Articles in Classical + Opera
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. ★★★★
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. ★★★★★
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.
Review: To say the just-released recording of Handel’s “Messiah,” arranged and conducted by Andrew Davis with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, is unlike anything you’ve ever heard would be categorically true, down to the pictorial accents of harp, trombones and – yea, verily – marimba and tambourines.
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. ★★★★
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.
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. ★★★
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.
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.
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.★★★
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.
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.
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.
Review: The setting is Transylvania. Oh, wait a minute. I mean Schaumburg, and Bayreuth. I was confusing “Longer, Louder Wagner!,” the wild and crazy Second City-Lyric Opera of Chicago send-up of Wagner’s “Ring” operas, with the Mel Brooks-Gene Wilder film “Young Frankenstein.” Silly me. And yet…he is alive! ★★★
Review: For the perennially devoted followers of the Newberry Consort, which this season celebrates its 30th anniversary of presenting concerts of music from the Middle Ages to the Baroque, the concert experience is a beguiling paradox: entertainment that’s very old and yet at the same time quite new.
Review: The 33-year-old German conductor David Afkham made a doubly impressive debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Oct. 20, leading a finely feathered and emotionally searing account of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony and showing no less mastery in his collaboration with Emanuel Ax in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major.
Review: When the members of the Dover Quartet were students at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, they were mentored by former members of the now-disbanded Guarneri, Vermeer and Cleveland quartets. It is not surprising, then, that the eight-year-old foursome hopes to follow in the footsteps of those distinguished groups, and if its superb concert Oct. 18 at Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall was any indication, the ensemble is well on its way to accomplishing that goal.