Three arts programs end April on a very high note

Twilight Gods performed at a Millennium Garage in Chicago by the Lyric Opera. (Photo courtesy of the Lyric)
Twilight Gods performed at a Millennium Garage in Chicago by the Lyric Opera. (Photo courtesy of the Lyric)

During 2020, the main year of our COVID pandemic, much of theater programing has gone on-line and emanated from homes rather than theater stages. It also has moved to unusual formats such as car seating in drive-ins for concerts, and now, to a parking garage. Really.

On April 29-30 and May 2, audiences of the the Lyric Opera of Chicago partnership with the Michigan Opera Theater will be driving inside a Millennium Garage to view Twilight: Gods, a part of Wagner’s Ring cycle.

The scenes are viewed in specific spots and accompanied by music and voices heard by turning the car’s FM radio to designated station spots.

As the Lyric’s general Manager Anthony Freud explained in the program book, “Last year, the pandemic prevented Lyric from presenting the premiere of our new production of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung and the three full Ring cycles that were to follow. It was wrenching for Lyric to have to abandon the Ring altogether, so we considered every possible way to perform any portion of it during this period of COVID. This led us to bring into the Lyric family the innovative director Yuval Sharon and the rest of the astonishingly gifted team that has created Twilight: Gods.”

The production is a collaboration between Lyric and the Michigan Opera Theatre where Sharon, a winner of the MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant,” is artistic director.

“Sharon has radically reimagined Götterdämmerung/The Twilight of the Gods—the climactic fourth opera of the Ring—as a 70-minute series of installations that distill some of the core themes of Wagner’s massive work and concentrate on the central characters, as well as the decaying, corrupt society that they inhabit,” said Freud.

He added, “Experiencing this remarkable event within the sprawling underground world of the Millennium Garages-Millennium Lakeside Parking Garage, with the music coming to you via your car radio, offers a unique and brand-new dimension to our art form.”

Unfortunately, all the time slots are taken. However, there is a film version that will become available. Commissioned by the Lyric and created by Raphael Nash, the film will present the production so that viewers will see it as if they are driving through the garage. The film is slated to be released this summer.

To understand what the drivers will experience visit the orientation video Twilight: Gods program book | Lyric Opera of Chicago You learn that the performances take place at designated car stops, that your car window stays closed but you hear the music and voices on your FM radio and that you put the car into accessory mode so you can turn off the engine.

By radio, you will hear noted Brunnhilde interpreter soprano Christine Goerke, mezzo-soprano Catherine Martin as Waltraute, tenor Sean Panikkar as Siegfried, bass Morris Robinson as Hagen and baritone Donnie Ray Albert as Alberich. The production also includes the Rhinemaidens: Ryan Opera Center Ensemble members soprano Maria Novella Malfatti, mezzo-soprano Katherine Beck and mezzo-soprano Kathleen Felty.

On a final note: there will be no honking as applause but drivers can bring signs to hold that say “bravo.”

 

Lyric Opera of Chicago (Lyric photo)
Lyric Opera of Chicago (Lyric photo)

Another place to hear and see opera this weekend is the the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s  “Rising Stars in Concert, April 29 at 7 p.m. CDT. The program is the annual Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center showcase that features its 2020/21 ensemble. It will be on You tube and Facebook. To learn more and tune in visit Rising Stars in Concert.

Joffrey Ballet Under Trees' Voices. (Photo courtesy of Joffrey Ballet)
Joffrey Ballet Under Trees’ Voices. (Photo courtesy of Joffrey Ballet)

For dance, visit Joffrey Ballet which is streaming  “Under the Trees’ Voices, that debuts April 20 at 7 p.m. CDT. Choreographed by Nicolas Blanc to Symphony No. 2 by Ezio Bosso, the message is about the power of community durng social distancing. To register and learn more visit  Under the Trees’ Voices | The Joffrey Ballet

 

A Valhalla of a different kind

Valhalla Media working on a production to live stream from the Studebaker Theater in Chicago. (Photo by Kyle Flubacker,)
Valhalla Media working on a production to live stream from the Studebaker Theater in Chicago. (Photo by Kyle Flubacker,)

Hear the word Valhalla, and Norse mythology and Germanic tales come to mind or if an opera buff it is Wagner’s Ring cycle with Brünnhilde intoning the famed Valkyrie role. But to the Chicago Opera Theater and the Met Guild in New York City when the word Media is added to Valhalla it refers to the talented company that is bringing COT’s current productions and a Met Guild Masterclass to viewers during the pandemic.

During this past year of arts and entertainment venues closing their doors and turning to streaming live or taped programs just to stay in the public’s consciousness and keep some revenue streams flowing, putting productions on digitally is different but not a surprise. What may arguably surprise the A&E groups who use and may contact them is that Valhalla Media is two opera singers: Alexandra “Lexi” LoBianco and Nikolas “Nik” Wenzel.

To the Lyric Opera of Chicago, LoBianco is the talented soprano who is a frequent guest artist and in demand at opera houses around the world, and Wenzel is a talented bass member of the Lyric Chorus.

So why did two well-regarded opera singers form a company that live streams opera and concerts? And why the name Valhalla?

“You might thing that because Nik and I sing Wagner that it would be the reason. However, this name goes beyond our singing and into so much more,” said LoBianco.

“When we picked Valhalla Media one of the main reasons was because in order to gain access to Valhalla, you must cross the rainbow bridge. Inclusion was at the heart of why we chose the name. The image of Valhalla being a place where everyone was included and that we strive to make the best choices to support organizations that champion diversity was at our core,” she said.

They started the company in 2020 when appearance contracts were canceled and, as LoBianco said, “the rug was pulled out from under the classical music community.”

The idea was to mount their own productions which they did in the Studebaker Theater in Chicago’s historic Fine Arts Building. They started with a recital for Will Liverman with pianist Paul Sanchez on June 26 that showcased African-American composers‘ and a debut Shawn Okpebholo’s new work followed on June 27 by  Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel Live in Concert.

“Our first production was one of the very first truly live digital broadcasts that weekend, nothing taped. We had Will and his pianist on stage,” said LoBianco.

They pulled in Southern Illinois University Journalism Director Jan Thompson who is known for documentaries to work with them as video director.

“She called the shots. The bulk of her professional career is doing live and classical music. She can break down a score to know when  and what shots to do,” said LoBianco.

She recalled that they had a “decent turnout” of viewers thanks to friends and social media. “Then opera companies saw and heard about us,” she said.

That included Chicago Opera Theater. “They said they’d like to work with us to help make their season happen,” said LoBianco.

The recording and staging was at the Studebaker which LoBianco and Wenzel like. “The sound there is good. Sound is an important part of opera, she said.”

Among the COT shows are The Transformation of Jane Doe, Sept. 15, 2020 and most recently the Midwest premiere of Taking Up Serpents, Feb. 27, 2021.

Currently they are working on The Puppy Episode for March 20 followed by La Hija De Rappaccini for April 24, 2021.

Some of those productions are part of COT’s Vanguard initiative for developing new operas and encouraging operatic composers. Others are a regular part of what the 2020-2021 season was supposed to have.

COT’s General Director Ashley Magnus said, “Streaming productions has worked well for us this season, allowing us to produce in a year when no live audience is possible, and expanding our reach outside of Chicago.”

“We are thrilled to be working with COT for the season,” LoBianco said.

Valhala Media will shortly be going over to NYC to work with the Met Guild to do a Masterclass with countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo to happen April 22.

“While I wish we could continue to produce our own content, which we plan to in the future, we are immensely grateful to be able to provide the digital backbone through our platform and for the film & audio portion of this new, crazy world.,” said LoBianco.

Talking with the pair by phone from their home in Park Ridge, IL the two partners in work and life explained they both had back stage theater experience so knew it takes more than a fine voice to make a production work.

“Nik and I both come from tech theater backgrounds. We came to this (forming Walhala Media) with the understanding it take more than the singer to put on a production. I’ve been a stage hand and so was Nik.”

Wenzel  added, “Alexandra and I talked about forming our own company even before COVID hit. We always had a passion for classical music, and the tech background that comes with that. We’re familiar with every aspect of production.”

However, they still plan to continue in their chosen field of performing.

“I love my job with the Lyric.  I have a contract for 25-30 weeks,” said Wenzel

In spite of all the rave reviews and the demand for her in a wide range of roles LoBianco said, “I’m humbled by the amount of work I have. I’m very lucky.”

She added, “We love what we do.”

Jodie Jacobs

 

Lyric Opera brings sun and love in virtual concert

Lyric Opera of Chicago (Lyric photo)
Lyric Opera of Chicago (Lyric photo)

If tired of everything Covid and weather related from staying in but wearing a mask and social distancing when going out to weariness of snow tunnels and sloshy streets, look for the free online concert gifted by Lyric Opera of Chicago and Music Director Designate Enrique Mazzola. They think it’s nice to find some sun and love where not expected.

The result is “Sole e Amore” (Sun and Love), a virtual concert of works by familiar Italian composers that will be on U-Tube and Lyric’s Facebook at 6 p.m. Feb. 21, 2021.

Sung by Lyric’s 2020/21 Ryan Opera center Ensemble, Mazzola chose intimate songs—arie da camera, that are not operatic arias, but instead offer new ways to enjoy the genre’s popular composers.

As an example “Un bel dì vedremo” from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly is generally recognizable but not the song, “Terra e mare.”

The concert also includes relatively unknown works by Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi, Catalani, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, and Respighi.

“This concert is a very beautiful step into the romantic Italian world of singing, passion, and love,” says Mazzola.

For more information visit Lyric Opera of Chicago and Sole e Amore.

Jodie Jacobs

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”