.

Currently, Goodman is doing “The Music Man” helmed by famed director Mary Zimmerman, June 29-Aug. 11, 2019 (Albert).  Then “Hanna H. is Sept. 6-Oct. 6 (Owen) and “Bernhardt/Hamlet,” Sept. 14- Oct. 20 (Albert). “A Christmas Carol,” a family holiday favorite, continues for its 42nd annual production Nov. 16 – Dec. 29, 2019 (Albert).

Into the new 2020 year “Roe” is Jan. 18-Feb 20, (Albert). “Graveyard Shift” Feb. 7-Mar. 8 (Owen) and “Molly Sweeney” is  Mar. 7-April 12  (Albert) followed by “School Girls; Or The African Mean Girls Play  Mar. 27-April 26 (Owen). “American Mariachi” is April 25-May 31 (Albert). Then “The Outsiders” completes the season June 19-Aug. 2 (Albert).

Goodman Theatre is at at 170 N. Dearborn Street. For tickets and other information visit Goodman Theatre  or call (312) 443-3800.



Lookingglass Theatre is in the Historic Water Works (J Jacobs photo)
Lookingglass Theatre is in the Historic Water Works (J Jacobs photo)

Lookingglass Theatre

Located in Chicago Water Works, Lookingglass is currently doing “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” through Aug. 4 then “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” Nov. 1, 2019-Jan. 26, 2020.

The season continues with “Her Honor Jane Byrne” Feb 26-April 12, 2020. Then the ever popular, landmark production, “Lookingglass Alice,” returns May 13-Aug. 16, 2020.

Lookkingglass Theatre is at 821 N. Michigan Ave. For tickets and more information visit Lookingglass Theatre and call (312) 337-0665.




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

Lyric Opera of Chicago

The Lyric Opera House. a historic building on north Wacker Drive at Madison Street, will resound with the sounds of Rossini and Verdi, Wagner and (Jake) HeggieL as the 2019-2020 season mixes the popular with the provocative.

Opening the season is Rossini’s popular “The Barber of Seville” Sept. 28-Oct. 27 followed by Verdi’s “Luisa Miller”Oct. 12-31. Then  Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s unusual “Dead Man Walking” opera is Nov. 2-11.  The series returns to the classics with Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” Nov. 14-Dec. 8 but offers a gorgeous vocal treat with Sondra Radvanovsky singing the finales of Anna BolenaMaria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux in a semi-staged performance of Donizetti  “The Three Queens” Dec 1-7, 2019.

The second half opens 2020 with an all-time favorite, Puccini’s  “Madam Butterfly” Feb. 6-Mar. 8. Then Tchaikovsky’s eerie “The Queen of Spades” is Feb. 15-Mar. 1 . Wagner”s Götterdämmerung” closes the Lyrics Ring cycle  April 4 & 11, 2020.

However, the lyric ends each season with a Broadway musical. In 2019 it was “West Side Story. ” For 2020 it will be “42nd Street” May 29 – June 21, 2020.

The Lyric Opera House is at 20 N.  Wacker Dr. For tickets and more information visit Lyric Opera/Contact or call (312) 332-2244.



Porchlight is in the Ruth Page Center for the Performing Arts. (J Jacobs and Ruth Page Center photo)
Porchlight is in the Ruth Page Center for the Performing Arts. (J Jacobs and Ruth Page Center photo)


Now located in the Ruth Page Center, Porchlight will open the 2019-20 season with “Sings: 25 years of Porchlight,” a benefit concert Aug. 5 that celebrates its past 25 years on Chicago’s musical theater scene.

A leading lady of Chgo theater, Hollis Resnik, makes her Porchlight debut in  Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard” Oct. 11- Nov. 24. However, there will also be a quick revisit to Irving Berlin’s “Cal Me Madam,” Nov. 20-21. Next is  the Ruffians’ “Burning Bluebeard” Dec 13-27.

The year 2020 opens with Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Ladies” Jan 24- Mar. 6. The season with the Chicago premiere of Disney’s “Freaky Friday” April 10-May 24.

Porchlight Music Theatre moved last year to the Ruth Page Center For the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn Pkwy.


Jodie Jacobs


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