Articles in Classical + Opera
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. ★★★★
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.★★★