Photo: Liz Lauren
One of the problems with being the new impresario in town who conducts, directs and simultaneously runs another opera company on the West Coast is catching your breath long enough to attain some sense of what has happened here before you arrived. Andreas Mitisek said in spoken remarks at Saturday night’s Chicago Opera Theater opening of “María de Buenos Aires”—in a comic faux fundraising letter from its deceased composer Ástor Piazzolla, no less—that Chicago had waited forty-five years to hear the piece.
COT has tempered this claim somewhat by calling the Mitisek production, which premiered in January at the Long Beach Opera which Mitisek also runs, the Chicago stage premiere. But even that is inaccurate, as the City of Chicago presented the piece as its Summer Opera in 2011. Quite often, those have been concert performances, but in this case, the work was staged. (And violinist Gidon Kremer even brought the piece to Symphony Center in a semi-staged version back in 1998.)
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Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Heavily promoted as two words you don’t hear together very often, i.e., a “mariachi opera,” “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna” [“To cross the face of the moon”] is actually a play with folk songs that happens to be accompanied by a mariachi ensemble. It is not through-composed as a true opera would be, but is more of a Mexican folk musical. It could be considered a zarzuela, the Spanish-language style of operetta with its own traditions and conventions that would actually consider mariachi somewhat lowbrow by comparison. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
One of the great difficulties in bringing an iconic contemporary play to the opera house is securing permission from the playwright, without which, an opera is not possible.
In the case of Tennessee Williams, many were interested in writing operas of his plays, particularly “A Streetcar Named Desire,” but these were refused. It wasn’t until over a decade after Williams’ death that his estate agreed to let it happen in what by that time appeared to be primarily a financial rather than an aesthetic consideration.
The restriction was that as much of the actual language of the play be preserved as possible. And there you have the fatal flaw that weighs down “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the opera. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Dan Rest
Verdi’s “Rigoletto” is so popular and done so often that it has become a festering ground for avant-garde directorial concepts that more often than not are bizarrely superimposed over Verdi’s intentions. The Met’s current production, for instance, sets the opera in a Las Vegas casino.
This unit-set production, originally presented in 2006 as a traditional “back to basics” enterprise attempting to in part compensate for a 2000 Christopher Alden production that was off the charts, does an effective job of reminding us why “Rigoletto” remains the beloved work that it is. It has been somewhat rethought by director Stephen Barlow, who is making his Lyric Opera debut. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Liz Lauren
The Andreas Mitisek era has begun at Chicago Opera Theater. Walking across the stage on crutches with a leg cast at Saturday night’s season opening, Mitisek noted that his fall on the ice earlier in the week had given new meaning to the showbiz phrase, “break a leg.”
Unlike the company’s former general director Brian Dickie, who preferred to stay in the background, Mitisek likes to do a stand-up comedy routine as an opera warm-up, last fall reading a mock letter from Mozart, this time around reading a faux Edgar Allan Poe letter from hell where he wondered how Chicagoans could not possibly lend support to such a diverse opera season: “Nevermore.” Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Dan Rest
By Dennis Polkow
The gargantuan music dramas of Richard Wagner are by and large a world inhabited by gods and heroes ruled by magic and fantasy. The one exception is “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg,” Wagner’s single comedy and most life-affirming work that deals with real, down-to-earth people, ordinary citizens who support and maintain the arts.
This is an idea that Wagner had as far back as 1845 when he wrote down most of his own original scenario for “Meistersinger,” but he set it aside for years, only returning when he stalled in his work on the “Ring” cycle after Act I and Act II of “Siegfried.” Wagner would compose “Tristan und Isolde”—which would revolutionize music and develop the expansive chromaticism that he needed to complete the “Ring”—and returned to “Meistersinger” in the intervening years, finishing the piece in 1867. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Dan Rest
Given that it was 1972 when Pier Luigi Pizzi’s sumptuous production of Puccini’s “La bohème” was first presented at Lyric Opera, few would argue that, after countless regular revivals across four decades and scenery that was literally falling apart, it was time for a new production to be seen here. What was surprising was new general director Anthony Freud opting to bring in another traditional and less elegant production from the San Francisco Opera that is itself already almost twenty years old.
The garret of the starving artists of the current production is claustrophobically cramped as it might be in real life, although ironically, the libretto specifies how spacious the attic is. But hey, people don’t sing their way through life, either. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Dan Rest
Although Engelbert Humperdinck’s fairy-tale opera “Hansel and Gretel” has been a beloved Christmas staple around the world for well over a century, it’s been a relative rarity in Chicago, Lyric Opera having staged the work only once in the company’s history.
This beloved masterpiece of late German Romanticism was written for Humperdinck’s nieces with a libretto by his sister and follows the Ludwig Bechstein version of the classic tale rather than the more familiar adaptation by the Brothers Grimm while adding its own distinctively Wagnerian touches.
Gone is the wicked stepmother and there is a much more complicated and realistic relationship between family members drawn here, along with the dark forest being used as a metaphor of a testing ground for finding our own way in life.
Originally a co-production of Lyric Opera with the Welsh National Opera—ironically when current Lyric general manager Anthony Freud was at the helm there, since this bleak but clever Richard Jones production was first seen at Lyric eleven seasons ago—it has been widely seen and praised. In this revival directed by Eric Einhorn, some of the production’s original elements have been muted a bit but without blunting their overall impact. Read the rest of this entry »
Marlis Petersen, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo/Photo: Dan Rest
Whereas the recent Lyric production of “Werther” was constantly fighting against the music for attention, the production of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” that opened Sunday afternoon thankfully restores the notion that a director can significantly enhance the operatic experience by allowing the music and the drama to be the guiding force for creative vision.
Opera singers seldom make good operatic directors as they tend to see everything from the limited performing perspective of their own voice type and character, but legendary British baritone Sir Thomas Allen, making his directorial debut at Lyric Opera with “Pasquale,” is clearly a notable exception.
From the moment the curtain rises on this Jean-Pierre Ponnelle-designed production, originally from Covent Garden, it is clear that every mannerism, every detail has been carefully thought out and seems to organically emerge out of the world of the work itself rather than having been distractingly superimposed. Bravo. Read the rest of this entry »
Thomas Hampson, Ferruccio Furlanetto/Photo: Dan Rest
The Doge of Genoa is back. He doesn’t come around very often, so if you want an audience with him, now is a good time to do so or you may end up having to wait another decade and a half or so to catch him again. Even at a house with as Italian-centered a repertoire as Lyric Opera, Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” is a relative rarity. Lyric’s lack of confidence that “Simon” can give its audiences a complete Verdi fix is evidenced by the fact that it is actually the first of two Verdi operas to be presented this season.
“Simon” should be heard every so often and certainly needs no apologies musically even if the tortured libretto might have sunk the work forever after its disastrous premiere had it not been for its reworking by Arrigo Boito years later. Verdi’s publisher had organized a meeting between Verdi and Boito concerning “Simon” in the hopes that if they could work well together, the pair might go on to collaborate on an operatic adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Othello.” The rest, as they say, is history. Neither Verdi’s “Otello” or “Falstaff,” the crowning glories of his career and of Italian opera, might have come into being had Boito and Verdi not been able to work effectively on revising “Simon.” Read the rest of this entry »