Last Sunday’s afternoon matinee of Gioachino Rossini’s “Cinderella” (“La Cenerentola”) at the Lyric Opera set me musing. Why would Lyric director Anthony Freud schedule a romantic feminist dramma giocoso, a chamber opera, in his cavernous 3,563-seat house? My answer: Freud aimed at the eight-to-twelve-year-old North Shore demographic, privileged kids whose parents think nothing of plunking down $950 for four main-floor seats. Read the rest of this entry »
With a splash of commedia dell’arte, a spoonful of Restoration comedy, and pounds of clowning, director Barbara Gaines has exploded the up-and-downstairs Mozartian confection of two marriages hanging in a balance of power, and “Le nozze di Figaro” may never be the same. Lyric Opera of Chicago opens its 2015/16 season with one of opera-goers’ most beloved chestnuts; Gaines has roasted it, and served it up for the masses. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago’s opera enthusiasts must be collectively humming as the 2015/2016 opera season explodes on the scene with two Mozart operas, “Lucio Silla” at Chicago Opera Theater, and “Le nozze di Figaro” at Lyric Opera of Chicago. “Lucio Silla” is a seldom-heard work of a sixteen year-old boy genius; Lyric shifts focus to Mozart at the height of his operatic, compositional powers. Read the rest of this entry »
It is actually not easy putting on an opera. That is what producer and best great-grandson-ever Arlen Parsa said when he took the stage at the end of his triumphant production “Andina.” Performed concert style and in Spanish with English subtitles, “Andina” is a very approachable opera written by Eustasio Rosales. The plot, a love triangle involving Don Carlos, a possibly sinister wealthy outsider, and his attempts at wooing the beautiful Rosa away from her mountain home and Juan, her childhood love, is simple. The backstory to the production, however, is anything but. Read the rest of this entry »
By Aaron Hunt
Chicago Summer Opera advertises itself as another of our city’s startup, storefront, non-profit operatic enterprises; its title promises a spoonful of gastronomical respite as Chicago’s opera gluttons starve their way through Chicago’s heat and humidity to the cooling, autumnal beginnings of the seasons of Lyric Opera of Chicago and Chicago Opera Theater. Its offerings must be considered in those terms.
Yet, a closer look at Chicago Summer Opera’s mission statement proves that it is primarily a training ground for young artists. In fact, Chicago Summer Opera’s singers are all “aspiring” opera singers, with no one among their ranks having made an “important” operatic debut, and further examination finds that, with the exception of some performers who may have been granted a scholarship, these young singers are paying tuition for classes in repertoire, acting, audition technique and diction. Each singer is promised a role in one performance of one of the company’s operas at the completion of their season’s tutelage. In the industry, this financial arrangement is called “pay for play,” and incurs all the potential positives and negatives implied. Read the rest of this entry »
I went to Palatine Friday night to hear Rossini’s “Barber of Seville.” Telling myself I had no expectations, I had been hoping for at least a fifteen-piece orchestra of solid musicians. That hope was futile.
The orchestra consisted of one decrepit upright piano played by Jason Carlson, a young Northwestern University faculty member. Unfortunately, Carlson had neglected to do a sound check from the back reaches of the auditorium with singers, while one of his students played the piano. Consequently, the singers were often drowned out by the piano reverberating off the front of the stage.
While the singers were competent Rossini executants they could not contend with the banging and jangling of that infernal upright at the front of the proscenium. It was not exactly Carlson’s fault, but rather the responsibility of director Molly Lyons, who is ex cathedra responsible for tutti. Read the rest of this entry »
Who knew the composer Gian Carlo Menotti was a serious, prophetic social critic? Not I. I remember watching his charming fantasy, “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” on black-and-white television as a boy in the 1950s. For decades I avoided looking into his one-act comic operetta, “The Telephone.” Perhaps I should have gotten off the esthetic high horse I was riding to investigate it. Menotti saw—in 1947!—that Americans were device-ridden, tyrannized by the telephone. He showed us obsessed, distracted, driven, controlled by the phone to the point that mutual consideration and conversation, formerly the chief charms of sociability, had died.
Menotti felt the telephone had killed the continuity of existence. Life was now a series of interruptions. Leisure, too, was dead. Politeness, decorum, manners, formality suffered. Casual was king. Yes, it was funny, but it was tragic, too. And Menotti lived long enough to see our sidewalks full of zombies seemingly talking to themselves, eyes fixed downward on a small object in the palm of their hand fifteen inches from their face. Read the rest of this entry »
The mythical line between opera and musical theater further fades with Chicago Opera Theater’s mounting of “A Coffin in Egypt.” Is it really an opera, as advertised? The composer, Ricky Ian Gordon, and Leonard Foglia, librettist and director, (who based his libretto on American dramatist Horton Foote’s play) have enjoyed storied Broadway careers. The scenic and costume designer Riccardo Hernandez, and lighting designer Brian Nason are Broadway veterans.
The performers address each other face-to-face, turning upstage, rather than cheating out toward the audience. The portrayals are natural, not exaggerated in body language or counterfeit emotion. “Coffin” contains spoken dialogue. This allows the singing to flow out of narrative that can no longer be expressed with mere words. Isn’t this the type of writing that made “Oklahoma” a success? Read the rest of this entry »
Pass through the ornate 1918 façade of the Chopin Theatre, bounce down a few generously carpeted stairs, and you’ll find yourself in the gregarious Pregnant Buffalo Lounge. Chicago Fringe Opera’s evening begins at the bar. For their program called “Voices in the Dark,” CFO immediately weaves a spell with low lighting and sultry jazz music, accompanied by a fine jazz trio, maestro Codrut Birsan at the piano.
When it’s time to swill down those drinks, the trio becomes an orchestra, and you’ll head into the Studio Theatre’s black box for their production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti.”
Premiered in 1952, Bernstein’s darkest opera flexed his jazz muscles, while exercising his distinctive sense for a detached, melancholy vocal line. For the only time in his career, Bernstein wrote the libretto himself. A scathing judgment of disconnected Capitalism, the piece unjustly became the stuff of university mountings, with its small cast and technical simplicity. Read the rest of this entry »
The question on my mind as I listened to the second act of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s opera “The Passenger” at the Lyric Opera Tuesday night was: Am I listening to great musical art?
The answer, unfortunately, was “no.” I say unfortunately because I had hoped for much more. The state of Holocaust education in this country remains dire after sixty-five years of public agonizing. A great work of art can change that listless, dutiful, fitful, guilty public half-resolve to get down to brass tacks on racism. “The Passenger” is the work of an enormously knowledgeable, sincere, very clever, inventive, imaginative artist. But great music?
“The Passenger” falls short for two reasons. One, its subject matter. Two, its subject matter. What do I mean? First, the Holocaust defies Music. It is a true enormity, a breath-bereaving, disgusting, obscene crime of such evil intensity, vastness and finality as to stultify all creative musical thought whatsoever. Second, Weinberg’s undeniable musical genius was not suited to the painting of unrelieved darkness and nihilism—the end of public and private faith, belief and hope forever. Read the rest of this entry »