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B Jovanovich_ QUEEN OF SPADES_Lyric Chicago_c.Cory Weaver

‘Queen of Spades’ at Lyric Opera of Chicago: Tchaikovsky’s grand drama draws dicey hand

Feb 24, 2020 – 5:56 pm

Review: “The Queen of Spades” (or as the Russians say, “Pikovaya dama”) is without question a great opera, among Tchaikovsky’s best works of any kind, with enthralling tragedy and voluptuous, soaring music. He even wrote that he considered “The Queen of Spades” to be the culmination of his life’s work. Yet gloriously conducted though it was at Lyric Opera, and sung brilliantly by tenor Brandon Jovanovich as an obsessive gambler in a tailspin and soprano Sondra Radvanovsky as the blossoming noblewoman who falls for him, the production is willfully shocking and ultimately confusing.★★★

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CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: Ridge’s 2017 Zins blend zesty pleasure now with a future pledge

Feb 24, 2020 – 6:53 pm
By Lawrence B. Johnson

California wine producer Ridge Vineyards has long enjoyed a reputation among the most distinctive makers of Zinfandel, especially for two bottlings named for the Sonoma County vineyards where their respective grapes are grown:  Geyserville in Alexander Valley and Lytton Springs in Dry Creek Valley. The 2017 vintages of both wines bear out Ridge’s phenomenal way with Zin.

Ridge uses the locale names, rather than simply labeling them as Zinfandel, because they aren’t, strictly speaking, Zins. They are Zinfandel-dominated blends that bear the singular zest and peppery fruitiness of the main grape while gaining depth, richness and complexity from the supporting varietals.

Although the producer does make straight Zinfandel by that name, these beauties don’t fall under such a convenient rubric. They’re sort of like Super Tuscans – wines that go their own way. Splendorous and imposing, Ridge’s Zinfandel blends regularly top 14 percent alcohol. And while they have the immediate appeal of Zins, these hybrids also show some aging capacity. Read the full story »

‘Bug’ at Steppenwolf: The creepy little spies are everywhere. (But you must look closely.)

Feb 19, 2020 – 3:42 pm
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Review: The first impression of Tracy Letts’ bleakly comic play “Bug” is visual, wordless: a young woman, her back to the audience, stock-still and staring out the open doorway of her dumpy motel room. It’s a telling image. We have just met Agnes, a solitary, empty vessel who’s about to be filled with a surreal and lethal form of paranoia. ★★★

‘Sheepdog’ at Shattered Globe Theatre: When tragedy in black and white dissolves into gray

Feb 18, 2020 – 6:29 pm
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Review: Amina and Ryan are both Cleveland police officers. She’s black, he’s white. They’re good, dedicated cops. They’re also lovers. They’re thinking long term, about having a child together. Then Ryan shoots and kills a young black man, and lies about how it went down. Shattered Globe Theatre’s current, and just extended, production directed by Wardell Julius Clark deals acutely with Artigue’s 90-minute play but cannot create substance greater than time and text allow. ★★★

‘Freedom Ride’ at Chicago Opera Theater: Buffing the surface of a bold quest for equality

Feb 14, 2020 – 5:39 pm
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Review: On the one hand, Dan Shore’s opera “Freedom Ride,” now in its world premiere run by Chicago Opera Theater, feels like a simplistic gloss on a turbulent and violent time that is more talked about than evoked. On the other hand, the work’s uncomplicated directness possesses its own fetching appeal, and it echoes through Shore’s gospel-inspired music, front to finish. ★★★

Lyric Opera’s departing music director Davis, successor Mazzola to share podium in 2020-21

Feb 13, 2020 – 3:23 pm
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Report: Lyric Opera of Chicago has cast outgoing music director Andrew Davis in a starring role through the 2020-21 season announced Feb. 12. Besides leading three productions, including Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” the opera in which he made his Lyric debut in 1987, Davis will conduct a special performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus. The Sept. 17 opening night double bill of Mascagni’s “Cavalleria rusticana” and Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” will also offer Lyric patrons their first glimpse of completely redone seating throughout the house.

Muti leads Chicago Symphony and stellar cast in concert ‘Cavalleria’ richly staged for the ear

Feb 9, 2020 – 6:47 pm
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Review: Pietro Mascagni’s opera “Cavalleria rusticana” led by music director Riccardo Muti and starring the sensational 36-year-old Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili amidst an outstanding cast, was a performance for the ages.

‘Madama Butterfly’ at Lyric Opera of Chicago: From a clear-sighted soprano, a high purpose

Feb 8, 2020 – 10:26 am
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Review: In the #MeToo era, Puccini’s opera “Madama Butterfly” might seem awkwardly antiquated, Though it has held the boards as a box office favorite since its premiere in 1904, Lyric Opera of Chicago also evidently saw a problem in mounting its current production, which opened Feb. 6. The night’s program book advances not one but two fulsome arguments on behalf of this work about a beautiful 15-year-old geisha who is rented out in “marriage” to an American naval officer. But it is soprano Ana Maria Martinez’s finely sung, elegantly drawn portrait of Butterfly that once more raises the opera above its own deplorable subject matter and into the realm of high art. ★★★

‘Roe’ at Goodman: Politics of abortion made
all too simple – and leavened with laughter

Feb 4, 2020 – 2:37 pm
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Review: Political theater comes in all shapes and wrappers, but mostly it’s a genre of righteous harangue. Setting aside the not untenable argument that all theater is political, egregiously agenda-driven drama tends to be heavy handed, obvious and dull. The play in immediate view, Lisa Loomer’s “Roe,” on the boards at Goodman Theatre, offers the dubious amusement of a cartoon: over-drawn, simplistic and, alas, laughable. ★★

Two piano concertos add to Beethoven riches in Chicago Symphony’s year-long celebration

Jan 31, 2020 – 4:56 pm
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Review: It was not perhaps the same bounty that surrounded the world premiere of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in 1808, an evening that also included the premieres of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies and the “Choral Fantasy.” Still, at this juncture in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s season-long celebration of Beethoven’s 250th year, it felt like a generous opportunity indeed to hear both the Fourth Piano Concerto and the First on the same program, with the excellent and roundly Beethoven-tested pianist Paul Lewis as soloist and Andrew Davis on the podium.

Andrew Davis, gearing up to lead Lyric ‘Ring,’ conducts CSO while cueing ‘Queen of Spades’

Jan 30, 2020 – 4:37 pm
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Interview: Conductor Andrew Davis, music director of Lyric Opera of Chicago, is taking a time-out from the bit of Wagner he’s preparing over at Lyric – the four-opera, 17-hour “Ring of the Nibelung” – to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with pianist Paul Lewis in some Beethoven. Davis paused backstage at Orchestra Hall to reflect on his late-blooming history with Wagner’s music, his fascination with the monumental “Ring” and the frankly boggling effort required to bring it off.

Welcome to opera’s Roaring ’20s: New voices spark resurgence in a once-wavering art form

Jan 28, 2020 – 5:42 pm
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Commentary: Back in the 20th century, opera companies looked to be in danger of obsolescence. The canon of works was European, old and getting older, and sung in foreign languages. The stars with the greatest vocal gifts didn’t necessarily look their parts compared to standards set by Broadway. Amplification was in. DJs were hot. Film made fantasy impossibly real. Opera cost a lot. But now we’re at the onset of opera’s Roaring Twenties, not least here in Chicago, where a young and fearless theater audience is up for anything if the story-telling is good. Here’s a look at what’s ahead.

As capstone to CSO’s Beethoven celebration, Muti will lead ‘Missa Solemnis’ next season

Jan 28, 2020 – 3:23 pm
6/21/18 9:53:35 PM -- 
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Riccardo Muti conductor
Krassimira Stoyanova soprano
Ekaterina Gubanova mezzo-soprano
Dmitry Korchak tenor
Enea Scala tenor
Eric Owens bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe chorus director



Mozart Kyrie in D Minor
Cherubini Chant sur la mort de Joseph Haydn
Rossini Stabat mater





© Todd Rosenberg Photography

Report: Tops in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s massive season release detailing the upcoming 2020-21 season is the welcome news that the CSO’s tribute to Beethoven during the 250th anniversary of his birth in 1770 will conclude with his mightiest sacred work, the Missa Solemnis, led by music director Riccardo Muti.

For two nights, 18th-century music held sway in a heady parade of Bach, Haydn and Mozart

Jan 27, 2020 – 2:24 pm
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Review: Music of the 18th century came front and center Jan. 24-25 in a sequence of Chicago concerts that spotlighted a solitary violinist in one instance and a small band with a star trumpeter in the other. In programs that worked out unequally, the less satisfying one proved to be as curious as it was outwardly intriguing.

For two nights, 18th-century music held sway in a heady parade of Bach, Haydn and Mozart

Jan 23, 2020 – 1:02 pm
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Review: If one had to pick three of Beethoven’s 10 sonatas for violin and piano to represent that facet of the composer in this Beethoven-bountiful 250th anniversary season, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis chose very well indeed for their elegant, fiery and absorbing recital Jan. 22 at Orchestra Hall.

‘Death Tax’ at Redtwist: Everyone has an angle and all converge at bedside of a dying woman

Jan 6, 2020 – 10:04 pm
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Review: Lucas Hnath’s dark, wry and bitter play “Death Tax” unfolds like a recitation of humankind’s less savory qualities. Duplicity probably tops the list here, but there’s also ample place for avarice, covetousness, vanity and exploitative guilt. Remarkably enough, this brilliant 90-minute descent into the lower depths of human behavior is as fascinating as it is dismaying – and it’s imbued with visceral truth by a wholly immersed, intimate ensemble at Redtwist Theatre. ★★★★

‘Rutherford and Son’ at TimeLine: A tyrant
and some children, all grown and all bruised

Dec 30, 2019 – 10:11 pm
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Review: Old man Rutherford sees the world as a reflection of himself, and he measures and values everyone in it, starting with his family, on a scale of their loyalty to him and their usefulness to the business enterprise that has consumed his life. Imagine being his son – the subordinate, emotionally shackled element in “Rutherford and Son,” playwright Githa Sowerby’s grinding examination of early 20th-century British industrialism and its social ethos, which now storms the stage with withering force at TimeLine Theatre. ★★★★★

Like John Adams’ ‘Chairman,’ the CSO dances (and Stravinsky’s fiery Violin Concerto sizzles)

Dec 21, 2019 – 11:31 am
feature image John Adams Chairman Dances

Review: With the bubbling impertinence of John Adams’ foxtrot for orchestra, “The Chairman Dances,” the air turned absolutely electric in the holiday crowd at Orchestra Hall, which was stacked with a younger than usual audience mix on Dec. 19 for a fabulous throwback concert that offered some mid-20th century moments to remember. Rarely has the first half of any concert delivered a more exhilarating blast.

Renée Fleming brings glowing voice to a mom shielding her daughter in ‘Light in the Piazza’

Dec 17, 2019 – 4:07 pm
Solea Pfeiffer, Renée Fleming 'The Light in the Piazza' Lyric Opera House (Liz Lauren) feature img

Review: A familiar face and voice in many roles at the Lyric Opera of Chicago over the years, the legendary soprano combines warm singing and strong acting in her role as an American mother on holiday in Florence with a daughter who’s ready for love but is more fragile than she knows. The new production of this 2005 Tony Award winner started out in London and moves on to Sydney, Australia in the New Year. ★★★

With early New Year’s fare of waltzes, polkas, the CSO channels the Vienna Philharmonic

Dec 14, 2019 – 2:53 pm
CSO - A Night in Vienna

Review: The Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck has left some indelible impressions from his appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. A Schubert “Great” C major Symphony and a Mahler Fifth somehow never stop resonating in mind. But for anyone on hand at CSO concerts Dec. 12-14, it’s a distinctively Viennese side of Honeck that likely will echo long – and induce a recurring silly smile.

CSO concert program drifts into a time warp: Music once so Now has come to feel so Then

Dec 9, 2019 – 2:04 pm
Deck the Halls

Review: Listening to Henryk Wieniawski’s 1853 Violin Concerto No. 1 in a performance Dec. 6 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with conductor John Storgårds and soloist Ray Chen, I was put forcibly in mind of the previous week’s CSO-sponsored MusicNOW concert. The Wieniawski concerto is so MusicTHEN. It had never before been performed on a Chicago Symphony subscription program. The question that flooded my thoughts as Chen almost effortlessly subdued the work’s profusion of technical challenges was: Why now?

When Giovanni’s servant feels some real pain, the troupe of singers closes ranks to carry on

Dec 8, 2019 – 11:05 pm
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Commentary: This was what it means to be a trouper. But you could also say this was what it means to be a troupe. The final performance of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at Lyric Opera of Chicago, on Dec. 8, brought down the house, and not just because of an all-around superb cast of singers or the stalwart effort of an unscheduled replacement in the title role. What unfolded on this crazy occasion was drama piled upon drama, a quite heroic finish by an injured singer and a response by the audience that bespoke embracing support.

Ryan McKinny sheds the mantle of a murderer for chameleon cape of Don Giovanni at Lyric

Dec 5, 2019 – 6:19 pm
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Interview: Bass-baritone Ryan McKinny was Donny-on-the-spot when Lyric Opera of Chicago found itself suddenly bereft of a Don Giovanni  to finish out the current run of Mozart’s opera. A change in the lead role had been planned all along, but Lyric got stranded when the scheduled replacement became indisposed. Enter McKinny, who was already in the house, wrapping up his engagement at Lyric as the convicted murderer Joseph De Rocher in Jake Heggie’s opera “Dead Man Walking.”

‘Oedipus Rex’ at Court: The eternal conflict of fate versus free will, held up to drama’s glass

Dec 5, 2019 – 10:04 am
Kelvin Roston, Jr. Court Theatre Oedipus (Michael Brosilow)

Review: As we sit in Hyde Park’s Court Theatre arena, where Sophocles’ ancient drama “Oedipus Rex” unfolds, the audience becomes part of an urgent thriller. Actors prowl the aisles, murmuring that our city Thebes is sinking under “waves of death.” The explanation for this plague and pestilence? Unknown. The king accepts his citizens’ desperate plea to figure out what’s going on, but as he looks into it, he finds evidence pointing to himself. ★★★★

In parade of regal opera, Sondra Radvanovsky inhabits three tragic Donizetti queens at Lyric

Dec 3, 2019 – 3:40 pm
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Review: Perhaps the best part of soprano Sondra Radvanovsky’s exhilarating excursion through Donizetti’s Three Queens at Lyric Opera on Dec. 1 is the fact that this remarkable and brave singer will repeat her tour de force – twice. It is an event earmarked not just for enthusiasts of bel canto, but indeed for any operaphile who prizes great drama as the point of great singing. ★★★★★

‘A Christmas Carol’ at Goodman: Amid ghosts, Larry Yando brings flesh to sour old Scrooge

Nov 29, 2019 – 10:15 pm
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Review: Over the last dozen of the scores of Christmases that Goodman Theatre has revisited Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” much of the magic surely has centered in the person of Larry Yando. Hehas essentially become Ebenezer Scrooge for the faithful thousands who make this Yuletide pilgrimage of wonder and delight and epiphany. ★★★★

‘Don Giovanni’ at Lyric Opera of Chicago: Surprise title-role change to heat up the drama

Nov 25, 2019 – 5:08 pm
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Review: What began as a routine change of cast for the title role in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at Lyric Opera of Chicago, with baritone Lucas Meacham giving way to a scheduled replacement for three final performances in December, became a really intriguing development Nov. 25 when the next man up, Davide Luciano, was reported indisposed: The replacement’s replacement will be Ryan McKinny, the vocally and dramatically riveting killer Joseph De Rocher in Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking,” which just closed at Lyric. ★★★★

Role Playing: Julia Siple, as the ‘black sheep’
in smart family, found love in woolly persona

Nov 14, 2019 – 9:25 am
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Interview: Julia Siple thought she knew the “black sheep” character she plays in Lucy Kirkwood’s “Mosquitoes” at Steep Theatre. But in the refining process of rehearsals, Siple discovered that erratic and often outrageous Jenny – who’s also not the sharpest knife in the family drawer – had another, deeply appealing side to her: a tremendous sense of empathy.

After a quick, fraught trek, peripatetic pianist picks up Beethoven sonatas where he left off

Nov 10, 2019 – 11:08 pm
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Review: If it’s Sunday, it must be Chicago. Had Rudolf Buchbinder strode to the piano to begin his second Beethoven recital in four days at Orchestra Hall, and mistakenly launched into a Mozart sonata, it might have been understandable – if you knew what the pianist’s previous 24 hours had been like. The night before his Nov. 10 matinee program of Beethoven sonatas at Orchestra Hall, Buchbinder had played Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 at Carnegie Hall in New York, with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra. And an 11th-hour substitute conductor – Vasily Petrenko, standing in for the suddenly ill Mariss Jansons.

Muti goes all in with German Romantic music, as a pair of soloists from CSO light up Brahms

Nov 9, 2019 – 1:04 pm
CSO Wagner Brahms Schumann

Review: Maybe it’s just in keeping with his season-long Beethoven theme, but Chicago Symphony music director Riccardo Muti’s program for concerts Nov. 7-12 at Orchestra Hall is planted squarely at the heart of German Romanticism after Beethoven’s death in 1827. Wagner. Schumann. Brahms. Theodore Thomas, the CSO’s founding music director, might have put together just such a bill of fare in the 1890s, except then Brahms’ Concerto for Violin and Cello would have been (nearly) contemporary music, and even the “Flying Dutchman” Overture would have borne an echo of the lately deceased Wagner’s bold spirit.

Rudolf Buchbinder enters the Beethoven fray
in a blaze of technical glory, but lacking heat

Nov 7, 2019 – 5:47 pm
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Review: Listening to Rudolf Buchbinder zip through four Beethoven sonatas, his playing as crisp and sure as it was fleet, I found myself wondering if this is how Beethoven might have performed these pieces –  two early sonatas and the formidable “Appassionata.” It’s not that I thought Buchbinder’s approach was ideal; I didn’t. In fact, for all his impeccable technique, which never failed him even in the “Appassionata’s” blazing finish, and much as I admired his clarity and consistency, I kept hoping for more personality, more emotional complexity.

Two stars of CSO see great fun in challenge of Brahms’ towering concerto for violin, cello

Nov 6, 2019 – 7:01 pm
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Interview: The two soloists who tackle Brahms’ Concerto for Violin and Cello with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in performances Nov. 7-12, under the baton of music director Riccardo Muti, will be very familiar faces to regulars at Orchestra Hall – Stephanie Jeong, the CSO’s associate concertmaster, and Kenneth Olsen, the assistant principal cello. They see Brahms’ monumental concerto as a challenge, sure – but more than that, great fun.