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: 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 »
Though we publish a list of “players” every year, we alternate between those whose accomplishments are most visible on-stage (the artists, last year) and those who wield their influence behind the curtain (this year). Not only does this allow us to consider twice as many people, but it also puts some temporal distance between the lists. So, the last time we visited this cast of characters, two years ago, we were celebrating the end of the Richard M. Daley years in Chicago, fretting over a nation seemingly in the mood for a Tea Party and contemplating the possibility of a Latter Day Saint in the White House. Today, we’ve got a dancer in the mayor’s office, the most prominent Mormons are in a chorus line at the Bank of America Theatre and the Tea Cup runneth dry. Call us cockeyed optimists, but things sure look better from here. And so, meet the folks who, today, bring us the best theater, dance, comedy and opera in the nation.
Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke, Sharon Hoyer and Johnny Oleksinski
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Sean Panikkar/Photo: Liz Lauren
Several memorable Mozart productions have been directed by Diane Paulus and conducted by Jane Glover during Brian Dickie’s thirteen-year tenure as general director of Chicago Opera Theater. Thus, it seemed a fitting finale to Dickie’s Chicago career that the team would reunite for Mozart’s final opera, “The Magic Flute.” When the Paulus production proved too costly, that creative team fell by the wayside and COT had to start from scratch. Along the way, the Queen of the Night was vanquished by visa difficulties. As if all of that were not enough, timing was such that this would be no less than the third “Magic Flute” production heard here in less than a year. What possibly could make another production worth seeing even under the best of circumstances?
Happily, a great deal. Yes, British director Michael Gieleta gives us an often static and minimalist production, downright stark by the elaborate standards of Lyric Opera’s long-running August Everding production. But thanks to designer James Macnamara and light designer Julian Pike it is an elegant starkness, the blackness of the universe with painted galactic stars and suspended spheres acting as planetary bodies. This refined look almost makes up for such cheesy special effects as a dragon that is basically a rope with Christmas lights around it and costumes that run the gamut from generic tunics to Papageno (Markus Beam) in Nostalgia Critic attire. Read the rest of this entry »
The third time is the charm, as it turns out. Handel’s “Teseo” (“Theseus”), crowning Chicago Opera Theater’s spring season and the penultimate opera of Brian Dickie’s general directorship, is also the last of COT’s Baroque opera “Medea” trilogy that began with 2010’s production of Cavalli’s “Giasone” (“Jason”) and continued with last year’s production of Charpentier’s “Médée” (Medea). Taken as a whole, this cycle stands as one of the most important artistic initiatives COT has brought us.
Medea was last seen in the climax of “Médée” setting fire to Corinth and murdering her two children, but between Charpentier’s opera and Handel’s she has made her way to Athens to seek asylum and betrothal from King Egeo who has no heir since his only son Teseo is unknown to him due to a promise the king made to Teseo’s mother. In Handel’s “Teseo,” the young hero fights for the king without either knowing their identity and with both courting Agilea. The king plots to kill Teseo while Teseo is magically seduced into cohorting with Medea, and so on. If it all sounds a lot like Handel’s “Rinaldo,” seen recently at Lyric Opera though set during the Crusades, only the setting and names are substantially different. Read the rest of this entry »
Sara Heaton and Paul LaRosa/Photo: Liz Lauren
Brian Dickie has certainly given Chicago many firsts and many thrills in his twelve years as general director of Chicago Opera Theater, but Dickie has saved one of his best for last: the professional Chicago premiere of a satirical musical by, of all people, Dmitri Shostakovich.
With Stalin having declared modernism and the avant-garde anathema in 1936, operetta became a regime-approved art form and began flourishing during the Soviet era. Operetta houses were built next to theaters and opera houses, large orchestras and repertory casts engaged, and an entire generation of Soviet composers began writing a new species of still popular Russian operetta that remains largely unknown in the West. Read the rest of this entry »
Gerard McBurney/Photo: Todd Rosenberg
By Dennis Polkow
“Musical” and “Shostakovich” are two words few might expect to hear together. “Various people looked at ‘Moscow, Cheryomushki,’” explains the work’s adapter Gerard McBurney over tea, “but the reaction of most presenters in the West was, ‘Shostakovich? Oh, he wrote gloomy symphonies and string quartets. Not exactly a marketing dream.’”
McBurney—a composer, arranger, broadcaster and musicologist best known in the area for his popular “Beyond the Score” presentations at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra which he has overseen, written and narrated since that program’s inception in 2006—was commissioned in the early 1990s to take the piece’s large orchestration and make it performable for a production in his native England. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago Opera Theater’s New General Director Andreas Mitisek Announces 2013 Season
3 New Productions by Philip Glass, Ástor Piazzolla and Giuseppe Verdi
CHICAGO, IL – (April 4, 2012) Andreas Mitisek announced today Chicago Opera Theater’s (COT) 2013 Season, his first as General Director. The season opens in February of 2013 with the Chicago Premiere of Philip Glass’ The Fall of the House of Usher, followed by Ástor Piazzolla’s María de Buenos Aires in April, and concluding in September with another Chicago Premiere, Giuseppe Verdi’s Joan of Arc (Giovanna d’Arco). These three new productions will be presented at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park.
“Each time you come to COT, you should be surprised by something you hadn’t thought existed. We want to make you laugh and cry and reflect on the stories we present,” said Andreas Mitisek. “What ties these operas together is their focus on the tension between the power of love and the love of power. Philip Glass, Ástor Piazzolla and Giuseppe Verdi all question our views and enlighten us with insights into the eternal means of the human heart.” Read the rest of this entry »
Anna Stephany and Ensemble/Photo: Liz Lauren
A Chicago premiere, more than three centuries after a work was first performed? Welcome to Charpentier’s “Médée,” that seventeenth-century chestnut that as a byproduct of the court of Louis XIV fell into neglect until being rediscovered by the modern early music movement of the 1980s and nineties. It had been a long-stated desire of retiring Chicago Opera Theater general director Brian Dickie to present the Chicago premiere of this work—often considered the crown jewel of French Baroque opera—and this he did at long last, over Easter weekend.
This is the second of COT’s “Medea” trilogy that began with last year’s production of Cavalli’s “Giasone” (“Jason”) and which will conclude with next year’s production of Handel’s “Teseo” (“Theseus”). The carryover for all three productions is the sturdy presence of Baroque Band—the Chicago-based period-instrument ensemble that British violinist Garry Clarke founded here in 2007—and Scottish conductor and early music specialist Christian Curnyn who, as he did with “Giasone,” did a stunning job with his harpsichord continuo playing as well as keeping the action moving ahead in a spirited manner. Read the rest of this entry »
Emily Albrink/Photo: Paula Aguilera
Combining all of the art forms as it does in a live setting, opera is the ultimate human creation. A cursory look at the history of the genre reveals that, at its best, opera remains a step ahead of culture whether in the form of the cutting-edge eighteenth-century operas of Mozart, or the nineteenth-century “music dramas” of Wagner, which even managed to foresee much of what became twentieth-century cinema. Despite some notable exceptions, however, it was more common for opera productions to be more adventurous than the operas themselves during the twentieth century, largely a century of re-imagining new ways to stage old works.
Contemporary examples of opera where one or two elements are innovative are not uncommon, but new operas where every possible element pushes the envelope and which nonetheless manage to become much more than the sum of its parts are ultra rare. Tod Machover’s “Death and the Powers,” which is receiving its Midwest premiere by Chicago Opera Theater after premiering in Monaco last September and after having its American premiere last month in Boston, is such a work. Read the rest of this entry »