Top Story »

Feature 1

Lyric drops curtain on entire 2020-21 season, projects return to opera house next September

Oct 23, 2020 – 3:31 pm

Report: Lyric Opera of Chicago’s lamentable, if not terribly surprising, announcement that it has canceled the entire remainder of its 2020-21 season comes with a poignant promise of renewed life much as we once knew it: detailed and quite enticing plans for 2021-22, a full season projected to start in the customary month of September.

Read the full story »
Latest Arts News
Classical + Opera
Theater + Stage
Streaming + Disc
Chicago Wine Journal

Classical + Opera »

Hear ye, hear ye! Recorded live at Orchestra Hall, CSO musicians soon to be in ‘Sessions’

Sep 19, 2020 – 2:18 pm

Chicago Symphony associate concertmaster Stephanie Joeng and assistant principal cellist Kenneth Olsen played Brahms’ Double Concerto with the orchestra last season. (Anne Ryan)

Report: After long pandemic silence, Chicago Symphony to launch new online chamber music video series CSO Sessions on Oct. 1.
By Lawrence B. Johnson

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra will begin a measured return to live performance Oct. 1 when small groups of musicians commence a series of weekly online chamber concerts from Orchestra Hall under the banner CSO Sessions.

Members of the Chicago Symphony arrayed in sextets, octets and other intimate ensembles will blaze a return path toward larger-scaled concerts to be announced in October, according to a CSO spokesperson. Read the full story »

Voices of love: Grand dame Renée Fleming, shooting star J’Nai Bridges in Lyric songfest

Sep 13, 2020 – 12:46 pm
Renee Fleming to perfom via streaming for Lyric Opera special event 2020

Preview: The celebrated soprano Renée Fleming and mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, an emerging star, have collaborated with a diverse cast of singers to create “For the Love of Lyric,” a concert pre-recorded in part on the Lyric stage. The songfest will be offered free online starting at 6 p.m. Sept. 13. Fleming and Bridges offer two views of a singer’s life in our pandemic world.

Ron Parson, steeped in Wilson’s stagecraft, brings theater perspective to seminar series

Sep 10, 2020 – 2:35 pm
August Wilson, Ron OJ Parson 550 feature image (Court Theatre)

Preview: Stage director and Court Theatre resident artist Ron OJ Parson has helmed 31 productions of August Wilson’s Pittsburgh plays at theaters around the country. He brings his deep experience with the plays to the final installment in a series of online seminars collectively titled “The World of August Wilson and The Black Creative Voice,” led by University of Chicago professor Kenneth Moore and running through Sept. 29.

CSO cancels all events through year’s end, erasing orchestra concerts and other series

Jul 17, 2020 – 4:44 pm
CSO Orchestra Hall 550 (Todd Rosenberg, CSO.org)

Report: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has canceled its entire autumn slate of concerts and related events through the end of 2020, joining Lyric Opera of Chicago and major performing arts organizations around the country in acknowledging the threat of COVID-19.

Miró String Quartet will convene in one place to stream live trek through Beethoven cycle

Jul 16, 2020 – 4:51 pm
Feature 1

Preview: Recall, if you can, four musicians sitting in the same space playing a complex and compelling work, recreating art that peers into who we are as a human collective. With every such experience now deconstructed to a Zoom pastiche, it seems quite remarkable and wonderful indeed to contemplate the Miró Quartet’s forthcoming cycle of the Beethoven string quartets, performed not just live but together, within the same physical boundaries.

Chicago Symphony musicians greet summer with a festival of free streamed performances

Jun 20, 2020 – 5:11 pm
new feature

Preview: “Sumer is icumen in, loudly sing, cuckoo.” The summer solstice, marking the longest day of the year and the first day of summer, came June 20, a little early this year. And to celebrate the occasion, musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have organized a Virtual Day of Music – streamed performances over a span of eight and a half hours June 21.

Lyric Opera cancels its entire autumn season; January opening brings newly honored ‘Blue’

Jun 17, 2020 – 6:59 pm
sub feature

Report: Confronted by the pandemic’s stark outlook, Lyric Opera of Chicago has announced cancellation of all productions through December, the entire autumn portion of it 2020-21 season. For now, the company plans to resume operation in January with the new opera “Blue,” a riveting tragedy about a black policeman’s family facing violence and heartbreak by Tony Award-winning composer Jeanine Tesori and playwright Tazewell Thompson. “Blue” was named Opera of the Year on June 17 by the Music Critics Association of North America.

Muti’s curated CSO series from the archives celebrates principal players and Fritz Reiner

May 26, 2020 – 4:42 pm
Feature 1

Interview: While Chicago Symphony Orchestramusic director Riccardo Muti has been sidelined at this home in Ravenna, Italy, the time on his hands has allowed him to plow more deeply into treasured masterworks and explore the archive of Chicago Symphony concert recordings to curate an ongoing series of concerts broadcast by WFMT (98.7 FM) and streamed at wfmt.com. In a long-distance chat with Chicago On the Aisle, Muti talked about his programming choices and looked ahead to his post-virus return to Orchestra Hall.

Lyric Opera postpones remainder of season; CSO and WFMT create new broadcast series

Apr 3, 2020 – 8:38 am
Feature 1

Report: Lyric Opera of Chicago announced April 2 that it will defer its spring musical, “42nd Street,” along with all other spring projects until coming seasons. Meanwhile, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra unveiled collaboration with WFMT to broadcast and stream a series of Tuesday programs from the orchestra’s concert archives and CDs, curated by music director Riccardo Muti.

‘Kill Move Paradise’ from TimeLine (to you): Streaming from the stage, way outside the box

Apr 2, 2020 – 11:03 am
Feature 1

Report: Like other theaters across metro Chicago, TimeLine suddenly had to suspend a play in mid-run as the coronavirus crisis descended. But in a fortuitous twist of events, the company can offer the remainder of that run to theater-hungry Chicagoans via streaming.

The new (virus) vibe: Chicago musicians play together while apart for a worldwide audience

Mar 28, 2020 – 7:56 pm
Third Coast Percussion Philip Glass reat img

Antidotes: If the COVID-19 virus temporarily froze operations at the nation’s classical music capitals including Chicago, there are definitely signs the industry is getting its groove back. Available for streaming is a concert performed live from the University of Chicago, with no audience in the hall, by Chicago’s outstanding Third Coast Percussion. The Chicago Symphony’s prestigious Civic Orchestra training ensemble marks its 100th anniversary with some Tchaikovsky, digitally assembled from dozens of individual recordings made on smartphones and Zoom audio recorders. Two familiar faces at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Ryan McKinny and Isabel Leonard, offer an alluring cell phone duet from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” And – wait for it – we have a priceless slice of Beethoven whimsy for you at our story’s end.

Shelter from the storm: SF Symphony offers landmark video series ‘Keeping Score’ – free

Mar 19, 2020 – 4:11 pm
Michael TIlson Thomas at Charles Ives' grave during filming of the Keeping Score Ives episode

Virus Antidotes: The San Francisco Symphony has announced plans to release its “Keeping Score” profiles a great composers and their pivotal works, narrated by conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, for unlimited free streaming on the orchestra’s YouTube channel. Through nine one-hour documentaries, Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony trace the lives of eight influential composers: Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Copland, Stravinsky, Berlioz, Ives, Shostakovich – and Mahler, to whose life and work two segments are devoted. Each episode includes a one-hour concert program by the San Francisco Symphony.

In cultural landscape suddenly barren, stream
of relief begins with week of Met Opera in HD

Mar 16, 2020 – 3:59 pm
Feature 1

Virus Antidote: Donning our deerstalker sleuthing cap, Chicago On the Aisle is casting around for brilliant options for our suddenly culture-starved readers. The first fruit of our exploration is a spectacular week of free streamed programs from the Metropolitan Opera’s archive of “Met Live in HD” cinema broadcasts, which begin March 16 with Bizet’s “Carmen.”

Stages of Silence: Lyric cancels ‘Ring’ cycle; CSO and Chicagoland theaters also go dark

Mar 14, 2020 – 9:48 am
A

Report: It was a day to give Friday the 13th a bad name. Lyric Opera of Chicago made the unavoidable but nonetheless stunning decision to cancel the whole of its long-anticipated cycles through Wagner’s “Ring” tetralogy. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra essentially placed its virtuoso forces on paid leave. Broadway in Chicago shut down its main presentations in the Loop. And one after another, theaters large and small posted immediate stoppage of whatever was on their stages along with cancellation of whatever might be next.

Herbert Blomstedt, at 92, poured a long life
into luminous Brahms Second with the CSO

Mar 9, 2020 – 3:15 pm
NFL Combine Football

Review: Next up for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, March 12-17 at Orchestra Hall, is a concert of Gershwin and Ravel that should be a stylish, jazzy rouser. But for the moment, I’m happy to reflect back on quite a different experience, a consummate display of elegance and the power of understatement: conductor Herbert Blomstedt’s program of Brahms and Mozart with French pianist Bertrand Chamayou.

In a timeout from the Beethoven symphonies, three musicians illuminate the inner composer

Mar 3, 2020 – 3:57 pm
A

Review: It’s remarkable how, at the midpoint of Riccardo Muti’s roundly rewarding season-long cycle through Beethoven’s nine symphonies with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a concert of three Beethoven piano trios could leave one wishing for nothing more grand or personal or profound. That sentiment apparently was shared by many another listener in an audience that filled Orchestra Hall to overflowing for the March 2 performance by pianist Emanuel Ax, violinist Leonidas Kavakos and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Eric Owens, citing health issues, withdraws as Wotan in Wagner ‘Ring’ cycle at Lyric Opera

Mar 2, 2020 – 12:35 pm
Feature 1

Report: Bass-baritone Eric Owens has withdrawn from the role of Wotan in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s upcoming “Ring” cycles “in order to undergo treatment for ongoing health issues,” Lyric general director Anthony Freud announced March 2.

‘Emma’ at Chicago Shakespeare Theater: Sans reason or accountability (or poetry or music)

Feb 28, 2020 – 11:50 am
Feature 1

Review: Imagine the sharp, slashing repartee between Beatrice and Benedick, in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” if Beatrice brought no intellectual edge to the fray, and you have the eponymous figure in “Emma,” the mildly diverting, perfectly harmless and utterly forgettable musical in mid-flight at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. ★★

At meeting of Beethoven and a bass clarinet, CSO summons sparks, Shakespearean tears

Feb 27, 2020 – 4:11 pm
2/20/20 10:01:01 PM -- Chicago, IL 
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Riccardo Muti, Conductor
J.Lawrie Bloom, Bass Clarinet

Beethoven Symphony No. 2
Bacri Ophelia’s Tears 
[World Premiere, Commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra through the generous support of Helen Zell]
Beethoven Symphony No. 5

© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2020

Review: Two over-riding themes of music director Riccardo Muti’s current Chicago Symphony Orchestra season met in harmony in sold-out concerts Feb. 20-25 at Orchestra Hall – a cycle through all nine Beethoven symphonies and Muti’s desire to highlight the CSO’s key players with solo spotlights, often in world premiere concertos by composers the musicians helped to choose. Thus Muti introduced the CSO’s highly regarded bass clarinetist J. Lawrie Bloom in a new work called “Ophelia’s Tears” by French composer Nicolas Bacri, and generously framed the premiere with two Beethoven symphonies, including the Symphony No. 5 in C minor.

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

Feb 24, 2020 – 6:53 pm
Lytton Springs 2017

Tasting Report: 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.

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

Feb 19, 2020 – 3:42 pm
Feature 2

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
Feature 1

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
Feature 1

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
Feature 1

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
A

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
Feature 1

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
Feature 1

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
Feature 1

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
Feature 2

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.

Bryn Terfel cancels Lyric Opera date after fall during ‘Flying Dutchman’ production in Spain

Jan 29, 2020 – 3:19 pm
Welshman

Report: The Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel has canceled his Feb. 2 recital at Lyric Opera of Chicago because of an injury suffered while performing in Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” in Bilbao, Spain. In a statement released Jan. 29, Lyric said: “Sir Bryn Terfel, suffered a severe injury from a fall that will not allow him to perform in Chicago this weekend. According to Sir Bryn’s physician, he has fractured the three prominences of his ankle, causing the ankle to partly dislocate and requiring a surgery scheduled for later this week.”

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

Jan 28, 2020 – 5:42 pm
feature image composite

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.