Articles in Classical + Opera
Interview: Every time violinist Robert Chen, concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, steps in front of his colleagues as soloist, he knows one thing very well: A solid troupe has his back. Chen will be in that happy place April 20, 22 and 23 at Orchestra Hall when he plays Bartók’s early Violin Concerto No. 1 with guest conductor Neeme Järvi. The program will get an additional performance April 21 in Wheaton.
Review: Musical artistry at 360º was on display April 9 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in a joint recital by tenor Lawrence Brownlee and bass-baritone Eric Owens, with the marvelously adroit Craig Terry at the piano. Through a rousing program, the two singers showed their vast, enthusiastic and refreshingly diverse audience a broad and deeply felt repertoire of spirituals, traditional songs and Broadway favorites as well as the opera for which they are celebrated.
Preview: Musical reflections on Easter, transcendent and intimate and existential, form conductor Charles Dutoit’s multilayered theme for his concerts April 13-15 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The gentler parts are well known; for many listeners, however, the other part, a spiritual warp of upheaval and terror born of World War II, may come as revelation in startling terms.
Review: When the Chicago Symphony Orchestra released its program schedule for the current season, among the brightest highlights – one of those don’t-miss concerts – was Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde,” to be led by Bernard Haitink, who at age 88 is unsurpassed among Mahler conductors today. Then, just days before the performance weekend, March 30-April 1, Haitink canceled due to illness. But when James Conlon, former music director of the Ravinia Festival, answered the call, “Das Lied” found its full voice.
Report: They were everywhere onstage all season, and seven are taking their final bows. It’s time to cut the cake for the gifted young artists who are emerging from the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s high-level Ryan Opera Center multi-year training program. They are venturing forth, some with bookings already in hand.
Review: Very curious, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter’s recital March 29 at Orchestra Hall with her longtime collaborator, pianist Lambert Orkis. The programming was imaginative, the performances elegant, forceful, seamlessly integrated. What was so odd was Mutter’s choice not to play out to the house, but rather to offer at best a profile as she leaned into the piano and in at least one instance read from a score propped up next to Orkis’ own music.
Review: Daniil Trifonov’s prodigious recital March 26 at Orchestra Hall provided a ringing reminder of what a treasure the Symphony Center Presents annual piano series is. To have 10 such virtuosi parade across that stage over the course of a season is a gift not to be taken lightly. Still, that said, Trifonov’s heady program was exceptional even for the world-class keyboard lineup that populates the SCP series.
Review: I can only assume that tenor Lawrence Brownlee’s next operatic role will be Muhammad Ali. It took Brownlee all of five minutes as legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker to own that tragic character – to reveal a deeply flawed figure as one who was determined to be his own man, a brilliant, scarred fighter who proved to the world that he was the greatest. The Lyric Opera of Chicago production of “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” by Daniel Schnyder and Bridgette A. Wimberly, runs through March 26 at the Harris Theater. ★★★★
Preview: “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín,” a multimedia creation with orchestra, chorus, vocal soloists, narrators and film clips, will be presented under author-conductor Murry Sidlin on March 23 at Orchestra Hall. Sidlin developed the project to memorialize Jews who learned and performed Verdi’s Requiem in figurative protest against their Nazi oppressors at the Terezin concentration camp.
Review: Lest any insatiable lover of Bizet’s opera “Carmen” be put off by the idea of a “second cast,” as the Lyric Opera of Chicago has now changed the leads in its continuing production, let me put this as plainly as possible: The mid-run advent of mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili in the title role, with tenor Brandon Jovanovich now portraying the tragically smitten Don José, isn’t just hot stuff; it is scorched earth. ★★★★
Review: With music director Riccardo Muti back on the podium, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra delivered a bravura world premiere with Samuel Adams’ “many words of love,” framed by an elegant and emotionally charged performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with soloist Mitsuko Uchida and a vivacious account of Schumann’s Fourth Symphony, which remarkably enough the CSO had not played since 2003.
Review: There was palpable energy at the Civic Opera House on March 9 when the Lyric Opera of Chicago presented “Celebrating Placido,” an evening of music and mirth with the remarkable Placido Domingo, who at age 76 still engenders that singular frisson felt upon hearing his first phrases as only the greatest vocalists are able to do.
Review: As the audience packed into Orchestra Hall whooped its enthusiasm for Esa-Pekka Salonen’s new Cello Concerto, just given its world premiere by soloist Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Salonen conducting, the two stars of the moment gleefully pointed fingers at each other as if to say, “You’re the man,” and, “Oh no, you’re the man.” They were both right.
Review: Predictable highlights of any Chicago Symphony Orchestra season are the programs with perennial guest conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. When the brilliant Finnish maestro is on the podium, the fare is always special. Now Salonen is finishing up an extended weekend run of Stravinsky’s “Le sacre du printemps” on March 7, before moving right into the world premiere of the conductor-composer’s own Cello Concerto, with soloist Yo-Ya Ma, March 9-11.
Review: Love took a glorious beating in the final grand opera of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s season, but then it has been pretty much that way since October. Prince Tamino and Princess Pamina lived happily ever after, but otherwise things ended badly for the aspiring lovers of 2016-17. Now the Lyric gives us Tchaikovsky’s cynical anti-hero Eugene Onegin, brought to life in a devastating package of elegance and self-deluding condescension by baritone Mariusz Kwiecień. ★★★★
Review: Even for Riccardo Muti, it was an extraordinary night at the symphony. The maestro’s latest musico-dramatic assemblage, Prokofiev’s “Ivan the Terrible,” received its Chicago Symphony premiere featuring longtime Muti friend Gérard Depardieu as Russia’s ruthless Tsar Ivan IV. The performance was nothing short of operatic in the majesty of its vision, the grandeur of its pageantry and the grip of its blood-red emotional palette.
Interview: Enough with comedy. This singer, now featured in “Norma” at the Lyric Opera, and soon to kick back with other rising stars at a “Beyond the Aria” event at the Harris Theater, believes the world is poised for a major revival of coloratura-tinged drama, bel canto’s serious side. Her inspirations include opera’s Marilyn Horne, but she admires those legendary Broadway belters, too.
Review: There is much to recommend the new Lyric Opera production of Bizet’s “Carmen,” a joint venture with the Houston Grand Opera. Topping the list is mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova’s scorching performance in her role debut as the Gypsy femme fatale. But in the final act, where amid much splendor one anticipates a hair-raising pay-off, director-choreographer Rob Ashford loses his way. ★★★
Review: It was an itty-bitty iteration of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that took the stage Feb. 9 – a double handful of strings plus a harpsichord and the solo violin of conductor Fabio Biondi. Together with mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, this sufficient and most excellent force served up a splendid evening of fare from the High Baroque.
Review: In the second stop of a five-city American tour that started at Lincoln Center last week and ends in Boston on Sunday, the Budapest Festival Orchestra and its conductor Ivàn Fischer offered a thrilling all-Beethoven program at Orchestra Hall that featured the Fifth Symphony and reaffirmed the freshness and sense of discovery that mark Beethoven’s buoyant early style.
Review: Chicago Symphony audiences at Orchestra Hall may be late making the acquaintance of British conductor Bramwell Tovey, but the winter-spring portion of the current season has suddenly become a concentrated getting-to-know-you period. And if one might judge from his Feb. 3 CSO debut, the assured maestro offers a new friendship worth cultivating. Tovey, who is also a pianist and composer, will return in double duty as conductor and soloist with the CSO for a newly announced pair of all-Gershwin concerts March 24-25.
Review: There is no Verdi at the Lyric Opera of Chicago this season, but there is plenty of Italian spectacle from the generation prior. Donizetti’s crazed “Lucia di Lammermoor” bowed earlier this season, and now comes Bellini’s “Norma,” the bel canto saga of a Druid high priestess betrayed in love. Sondra Radvanovsky stars in a majestic turn. ★★★★
Report: There’s no place like home, if even it’s your leader’s home away. In the welcoming embrace of Vienna’s acoustically splendid Musikverein concert hall, the touring musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra made themselves very much at home, thank you. For music director Riccardo Muti, the musical hearth is wherever you feel the love, where you’re adored, where you’re The Man. That’s Vienna, where Muti has made guest appearances with the Vienna Philharmonic for 46 consecutive years. But it’s also – and make no mistake about this – Milan, where the CSO played two concerts at the legendary Teatro alla Scala opera house, Muti’s house for two decades.
Review: When Music of the Baroque decided to present vocal masterworks by Mozart and Beethoven, it engaged two of today’s reigning sopranos – Kathryn Lewek, who is performing the Queen of the Night in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of “The Magic Flute,” and Susanna Phillips, who recently starred in the Metropolitan Opera’s premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s much-acclaimed “L’Amour de loin.” Those stars delivered in a pair of concerts that concluded in exhilarating fashion Jan. 23 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.
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.
Review: 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 Hamburg’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.
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.
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.
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.
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. ★★★★