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‘Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf’: Angst, slow pizza and fast laughs at Writers

May 30, 2016 – 6:41 pm

Review: Never mind the arcane title of the play, “Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf,” which, yes, seems familiar in a vaguely disconcerting way. You know you’re face to face with existential authenticity the moment Blanche Dubois’ voice drops an octave, plunging as if into a steamy bath of lurid sensuality. From there, it becomes a challenge for every viewer, a game of dicey drama and riotous laughter in the black box at the new Writers Theatre. ★★★★★

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Viols and countertenor a novel modernist mix in John Harbison’s reflective ‘Cross of Snow’

May 24, 2016 – 6:32 pm
Composer John Harbison (left, with score) listened to a rehearsal of his new work 'The Cross of Snow.'Review: World premiere of John Harbison’s “The Cross of Snow,” performed by Second City Musick with countertenor Nathan Medley. 
By Marta Tonegutti

A mix of early- and new-music enthusiasts gathered on May 22 in the quietly graceful Church of St. Chrysostom’s, nestled in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast, for the world premiere of a contemplative and compelling new work for four viols and countertenor voice by American composer John Harbison, presented by Second City Musick.

The superb group’s core viol players — Craig Trompeter (treble), Anna Steinhoff (bass) and Russell Wagner (tenor and treble) — were joined for Harbison’s “The Cross of Snow” by two guest performers: Brady Lanier on the tenor viol and the outstanding countertenor Nathan Medley. Read the full story »

In a Stravinsky night Dutoit and CSO recapture the blaze of ‘Firebird,’ esprit of Symphony in C

May 20, 2016 – 1:52 pm
3/19/15 8:09:08 PM -- Chicago, IL, USA
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Charles Dutoit, Conductor
Yo-Yo Ma Cello
. © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015

Review: If it is impossible to know what it was like to be at the Paris Opera in 1910 and attend the premiere of “The Firebird” as part of a glittering production of the Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s vivid, voluptuous version of this now-celebrated masterwork, heard May 19, offered at least a strong suggestion.

‘The Realization of Emily Linder’ at Redtwist: Mom’s ready for death, but not without toes

May 19, 2016 – 11:13 am

Review: Life, suggests Richard Strand’s play “The Realization of Emil Linder,” is like a stack of DVDs. What’s in it for you depends on how you look at it. That warm and fuzzy proposition, couched within dark comedy, makes for an amusing if fairly bizarre night out at Redtwist Theatre. ★★★

‘Jerusalem’ at Profiles: Retreating from life’s troubles in a camper, striking a careless pose

May 16, 2016 – 10:21 pm
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Review: He’s Peter Pan to a collection of lost boys in the Neverland of an English woods, the Wizard of Oz beguiling these Munchkins with an endless supply of drugs and booze and empty intimations that this is as good as a happy home gets. Meet Johnny “Rooster” Byron, detached soul and intractable, irreducible anti-hero of Jez Butterworth’s play “Jerusalem.” His wholly credible embodiment by Darrell W. Cox at Profiles Theatre stands among the high points of the Chicago season. ★★★★

Old friend of the CSO, Charles Dutoit returns, this time amid shades of Stravinsky and Falla

May 13, 2016 – 8:15 pm
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Interview: Conductor Charles Dutoit’s relationship with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is old and close. But even more deeply rooted in the Swiss-born maestro’s artistic persona is the music, by Manuel de Falla and Igor Stravinsky, that he leads on consecutive May weekends back at the helm of the CSO. In a chat with Chicago On the Aisle, Dutoit recalls vividly the special circumstances of his early experiences involving both composers.

‘Mary Page Marlowe’ at Steppenwolf: In Letts’ new play, woman adrift searches for an anchor

May 12, 2016 – 10:23 am
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Review: It was a happy announcement for a theater company, but happier still for any theater buff within driving distance of Chicago: Steppenwolf’s decision to extend the run of Tracy Letts’ psychologically incisive and finely crafted new play “Mary Page Marlowe.” This brilliant existential portrait of a woman out of touch with herself, lost to the world, and seemingly condemned to her lot from birth, bears a qualitative stamp worthy of “August: Osage County,” which brought Letts the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. ★★★★★

In three recipes for novel sounds, MusicNOW serves up appetizing concert-as-smorgasbord

May 10, 2016 – 10:06 pm
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Review: At its May 9 program at the Harris Theater titled “. . . Spring, Or Some Such Thing,” MusicNOW bundled three works for ensembles of fewer than 20 musicians — capped by Christopher Trapani’s flood- and hurricane-inspired song cycle “Waterlines” — into a nicely balanced, easy-to-digest dose of musical contemporaneity.

Haymarket Opera digs into Baroque treasury and finds sparkling Cavalli gem ‘La Calisto’

May 9, 2016 – 2:44 pm
Haymarket  Opera Company rehearses Calisto at the Atheneum Theatre, Wednesday, May 4,2016.

Charles Osgood Photography

Review: Thanks to the adventurous Haymarket Opera Company, Chicago audiences experienced one of the jewels of early Baroque opera, Francesco Cavalli’s “La Calisto,” on May 6 and 8 in their own back yard. It was a pure, glistening delight. With a larger stage at their disposal after the move to the spacious Athenaeum Theatre, the company’s seasoned creative team offered a historically informed re-invention of sets and costumes inspired in part by surviving production books from the opera’s 1651 premiere.

Runnicles leads CSO in 2 probing reflections on death (and variations on another enigma)

May 7, 2016 – 8:08 am
Donald Runnicles feature image

Review: Rather than grand musical statements or virtuosic solo vehicles, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra program May 5 put the focus on quiet introspection, emotional nuance and both the glory and poetry of symphonic sound. All three of the featured works by Britten, Strauss and Elgar were mainstays of the standard repertoire, but guest conductor Donald Runnicles made sure they came off as more than merely routine.

Role Playing: Danny McCarthy, pushing broom in ‘The Flick,’ finds vital pulse in long silences

May 5, 2016 – 9:32 am
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Interview: Danny McCarthy calls it a sweeping-dance, the closely choreographed stretches of, well, sweeping that often – and silently – occupy the two men at the center of Annie Baker’s play “The Flick,” winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, at Steppenwolf Theatre. “Actually, you try to stay mentally active while you’re out there,” says McCarthy, who plays Sam, a quiet man in his mid-thirties who works on the cleanup crew at a small movie house, clearing away the night’s detritus, and grapples with the haunting malaise in his life.

‘The King and I’ at Lyric Opera: Royal treat, princely delight, courtly jewel, etc., etc., etc.

May 4, 2016 – 8:33 am
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Review: Even amid the multi-year run of successes the Lyric Opera of Chicago has enjoyed in its annual spring offerings of great American musicals, the current production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I” is exceptional, a theatrical experience as visually and musically resplendent as it is emotionally true. ★★★★★

Pianist Yefim Bronfman delivers a grand tour of fire and poetry in Prokofiev ‘war sonatas’

May 2, 2016 – 3:51 pm
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Review: Pianist Yefim Bronfman brought his traveling cycle of Prokofiev’s three so-called “war sonatas” to Orchestra Hall on May 1, and a mesmerizing, virtuosic portrait of the composer in wartime it was. The sonatas represent not so much a sequence of tone paintings of a shattered world as they do states of mind of a keenly attuned composer – one who had, with profound yearning, returned to the bosom of his mother country in the early 1930s after years of wandering in the West.

Bella Voce choristers, and an organ virtuoso, illuminate path back through choral history

Apr 30, 2016 – 6:05 am
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Review: Chicago’s intimate chamber choir Bella Voce closed its 2015-16 season April 24 with an intriguing performance of Anglican choral works encompassing six centuries. One needed only to note the enthusiasm of the capacity audience gathered in Evanston’s St. Luke’s Episcopal Church to understand why Bella Voce has established itself as one of the pleasures of Chicago’s burgeoning choral music scene.

In concert, Muti and a well-rounded Falstaff bathe Verdi’s bittersweet opera in telling light

Apr 22, 2016 – 4:03 pm
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Review: Amid all its other virtues, and those are manifold, there is a refreshing, illuminating transparency and uncluttered purity in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert presentation of Verdi’s opera “Falstaff.” Its co-stars are baritone Ambroglio Maestri in the title role, at the head of a splendid cast, and CSO music director Riccardo Muti on the podium.

In ‘Bullets Over Broadway,’ that rat-a-tat-tat could be tommy gun or sound of tap shoes

Apr 19, 2016 – 1:39 pm
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Interview: Cheech is just a garden variety thug, a gangster, a hit man – who proves to be the creative genius behind a hapless playwright in the musical “Bullets Over Broadway.” And Jeffrey Brooks, who plays this heavy with the fine dramatic touch, says Cheech is also “the most real character of them all, the one with the most heart.”

‘Arcadia’ at Writers: Stoppard’s fine-spun play proves ideal opener for Glencoe’s new house

Apr 12, 2016 – 6:48 pm
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Review: If a play, off the shelf as it were, could be tailor-made for the unveiling of a distinctive new theater, Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” an intellectual romp with a touch of tragedy, is the perfect inaugural raiment for Writers’ splendid new home in Glencoe. ★★★★★

Chicago’s Joffrey, Cleveland Orchestra pair in scary matchup of Bartók’s psycho thrillers

Apr 11, 2016 – 3:03 pm
The Cleveland Orchestra
conducted by Franz Welser-Möst 
The Joffrey Ballet
Ashley Wheater, artistic director
choreography and stage direction by Yuri Possokhov
set, lighting, and projection design by Alexander V. Nichols
costume design by Mark Zappone
Mikhail Petrenko, bass
Katarina Dalayman, soprano
Members of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus
BARTÓK - The Miraculous Mandarin 
BARTÓK - Bluebeard’s Castle
Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Review: A metal and glass cage hovered behind the conductor’s podium for the Cleveland Orchestra’s newest collaboration with Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet, a pair of works by Bartók staged with the intensity of Poe and Hitchcock. Nine Joffrey dancers and two fine singers shared space with the musicians at Cleveland’s Severance Hall, where music director Franz Welser-Möst and choreographer Yuri Possokhov presented their combined vision.

April highlights around Shakespeare’s birthday and anniversary of his death April 23

Apr 7, 2016 – 6:32 pm

This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Chicago–March 24, 2016–All eyes are on Shakespeare in 2016 as the world celebrates 400 years of …

Minnesota Orchestra, led by Osmo Vänskä, to embark on four-country Europe tour in August

Apr 7, 2016 – 6:00 pm
Osmo Vänskä (Greg Helgeson)

This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.

Led by Music Director Osmo Vänskä, the Minnesota Orchestra …

In music and movement, Mark Morris troupe touches tangled hearts of ‘Dido and Aeneas’   

Apr 7, 2016 – 3:31 pm
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Review: Mark Morris ranks among this country’s greatest living choreographers. And one of the works that helped him achieve that standing is “Dido and Aeneas,” an unusual adaptation of English composer Henry Purcell’s celebrated 17th-century opera, which the Mark Morris Dance Group presented April 5 at the Harris Theater in a spellbinding visual tableaux of nuanced emotional power and hushed intensity.

CSO Chorus joins city salute to Shakespeare with tragedy, comedy from Berlioz and Verdi

Apr 6, 2016 – 10:26 pm

Preview: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus help to observe the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in April with performances of two major works under the baton of CSO music director Riccard Muti – Berlioz’s dramatic symphony “Roméo et Juliette” and a concert version of Verdi’s last opera, “Falstaff.” The demands the two works place on the chorus, says director Duain Wolfe, could hardly be more different.

‘The Matchmaker’ at Goodman: A (very) funny thing happens when sly widow decides to wed

Apr 4, 2016 – 5:11 pm
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Review: It’s Dolly’s world, the charming milieu and crazy circumstances of Thornton Wilder’s perdurable farce “The Matchmaker.” All the other characters on stage just live in it. So say hello to a delightful Dolly whose world is well worth a visit in the Goodman Theatre production starring — with a capital S — Kristine Nielsen. ★★★★

Tenor Javier Camarena gives a debut of note, make that a generous bouquet of high C’s

Apr 2, 2016 – 3:43 pm
Javier Camarena (Jonathan Muró)

Review: He premiered in 2004 at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in his native Mexico, popping off Tonio’s nine high C’s in Donizetti’s “La fille du régiment.” Ten years later, onstage at the Met in Rossini’s “Cenerentola,” he rocked as the third singer since 1942 to be granted an encore. Thus Javier Camarena’s appearance at the Harris Theater was hotly anticipated.

Mälkki’s return to Chicago Symphony podium shows why Finnish conductor’s star is on rise

Apr 1, 2016 – 10:49 am
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Review: Expectations were running high for the Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki on her return March 30 to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which she first guest conducted in 2011. And put simply, she delivered. She led a fresh, enthralling interpretation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” infused with apt doses of wonderment and exoticism.

‘Othello’ at Chicago Shakespeare: Evil cedes center stage to a figure tragic and splendid

Mar 24, 2016 – 10:04 pm
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Review: What is so striking about the current, altogether marvelous production of “Othello” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater is that the beleaguered Moor is no mere catalyst in the very events of which he is the object, but rather presents himself as a man – a great military general — worthy of his reputation. In the person of James Vincent Meredith’s Othello, and in the care of British director Jonathan Munby, Shakespeare’s play for once does not seem to be first and foremost about Iago. ★★★★★

‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ at Court: Dissembling, denial and a family on the edge

Mar 23, 2016 – 3:16 pm
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Review: The Court Theatre’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s brutal masterpiece “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is the blazing star of Chicago’s stage season. Here, with a magnificent cast directed by David Auburn, is a close-up photograph of the human condition at its most vulnerable, unretouched and utterly devastating. ★★★★★

Role Playing: Mierka Girten, actor with MS, knows wound behind her character’s scars

Mar 11, 2016 – 6:38 pm
Actress Mierka Girten

Interview: In the most intimate and empathic way, Mierka Girten connects with Trinket Dugan, the character she plays with disarming honesty in Tennessee Williams’ “The Mutilated” at A Red Orchid Theatre. Actor and character share deep, physical, albeit invisible, wounds.The big difference is that while Trinket conceals her mastectomy – her mutilation — in sorrow and shame, Girten talks openly about the multiple sclerosis she has struggled with since her days as a drama student at DePaul University.

World premieres by Jeffrey Mumford, Kahil El’Zabar set in Fulcrum Point ‘Proclamation!’

Mar 10, 2016 – 5:22 pm
Jeffrey Mumford 'becoming' to premiere April 29, 2016 (Ronald Jantz)

This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.


‘2666’ at Goodman: Epic saga of lust, murder and other scholarly pursuits in old Mexico

Mar 10, 2016 – 4:24 pm
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Review: After five and a half hours spent watching the dramatic evolution of “2666,” the adaptation by Robert Falls and Seth Bockley of Roberto Bolaño’s sprawling novel at the Goodman Theatre, I could think only of that sublimely ironic lyric made famous by Peggy Lee: Is that all there is?This ambitious enterprise affords a goodly share of rewards along its meandering narrative as a sort of whodunit for intellectuals. But in the end, in its totality, “2666” as theater is a shaggy-dog story of St. Bernard proportions. ★★★

Conductor Delta David Gier to step in for John Nelson March 11 at Chicago Bach Project

Mar 10, 2016 – 11:29 am
Delta David Gier to sub as conductor for Chicago Bach Project

This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.


Salonen, embracing history and the present, leads CSO anniversary concert to celebrate

Mar 2, 2016 – 12:15 pm
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Review: Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen’s recent concerts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra came as a multifaceted, indeed exhilarating reminder of the CSO’s grand legacy and at the same time pointed up the orchestra’s undiminished prowess as well as its still-rising arc of achievement.