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‘Rigoletto’ at the Lyric Opera: Not for the eye, but it’s a triple treat vocally, and that’s no jest

Oct 10, 2017 – 8:31 pm
10/4/17 1:17:13 PM -- Lyric Opera Chicago Presents 
Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto 

© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

Review: Thanks to the vocally resplendent and emotionally engaged performances by baritone Quinn Kelsey as the hateful and paranoid court jester Rigoletto, soprano Rosa Feola as his sheltered and naïve daughter Gilda and tenor Matthew Polenzani as the sexually predatory Duke of Mantua, the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s take on Verdi’s “Rigoletto” pays significant rewards as psychological drama. But this bleak, objectified production created 20 years ago for the San Francisco Opera with sets by Michael Yeargan – and directed here by E. Loren Meeker – all but nullifies the work as theater. ★★★

Louis Lortie keys on the virtuosity of Liszt’s vivid, peripatetic life as a Romantic artist

Oct 10, 2017 – 4:22 pm
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Review: The Symphony Center piano series opened Oct. 8 with an astounding concert by the French Canadian pianist Louis Lortie devoted entirely to Liszt’s masterful “Années de pèlerinage.” This was a rare and ravishing performance evoking Liszt’s years of pilgrimage as an itinerant virtuoso. Throughout the two halves of the concert you could hear a pin drop in Orchestra Hall.

Muti and Chicago Symphony set the bar high for new season in stellar Bruckner, Schumann

Sep 30, 2017 – 9:14 am
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Review: I caught up belatedly with the Chicago Symphony’s season-opening program under music director Riccardo Muti – a spritz of modernism in Penderecki’s “The Awakening of Jacob,” soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter’s spell-binding flight through the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and Muti’s revelatory account of Schumann’s Second Symphony — then two nights later heard the program that continues through Oct. 1: the world premiere of CSO resident composer Elizabeth Ogonek’s alluring “All These Lighted Things” and perhaps the greatest performance of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony that I’ve witnessed in 50 years as a critic.

Lyric Opera, in stylish step with Joffrey Ballet, dances into new season with Gluck’s ‘Orphée’

Sep 26, 2017 – 2:48 pm

Review: My first reaction to the sublime Elysium Fields scene in “Orphée et Eurydice,” as conceived by John Neumeier for the Chicago Lyric Opera, was that I was actually looking at Gluck’s music — that I was “seeing” the sound, so perfectly twinned were the diaphanous movements of the dancers to the serene music representing spirits in afterlife. My second reaction was that Neumeier knows his Freud. With plenty of insight and practical know-how, he has crafted a brilliant contemporary scheme for this 1774 Paris version of Gluck’s opera, which draws from the ancient myth of Orphée’s rescue attempt in the underworld. ★★★★★

Muti to open Chicago Symphony season with concerts spotlighting Mutter and a premiere

Sep 15, 2017 – 4:21 pm
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Music Director Riccardo Muti returns to Chicago in September for his first Chicago Symphony Orchestra residency …

Chicago Sinfonietta opens 30th-anniversary season with diverse fare touting its Trademark

Sep 15, 2017 – 2:25 pm
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Chicago Sinfonietta, the nation’s most diverse orchestra, kicks off its 30th anniversary with concerts on the theme Trademark, showcasing unusual …

Under Kalmar’s command, Grand Park forces triumph in oratorio hailing end of World War II

Jul 31, 2017 – 6:48 pm
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Review: We’re well into another Grant Park Music Festival season that has demonstrated once again the value of conductor Carlos Kalmar’s artistic leadership through 18 summers. Where else but in Millennium Park, under Kalmar’s baton, might one hope to hear the likes of Swiss composer Frank Martin’s grand-scaled, inexplicably neglected oratorio “In terra pax,” a profound and moving reflection on the long-awaited end of the carnage that was World War II.

After rough start, Grant Park Orchestra takes Romantic turn, prize-winning violinist soars

Jul 20, 2017 – 11:20 am
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Review: Americana and Romanticism, as well as a thoughtful view of America’s shadowed past, were on display at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion on July 19 when Brett Mitchell led the Grant Park Orchestra in works by Kenji Bunch and Copland as well as Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concerto No. 3 with soloist Angelo Xiang Yu, who had no trouble demonstrating why he won the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition in 2010.

CSO’s June fare offered smart change of pace, and a swim with ‘Jaws’ live tops off the month

Jun 26, 2017 – 3:07 pm
Riccardo Muti and Chicago SO and choruses (Todd Rosenberg)

Review: Bustin’ with freshness, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s June has been almost a season unto itself. The programs have been rich, novel and imbued with summer’s ease. Packed houses have been treated to programs of considerable class, as the names of Riccardo Muti, Susanna Mälkki, John Williams and Branford Marsalis imply. And there is still a big fish in the sea.

Soprano Susanna Phillips, Lyric Opera alum, returns to Chicago to sing at Grant Park fest

Jun 20, 2017 – 10:56 pm
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Interview: Despite sounding hoarse over the phone because of a cold, Susanna Phillips gushed enthusiasm about making her debut at the Grant Park Music Festival on June 21 in a concert conducted by festival music director Carlos Kalmar. She’s just as enthusiastic about the unusual repertoire she’ll be performing, Aaron Copland’s “Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson.”

Summer is icumen in: Classical concerts fill Ravinia Festival stages, alfresco and indoors

Jun 20, 2017 – 9:55 am
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Preview: A bountiful smorgasbord of classical music enriches the summer fare at the 2017 Ravinia Festival. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra puts in a stint with an array of guest conductors and soloists at the festival pavilion, while on a smaller scale indoor venues will see a parade of string quartets and pianists. We offer a comprehensive look-ahead at Ravinia’s classical presentation.

In rainy weather, Grant Park Festival shines when orchestra, chorus, soloists go seafaring

Jun 19, 2017 – 4:08 pm
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Review: Music director Carlos Kalmar’s always imaginative – and often quite bold – programming for the Grant Park Music Festival hit an early peak June 16 and 17 in his choice of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ prodigious “Sea Symphony.” This 70-minute masterpiece for orchestra, chorus, soprano and baritone uses texts from Walt Whitman’s poem “Leaves of Grass” to create an epic duality: a great paean to the sea and a metaphor for the grandeur and the possibilities of human life.

Pianist Gerstein measures himself against pair of Olympians, and displays solid gold mettle

Jun 12, 2017 – 9:52 pm
Kirill Gerstein
Photo: Marco Borggreve

Review: As prodigious as it was unusual, pianist Kirill Gerstein’s recital June 11 at Orchestra Hall bundled the double rarity of Brahms’ ambitious early Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp minor and the full dozen of Liszt’s spectacular “Transcendental” Etudes. To the teenage Brahms’ brash grand sonata Gerstein, now age 37, brought a young man’s bravura spirit, and in Liszt’s monumental Etudes he showed a leonine profile of strength, agility and grace.

Concertos aplenty (world premiere for horn), star soloists await at Grant Park Music Fest

Jun 11, 2017 – 9:33 pm
Grant Park Music Festival feature image (Christopher_Neseman)

Preview: The 2017 Grant Park Music Festival begins Wednesday, June 14. Here’s a look at all that’s in store on the great lawn at Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, where star-gazing, the Lake Michigan breeze and great music are free. See our highlights preview.

Pair of Mozart masters light it up with the CSO — no hurdle’s too high for Honeck or Lewis

Jun 10, 2017 – 11:35 am
6/8/17 8:02:00 PM --  Chicago, IL
Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Manfred Honeck conductor
Paul Lewis piano
Regula Mühlemann soprano

 © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

Review: The Chicago Symphony is, at its present time in history, a Mozart orchestra of sheer delight. With Austrian guest conductor Manfred Honeck and English pianist Paul Lewis as able interlocutors, the nimble ensemble has the brightness, delicacy and tensile strength to float long lines at breakneck speeds, remaining ever lyrical while having wicked fun.

Austrians arm in arm: Manfred Honeck brings multidimensional Mozart to four CSO concerts

Jun 6, 2017 – 9:47 pm
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Preview: Manfred Honeck, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, returns to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to lead concerts June 8-13 that might be characterized as a theme with variations. The theme is Mozart; the variations are, well, comprehensive. “To celebrate Mozart in just one concert program is never easy,” says the maestro, in his ninth year with Pittsburgh at age 58. “How do you make choices among so many masterpieces?”

Civitas, Gipsy Way musicians pursue cultural connections and leave digital footprints, too

May 29, 2017 – 11:17 am
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Review: Shanghai-born violinist Yuan-Qing Yu is a tenacious advocate for contemporary music and a member of the Chicago Symphony. Czech-born Pavel Šporcl is a celebrated virtuoso with a gypsy crossover streak and a bodaciously blue violin. They brought their international project “Alla Zingarese,” which involves Chicago’s Civitas and Šporcl’s Gipsy Way ensembles, to Chicago May 21 before laying down the tracks for the local Cedille label.

In a journey across Brahms’ symphonies, Muti found both lyric dramatist, master classicist

May 16, 2017 – 7:46 am
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Review: Riccardo Muti still has one program to go in this, his seventh season as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. We might think of the impending finale – a mixed bag of orchestral music, choruses and arias from Italian opera in concerts June 22-25 – as a grand encore to the conductor’s roundly rewarding season of appearances with the CSO. Or perhaps as a festive postlude to his splendid traversal of Brahms’ symphonies over the last two weeks.

Muti, leading the CSO through Brahms cycle, says unsuspected sadness edges symphonies

May 12, 2017 – 12:13 pm
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Interview: Riccardo Muti has been conducting the symphonies of Brahms for 45 years, but to his current total immersion project with the Chicago Symphony he brings the excitement of a perpetual student. In a conversation with Chicago On the Aisle, after performing the First and Second Symphonies and with the Third and Fourth scheduled through May 13, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s music director said he was thrilled with the way things were going and conveyed the exhilaration of discoveries that have put into focus his remarkable experiences with Brahms as a young man.

In a spin at Lyric, ‘My Fair Lady’ still leaves romance in lurch, but the show’s irresistible

May 9, 2017 – 4:40 pm
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Review: For more than a century, people have been arguing about the ending of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” the play behind Lerner and Loewe’s beloved musical “My Fair Lady.” Now the Lyric Opera of Chicago jumps into this amusing fray, but don’t expect the matter to be cleared up. When it comes to the cockney guttersnipe Eliza Doolittle and the phonetics professor who successfully passes her off as an aristocrat, the romantic stakes are still dizzy with spin. ★★★★

Baton (and lantern) in hand, Muti commences rediscovery survey of the Brahms symphonies

May 9, 2017 – 1:52 pm
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Review: Ordinarily, the idea of hearing Brahms’ four ultra-familiar symphonies performed consecutively over two weekends might seem, well, unimaginative. Brahms in the care of CSO music director Riccardo Muti suddenly transforms the routine into a journey of discovery greatly to be anticipated. And illuminating it was when Muti led Brahms’ First and Second Symphonies on May 4 at Orchestra Hall to commence a cycle that winds up May 11-13 when the CSO turns to Symphonies 3 and 4.

Pianist Murray Perahia forges an alluring path from bright Bach through a Beethoven thicket

May 8, 2017 – 2:25 pm
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Review: Musical virtuosity is the sum of diverse parts, only the most obvious of which is great technical prowess. Pianist Murray Perahia’s recital May 7 at Orchestra Hall offered a veritable punch list of the qualities that add up to consummate musicianship. Its was a stylistic sweep from the last of Bach’s six “French” Suites through Schubert’s Four “Impromptus,” D. 935, to Beethoven’s monumental Sonata in B-flat, Op. 106 (“Hammerklavier”).

In soft music of bubbles and cactus needles, concert attunes the ear to whispered sounds

Apr 25, 2017 – 11:08 am
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Review: In conventional classical-music concerts, it’s easy to get so swept up in elements like melody, harmony and rhythm that we overlook the essence of the individual sounds involved. In other words, we see the forest but not the trees. In a concert April 23 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the focus was very much on the trees. Titled “Whisper(s),” it featured magical “quiet sounds” like the gentle gurgling of water bubbles and the almost imperceptible ping of a plucked cactus needle.

‘The Perfect American’ at Chicago Opera: Portrait of Walt Disney, animated but imperfect

Apr 24, 2017 – 5:21 pm
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Review: The Philip Glass-Rudolph Wurlitzer opera “The Perfect American” focuses on the last months of Walt Disney’s life as he agonizes over his impending death and looks back at his career and childhood, especially memories of his hometown, an idyllic Marceline, Mo., which clearly was the inspiration for Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland. In a production at the Harris Theater, it isn’t hard to see why Chicago Opera Theater was drawn to the work. ★★★

As CSO concertmaster Chen takes spotlight, band behind him is like blue-blooded family

Apr 20, 2017 – 10:44 am
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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.

Chicago Opera Theater’s end-of-season gala involves surprise guest Philip Glass

Apr 12, 2017 – 2:03 pm
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
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Celebrate with Philip Glass and COT! COT’s End of Season Gala involves surprise guest Philip Glass!
April 12, 2016 …

From Lyric Opera stage, pair of stars launch into a swinging orbit around the world of song

Apr 12, 2017 – 10:09 am
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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.

Dutoit sees a wide spiritual gamut before him in Easter weekend with Chicago Symphony

Apr 11, 2017 – 1:51 pm
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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.

With Haitink sidelined, James Conlon steps in and leads CSO, singers in Mahler to remember

Apr 2, 2017 – 10:42 am
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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.

Lyric Opera’s ‘Rising Stars’ concert reflects program designed to help young talent shine

Apr 1, 2017 – 8:44 pm
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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.