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.
Of course, theater audiences want different things before going ahead to spend money and time on a show. Some folks prefer musicals, others like Shakespeare and some gravitate to shows that are different or particularly creative. Because opera is also dramatic theater that requires excellent acting, compelling story lines and fine voices, we include Lyric Opera productions when applicable.
Here is Chicago Theater and Arts reviewers’ list of favorite productions seen during 2019 which was designated by the City of Chicago and the League of Chicago Theatres as the Year of Chicago Theatre.
Francine Pappadis Friedman
“Jersey Boys” at the Auditorium Theatre in April, 2019. I headlined it: ‘Oh, what a night!” Amusing dialogue was interspersed with tremendous songs by four guys, the story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons who were living in New Jersey. Not only did their songs keep the audience laughing, but even younger audience members were swinging and swaying in their seats. And many of their songs sang about love!
“Falsettos” at the James M. Nederlander Theatre in May/June 2019. I headlined it: “Let’s live life through music.” It was a fabulous musical taking place in New York in the 1970s, with a psychiatrist, gay men and women, and a little boy—one of the main characters—who was worried about his father’s sexuality when his parents got divorced. The story moved along with songs and the boy, whose father sang “Father to Son,” that said he’d always be there for him.
“Next to Normal” at Writers Theatre, Glencoe in June. Writers Theatre unerringly brought to the stage what life is like in a home where a family member is mentally ill. Penned by Brian Yorkey who also did the lyrics and with music by Tom Kitt, the show took three Tony awards in 2009. It also won the Pulitzer Prize for drama because even though it has highly expressive musical numbers, it is not a feel-good musical.
“Oslo” a Timeline Theatre production at the Broadway Playhouse in October, brilliantly revealed the behind the scenes negotiations in Norway that led up to the famed handshake on the White House lawn between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat in 1993. What “Oslo,” the multi-award-winning play by J. T. Rogers does is introduce audiences to Mona Juul, superbly acted by Bri Sudia whose sensible but passionate portrayal of the Norwegian diplomat who initiated the behind the scenes action, glides from serious to charming to comic, and to Scott Parkinson who as facilitator Rød-Larsen has the difficult task of making all the players in the sensitive negotiations, look good.
Don Giovanni” at the Lyric Opera House in November and December is an 18th century Mozart opera in perfect tune with #MeToo times. If you knew before seeing Lyric’s outstanding production of “Don Giovanni” that (Il dissouto punita, ossia il Don Giovanni), 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.
“International Falls” by Agency Theater Collective and End of the Line Production at the Nox Arca in August. It was an intimate play with truthful dialog that was well acted.
“My Life as A Country Song” by New American Folk Theatre at Chief O’Neill’s in October. It had very good original music.
My favorite is a theatrical event: the 3rd Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. More than 100 performances of 24 shows were given by professional puppeteers from 11 countries at 19 venues. I had the privilege of seeing “Ajijaak on Turtle Island,” the story of a young whopping crane who was accidentally separated from her parents during her first migration. Along the way to unification, she learned valuable life-lessons about herself and living in harmony with nature. Puppets of all sizes and styles, their handlers, musicians and dancers interacted seamlessly to present an engaging and unforgettable experience.
Comedy Kills in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” at Porchlight Music Theatre” mid January to mid March. This was my favorite show of the year because of the fine acting of Jefferson- Award Winner Matt Crowle who plays multiple roles of both men and women. This hilarious musical comedy tells the story of Monty Navarro, a conniving, down-on-his-luck Englishman who finds out he stands to inherit the earldom of Highhurst and substantial wealth if only he could eliminate his eight pesky relatives who stand in his way. Quickly as you can imagine, things start to go awry. But Navarro must keep on his toes with both his mistress and his fiancée… and not get put in jail. And those darting eyes… hysterical!
Well, even though the designation of Year of Chicago Theatre is about over, all of us at Chicago Theater and Arts think we’re lucky to have great theater on stages large and small throughout the Chicago area every year.
We know that the theater season doesn’t go by the calendar year at every venue but no matter how the season is divided, we are very much looking forward to seeing and reviewing the best of 2020.
We wish everyone an interesting theater experience in the new year.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 Bolena, Maria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux in a semi-staged performance of Donizetti “The Three Queens” Dec 1-7, 2019.
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.
April is filled with things to do and places to go. Some events cater to families, others to adults. Here are a few events to put on the calendar. And yes, go even if it’s in the children category unless specifically stated for ages 5-12.
Mummies and more
Learn about mummies and ancient “earth day” style practices at two free Oriental Institute Museum April events for ages 5 through 12.
The Oriental Institute Museum is at 1155 E. 58th Street, Chicago, IL For more information than what is found above in “Mummies” and “Earth Day” call the Oriental Institute’s Public Education Office at 773-702-9507.
Chicago Botanic Garden is holding a hands-on science fair with seeds, flower pollination and other activities on April 13-14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Some activities such as making your own seed necklace and how to see it sprout are free. There is a parking fee for nonmembers. For details visit Chicago Botanic Garden Science Festival.
The Chicago Botanic Garden is at 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe just east of Edens Expressway.
Huge trolls have populated the Morton Arboretum and will still be around to check them out if visiting during the Arboretum’s daily Arbor Day activities in april and special Arbor Day events April 26-27. Anyone dressed as a tree on April 26 will be admitted free.
For admission and hours visit Visit-Explore. The Morton Arboretum is at 4100 IL Hwy 53, Lisle.
Lyric Opera of chicago celebrates its Ryan Opera Center with the Rising Stars in Concert April 7 at 2 p.m. Sopranos Whitney Morrison, Emily Pogorelc and Ann Toomey will be singing arias, duets and other pieces with Mezzo-soprano Kayleigh Decker, contralto Lauren Decker, tenors Eric Ferring Josh Lovell and Mario Rojas along with baritones Christopher Kenney and Ricardo Jose Rivera plus bass-baritones Alan Higgs and David Weigel. Pianist is Madeline Slettedahl.
The One of a Kind Show, open to the public (as opposed to the trade) takes place at the Merchandise Mart in early winter in time for the holidays and mid-spring in time for Mother’s Day. This Spring it happens Ap;ril 26, through April 28. Handmade items range from paper, ceramics, paintings and photography to jewelry, sculpture, fiber Art, meta, glass and wood. Plus there are gourmet treats for sale.
The Merchandise Mart is at 222 Merchandise Mart plaza between the Chicago River and Kinzie and between Wells and Orleans. For tickets visit One of a kind/spring/tickets.
Green City Market opens in Lincoln Park May 4. A popular farmers market that features chef demos, fresh produce and many local products, operates Saturday and Wednesday through Oct. 26, 2019 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Green City Market in Lincoln Park is at 1817N Clark St. For more information, visit Green City Market.