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CSO in Europe: Adjusting to an intimate hall, touring orchestra steps up by dialing down

Jan 20, 2017 – 8:40 am

Review: Even the cab drivers in Aalborg, Denmark, a city of 200,000 residents, are proud of the Musikkens Hus, an intimate and distinctively modernist 1,300-seat concert hall that opened two years ago. Concerts Jan. 16-17 by the touring Chicago Symphony Orchestra with music director Riccardo Muti bore out that civic pride.

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CSO in Europe: Epic escalator, untested hall greet orchestra at Hamburg Elbphilharmonie

Jan 17, 2017 – 4:01 pm

Hamburg's soaring Elbphilharmonie rises like a crown atop a waterfront warehouse. (Todd Rosenberg)

Review: Figuring out acoustics on the fly, Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony played two nights for night-and-day audiences.
By Lawrence B. Johnson

HAMBURG – Some 600,000 of the curious, and proud, already have taken the long, long escalator ride from street level to the eighth-floor lobby of this city’s brand-new Elbphilharmonie concert hall, where the Chicago Symphony in concerts Jan. 14-15 became the first foreign orchestra to perform on its stage. Both the curiosity and the pride were understandable. Read the full story »

On a medieval adventure, Newberry Consort explores music of a soldier-poet-composer

Jan 16, 2017 – 10:34 am
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Review: While some unexplored or at least under-explored crannies of Baroque, Romantic or even modern composition can still be found, the music of the Middle Ages remains filled with buried treasure. For a set of concerts that ran Jan. 13-15, the ever-intrepid, ever-imaginative Newberry Consort delved into this rich period and hit pay dirt with a transporting and absorbing program devoted entirely to the little-known music of Oswald von Wolkenstein.

CSO in Europe: Exuberant reception in Paris launches orchestra’s exploration of new halls

Jan 15, 2017 – 10:01 am
1/13/17 10:34:13 PM -- The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Riccardo Muti Music Director

2017 European Tour 

The Chicago Symphony performs  Mussorgsky's  Pictures at an Exhibition

© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

Review: The Parisians made their assessment quickly about the matchup of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonie, the city’s splendorous two-year-old concert hall. That judgment, delivered by a packed house, was loudly affirmative after the first piece on the Jan. 13 program conducted by music director Riccardo Muti. And it only grew more raucous as the night went on.

Role Playing: Tyla Abercrumbie was set to run little ‘Hot Links’ café, but why was she there?

Jan 11, 2017 – 6:20 pm
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Interview: Actors know the OMG moment well. You win the audition and get the part. Then comes hard reality: You actually have to do it. But for Tyla Abercrumbie, who gives one of those performances you can’t take your eyes from in Eugene Lee’s “East Texas Hot Links” at Writers Theatre, the daunting truth was not simply that she had to measure up to what she’d won. She had to figure out why her character was even in the play.

New Orford Quartet, keeping ties to orchestral world, makes mixed showing at Northwestern

Jan 9, 2017 – 8:05 pm
New Orford's members are principals in Montreal, Toronto and Detroit symphonies. (Alain Lefort)

Review: The Jan. 8 concert at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall raised as many questions as it answered about the Canadian New Orford String Quartet. While its four members, two concertmasters and two principals in the Montreal, Toronto and Detroit Symphony Orchestras, are obviously all excellent individual musicians, it was hard not to wish at times for more interpretative depth and insight.

‘The Weir’ at Irish Theatre: Ghosts and laughs abound — until hidden demons come to light

Jan 8, 2017 – 12:19 am
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Review: It’s a play about hauntings, Conor McPherson’s “The Weir,” a dark and sharply drawn comedy of the unconscious now enjoying an infectious – and, happily, extended — run by the Irish Theatre of Chicago. Ghosts, the ones within us, fill the rural pub where “The Weir” unfolds: Five characters quite recognizably and sufficiently stand in for the lot of frail, erring, rueful humanity. ★★★★

Shakespeare 400 Chicago: ‘The Winter’s Tale’ brings remembrance of Bard near final curtain

Dec 20, 2016 – 2:22 pm
A WINTER’S TALE by Shakespeare,          , Writer - William Shakespeare, Director - 
Declan Donnellan, Designer - 
Nick Ormerod
, Cheeck by Jowl, 2015, Credit: Johan Persson/

Review: Chicagoland theater buffs have spent a goodly part of the last year reveling in the many and wondrously diverse events of Shakespeare 400 Chicago. This circle of opportunity, revelation and indeed riotous and profound fun – engineered mainly by Chicago Shakespeare Theater and its artistic director, Barbara Gaines — comes to a close Dec. 21 with the final performances of “The Winter’s Tale.” It’s a crackling production by the British company Cheek by Jowl, and one that brings the yearlong observance back to its auspicious starting place. ★★★★

Lyric’s ‘Flute’ is a time-bending gift from ’50s, backyard fun boxed in spirit of Disney magic

Dec 19, 2016 – 10:51 am
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Review: The ultimate holiday gift for arts lovers this season is Lyric Opera of Chicago’s rambunctiously retro world premiere production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” set triumphantly in the world headquarters of the baby boom. Which is to say, a backyard of the ’50s and ’60s, as seen through the eyes of a child. This nostalgic feat is an exceptional musical delight and a fine show for families of all ages. What makes this show giftable is its extended January run. ★★★★

Joffrey Ballet finds fresh magic in ‘Nutcracker’ newly choreographed, reimagined in Chicago

Dec 16, 2016 – 5:16 pm
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Review: It is St. Petersburg on Lake Michigan, the Joffrey Ballet’s magical – and relocated – new production of “The Nutcracker” by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, who has brought his characteristic airy style to bear to ethereal effect. Wheeldon and story-writer Brian Selznick have set “The Nutcracker” as a vibrant vision of the 1893 Columbian World’s Exposition on the Chicago lakefront. ★★★★★

In a ‘Curious Incident,’ a special boy grapples with the twists, turns and illogic of growing up

Dec 13, 2016 – 10:03 am
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Review: Christopher is determined to a) solve the mystery of who has killed his neighbor’s dog and b) take a math advance-placement exam. The story that takes flight is music for the soul. Now playing through Dec. 24 at the Oriental, this brave and wonderful Broadway in Chicago national touring production is about the dignity of the adolescent passage, as seen through the eyes of a brilliant boy in constant danger of sensory overload, and his ever-present companion, a pet rat. ★★★★

‘Fundamentals’ at Steppenwolf: Downstairs at posh hotel, no Up button for the service crew

Dec 11, 2016 – 1:59 pm
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Review: The time is right for “The Fundamentals,” a sly new play by Erika Sheffer now upstairs at Steppenwolf. With mega-corps in the news for claiming ignorance of malfeasance so widespread it involves thousands of workers — while simultaneously selling the perfume of lofty company ideals — Sheffer zeroes in on the souls who draw the paychecks and suffer the joke. ★★★

Veteran conductor and a violin virtuoso join CSO in gift-wrapping treasures of 20th century

Dec 10, 2016 – 9:45 am
Vadim Gluzman Photo: Marco Borggreve

Review: There was nothing particularly of Yuletide in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s concert Dec. 8 with the venerable Estonian conductor Neeme Järvi and the Ukrainian-born violinist Vadim Gluzman. But the evening was so brilliant, such a treat – with Orchestra Hall festooned in great green wreaths and red bows for the season – that it all felt like a wonderful holiday gift.

Role Playing: AnJi White, as Catherine Parr, learned to keep her wits – to keep her head

Dec 8, 2016 – 12:00 pm
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Interview: When you’re playing the sixth wife of the notorious spouse-disposing English King Henry VIII, says AnJi White, the resolve to survive comes mixed with the question of how. Analyzing her own grand and yet vulnerable portrayal of Catherine Parr, in Kate Hennig’s “The Last Wife” at TimeLine Theatre, White says she pursues a nightly answer to the riddle of endurance with a royal husband who holds her life in his palm, and who will brook neither challenge nor collaboration.

‘Electra’ at Court: As a bloody legend closes, mournful daughter pines for two more deaths

Dec 6, 2016 – 9:53 pm
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Review: In Sophocles’ “Electra,” the classic Greek tragedy of vengeance, now starring Kate Fry in an earthy, understated take on the title role at Court Theatre, the waiting game is all. One day, Electra’s hatred for her murderous mother Clytemnestra will be requited; one day, her prince will come. But the prince Electra awaits is her own, long-absent brother Orestes, who surely will avenge the killing of their father, King Agamemnon, by this woman and her illicit, usurping consort. ★★★★

‘Christmas Carol’ rings out again at Goodman: Scrooge & Co. affirm spirit at heart of the deal

Dec 3, 2016 – 1:44 pm
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Review: For his ninth season, Larry Yando plays the gnarled old man whose very name is now a synonym for miser, his “Bah! Humbug!” an all-purpose slapdown that distills the essence of a curmudgeonly world view. Until Scrooge discovers joy, that is. Yando’s wonderfully long face is as capable as ever of rubbery contortions worthy of a cartoonist’s pen. Goodman’s “A Christmas Carol” is a tradition happily renewed. ★★★★

Comic sequel to ‘Pride & Prejudice’ bundles bookish romance into shining Christmas play

Nov 25, 2016 – 10:13 pm
Author Renee Rosen

Charles Osgood Photography
 
 Northlight Theatre dress rehearsal for Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.
Charles Osgood Photography
 
 Northlight Theatre dress rehearsal for Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.
Charles Osgood Photography
 
 Northlight Theatre dress rehearsal for Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.
Charles Osgood Photography
 
 Northlight Theatre dress rehearsal for Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.
Charles Osgood Photography

Review: Less than halfway through “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” a happy world premiere in the spirit of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” I found myself wishing that Elizabeth Bennet had eight sisters, not four. That way I could look forward to more Austen sequels by the playwright team of Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. They have done a pitch-perfect job assimilating the 19th-century novelist’s way with words while spinning entirely new adventures for the bookish, presumably unmarriageable, middle sister of the Bennet household – Mary. ★★★★

As King Charles III approaches throne at CST, moral crisis and iambic pentameter engulf him

Nov 23, 2016 – 9:11 pm
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Review: Not very far into Mike Bartlett’s “King Charles III,” directed by Gary Griffin at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, I found myself wondering how it all might work telescoped into a monodrama and spoken – not declaimed, heaven help us – by Robert Bathurst, the king in waiting here and the one actor in view who seemed to understand that blank verse is not speech set to the head-pounding of a jackhammer. ★★

In season of grandeur and magic, Lyric Opera scores with simple charm of ‘Don Quichotte’

Nov 22, 2016 – 6:30 pm
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Review: Ambitious out of the gate, the 2016-17 Lyric Opera of Chicago season gave us Part I of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, with Rhinemaidens, giants and a dragon. In December the company will offer Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” with trials of fire and water, a feathered bird-catcher and another dragon. In between we have seen high-flying coloratura (“Lucia di Lammermoor”) and a new high-tech stage toy in Berlioz’ “Les Troyens.” Time now for some simple old-school tradition? Whyever not? The Lyric’s presentation of Massenet’s “Don Quichotte” is pure operatic comfort food. ★★★★

Pianist ignites a Prokofiev concerto with CSO, and veteran maestro shows mastery in debut

Nov 20, 2016 – 8:21 pm
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Review: The technical demands Prokofiev placed on the soloist in his Second Piano Concerto are formidable. But chops alone will not suffice. The fiery Second also demands the fierce temperament displayed by Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin in his electrifying performance Nov. 18 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conductor Emmanuel Krivine, who also led a charming and expansive account of Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony.

‘Betrayal’ at Raven: In a threesome of friends, lovers, fidelity emerges as a relative concept

Nov 17, 2016 – 4:22 pm
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Review: Harold Pinter’s play “Betrayal” begins at the end – beyond the end, actually. And from there, this gritty slant on the eternal triangle works its way backward through the embers, the blaze and the multifarious deceptions of an affair. The affair is a tangled, bruising mess; the telling of it, at Raven Theatre, is a thing of raw-boned beauty. ★★★★

‘Les Troyens’ at Lyric Opera: An epic romance told in vibrant music (against a bleak setting)

Nov 15, 2016 – 3:29 pm

Review: Berlioz’s grandiose opera “Les Troyens” is a tale of two cities. The ambitious new production mounted by the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the company’s first presentation of this prodigiously demanding work, is an epic venture with two outcomes. Musically, it is resplendent, a huge success by a stellar cast under the leadership of Andrew Davis; conceptually, which is really to say visually, this “Troyens” – The Trojans — struggles to bear its own leaden weight. ★★★

Chicago Symphony Chorus glories in Brahms’ ‘German Requiem’ under van Zweden’s baton

Nov 13, 2016 – 11:10 pm
11/10/16 9:17:10 PM 

Mozart Masonic Funeral Music
Wagner Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde
Brahms A German Requiem

PERFORMERS

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Jaap van Zweden conductor
Christiane Karg soprano
Michael Nagy baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus 
Duain Wolfe chorus director

© Alex Garcia Photography 2016

Review: Brahms’ “German Requiem” is a gentle monument, expressive in equal parts of humility, reassurance and peace. Such were the components of a radiant performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with soprano Christiane Karg and baritone Michael Nagy, conducted by Jaap van Zweden on Nov. 11 at Orchestra Hall.

James Levine, a musical soul for all ages, appears before the CSO and it’s all poetry

Nov 8, 2016 – 12:42 pm

Review: Celebrating his splendid Indian summer, James Levine rolled up a long ramp to a custom-designed maestro’s podium at Orchestra Hall, took a hi-hello spin, and settled into a love-fest with the Chicago Symphony, starting with some absolutely irresistible Mozart. It is impossible to overstate the importance to American culture of this brilliant musician who, despite physical infirmity, is capable of unforgettable concerts when conditions are right.

‘East Texas Hot Links’ at Writers: A small café, some laughs, some fear; and then some blood

Nov 7, 2016 – 5:51 pm
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Review: Eugene Lee’s lyrical tragedy “East Texas Hotlinks” is an exquisite song of betrayal, an ironic ballad of the enemy within. And it is pitch perfect in a fluent, wryly comedic and quite astonishing production directed by Ron OJ Parson at Writers Theatre. The grace and truth of August Wilson’s poetic style permeate the characters as well as the language of Lee’s 1991 play, a reflection of this playwright-actor’s long association with the Wilson canon. ★★★★★

Purcell’s ‘Fairy Queen’ updated, crossed over and turned into crazy fun by Chicago Opera

Nov 7, 2016 – 10:27 am
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Review: Who is that with the pink head, leathery strawberry feet and an oversized gut, whimpering and bellowing and moaning? Why, it’s Puck, the sleazy Las Vegas club owner in Chicago Opera Theater’s “The Fairy Queen.” COT’s take on Purcell is a reworking of Shakespeare by artistic director Andreas Mitisek and the performance troupe Culture Clash. It’s contemporary, ridiculous and fun.★★★

CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL:  Globe-trotting maestro natural ambassador for Vino Nobile

Nov 6, 2016 – 10:54 am
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Mulling Wine: Italian conductor Enrique Mazzola is the unlikely international ambassador for the 70-plus producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano in Tuscany. It’s a natural role, the maestro says, because — like any ambassador — he’s always taking his advocacy on the road.

This is going to sound mad, but for Lyric star scary-difficult role of Donizetti’s Lucia is easy

Nov 4, 2016 – 2:40 pm
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Report: One of the great dramatic coloraturas of our day will go mad for the last time at Lyric Opera of Chicago on Nov. 6. But it’s impossible to believe that Russian singer Albina Shagimuratova won’t be back. The bond she forged with Lyric Opera general director Anthony Freud a decade ago is strong. Shagimuratova is at the top of her game now. But when she first sang for Anthony Freud, she was in her mid-twenties, fresh from the Moscow State Conservatory. She didn’t know the first thing about building a career.

In high-flying ‘Grounded,’ female fighter pilot gets a painfully close-up view of war’s horror

Nov 1, 2016 – 11:02 pm
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Review: It’s like nothing else, the F-16 fighter pilot declares: alone in the blue, just you and this amazing airplane. You unload your rockets, bombs, whatever, and before they even go boom, you’ve peeled back into that boundless sky and headed toward base – to join the guys, your fellow aces, down a few beers and swap stories. For the remarkable woman in George Brant’s monodrama “Grounded,” that’s how it’s always been. Until now. ★★★

Chicago Philharmonic summons dark spirits with high-spirited ‘Haunted Hearts’ concert

Nov 1, 2016 – 6:55 am
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Review: The Chicago Philharmonic’s “Haunted Hearts” Halloween weekend concert was a clever, idiosyncratic program with both frightful and delightful works, ranging from horror masterpieces like Bernard Herrmann’s score to “Psycho” to the standout piece, C. P. E. Bach’s Fifth Symphony. Four “haunted” pieces formed the middle of the concert, all sharing some relation to film.

‘Red Velvet’ at Raven: When black actor dares to play Othello, guardians of the theater revolt

Oct 31, 2016 – 4:38 pm
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Review: Lolita Chakrabarti’s eloquent play “Red Velvet,” currently offered in a keen-edged production at Raven Theatre, is a full-body immersion in the cold, foul waters of racial bigotry. Named for the seductive stuff that covers seats and railings in many a theater, the drama concerns the historical 19th-century African-American actor Ira Aldridge, a major figure on stages across Europe for three decades beginning in the 1830s. ★★★★

Young maestro walks into house Reiner built, confronts CSO and a daunting Strauss legacy

Oct 30, 2016 – 12:19 pm

Review: It must be with a certain prideful reluctance that the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra face each new generation of conductors eager to take their own shot with one of the most famous works in its recorded legacy  – Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra.” The 38-year-old Colombian conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada did not score a clear success despite a lot of bounce and body language in every single beat.