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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
With most Chicago theater productions postponed, audiences should start thinking of all the great entertainment that has been moved to later in the 2020-21 and over to the 21-22 season.
Here are just a few of the productions that audiences can put on their reminder calendar.
Lyric Opera of Chicago
According to Lyric General Director Anthony Freud, the rest of this spring’s offering have been canceled so “42nd Street,” a new-to-Chicago, Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, production conducted by Stephen Mear, will be on stage next spring.
The Midwest premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s “Blue” has been moved to January 2021 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater from this coming May-June’s dates at that venue. A coproduction of Washington National Opera, The Gimmerglass Festival and the Lyric, it will be conducted by Lyric music director designate Enrique Mazzola.
The Lyric Opera House is downtown at 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. For more information visit Lyric Opera of Chicago. To see and hear what’s on the Lyric’s blog including clips from operas, go to Lyric Lately.
“King James” by Steppenworlf ensemble member Rajiv Joseph, a coproduction with the Center theatre Group, has been moved to the 2021-22 season from May 7 2020 and will be directed by Artistic director Anna d. Shapiro. The first episode of the “Half Hour Ensemble Podcast begins on April 7 with co-founder Jeff Perry.
Steppenwolf Theatre is in the Lincoln Park neighborhood at.1650 No. Halsted St. Chicago. For more information, to also see an interesting, historic video and hear a podcast, and to see free virtual sessions, visit Steppenwolf.
Broken Nose Theatre
A pay-what-you-can production group, Broken Nose Theatre has moved its world premiere of “This is Only a Test” to the 2020-21 season from May 2020. Broken Nose theatre is a resident group of The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave.in chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. For more information visit Broken Nose Theatre.
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.
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 .