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

Nov 14, 2019 – 9:25 am

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.

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

Nov 10, 2019 – 11:08 pm

Pianist Rudulf Buchbinder zipped back to Chicago after a performance in New York to give his second recital of Beethoven sonatas on Nov. 10.

Review: Rudolf Buchbinder, piano. Beethoven recital Nov. 10 at Orchestra Hall.
By Lawrence B. Johnson

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. Read the full story »

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.

‘Dead Man Walking’ at Lyric Opera of Chicago: To killer facing death, a nun bears love’s balm

Nov 5, 2019 – 4:57 pm
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Review: The silence, the phenomenal silence in that huge opera house, spoke loudly about the music-drama unfolding onstage: imminent death awaiting the brutal murderer of two teenagers and the desperate effort by a nun to help this roughcut sociopath, now reduced to a tormented and frightened soul, find peace before his execution. This is “Dead Man Walking,” the magnificent opera by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Terrence McNally, brought to life once more through a shattering confluence of music and theater at Lyric Opera of Chicago. ★★★★★

Muti, CSO deliver turmoil of Rands’ ‘Dream,’ and a Beethoven Violin Concerto for the ages

Nov 3, 2019 – 5:31 pm
CSO November 1 2019

Review: It was a dream musical encounter of parts Nov. 1 at Orchestra Hall: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with music director Riccardo Muti offering the world premiere of Bernard Rands’ “Dream” and a consummate – and certainly novel – performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the Greek wizard Leonidas Kavakos.

Haymarket snares a fire-breathing send-up of Handel in naughty (and smart) Baroque farce

Nov 1, 2019 – 11:39 am
Dragon of Wantley David Govertsen ATCPhoto - HOC-9

Review: John Frederick Lampe’s opera “The Dragon of Wantley” is a double send-up, which makes it ancient kin to Broadway’s “Spamalot.” The 1737 comic opera was based on a rustic Yorkshire legend about a dragon that devours children “as one would eat an apple,” and the monster’s slaying by a Falstaffian braggart and boozer who gets lucky with a sword. But “The Dragon of Wantley” is also a deadpan musical spoof of Handel, who was huge in London opera at the time. The droll burlesque bubbled out of the pit in a superb revival by Chicago’s vest-pocket Haymarket Opera Company. ★★★★

David Afkham, a young conductor ascending, scores triple triumph with Chicago Symphony

Oct 31, 2019 – 8:30 am
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Review: David Afkham, German born and 36 years old, has the look of a conductor on a straight line to an eminent place in the world. He just wrapped up his second visit in three years with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, this time a program of core orchestral repertoire: Haydn’s Symphony No. 44 in E minor (“Mourning”), Richard Strauss’ “Death and Transfiguration” and Brahms’ Symphony No. 3. Whatever questions might have lingered about this young conductor were answered in spades. Together, Afkham and the CSO were spectacular.

In separate recitals – and worlds – two singers explore rich realms of Mahler and early music

Oct 29, 2019 – 9:19 am
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Review: It was as near the alpha and omega of voice recitals as might be encountered in a span of less than two days: baritone Christian Gerhaher in an all-Mahler program with pianist Gerold Huber, followed by countertenor Iestyn Davies singing mainly Renaissance and Baroque fare with the British viol consort Fretwork, both at the University of Chicago. Though worlds apart by any reckoning, the one was as magical as the other.

‘Sunset Boulevard’ at Porchlight: Sun has set
on silent-film star lost in melodramatic dream

Oct 25, 2019 – 10:38 pm
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Review: The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Sunset Boulevard” won a slew of Tony Awards when it was rolled out on Broadway in 1995, some 45 years after the Billy Wilder film on which it is based had captured a bunch of Academy Award nominations and claimed a few minor ones. I acknowledge these aging triumphs up front because, to my mind, this show, now rather curiously revisited by Porchlight Music Theatre, has come to look as quaint and limited as the silent-film era that its faded, tragic star yearns to relive. ★★

Music of the Baroque puts on hunting weeds for romp over 18th-century fields and streams

Oct 24, 2019 – 9:44 am
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Review: The only thing lacking in Music of the Baroque’s clever and far-bounding concert pitched around the hunt Oct. 22 at the Harris Theater was the valkyrie Brünnhilde’s lusty “Hojotoho!” It would have fit right in with this celebration of the thrill and glory of pursuit.

‘Mosquitoes’ at Steep: Physics’ great mystery and the subatomic particles that bind sisters

Oct 19, 2019 – 10:21 am
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Review: Alice and Jenny are sisters in name only, or so it might seem, in Lucy Kirkwood’s play “Mosquitoes,” now on fascinating exhibit at Steep Theatre. Alice is a physicist, an acorn fallen not far from the twin oaks of her father (deceased) and her mother (still living). Jenny is not a physicist; she probably couldn’t spell the word. Funny, the binding power of blood. ★★★★

Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, playing
in several perfect accents, delivers a thriller

Oct 16, 2019 – 3:14 pm
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Review: It was quite some display of virtuosity, of sure-fire musical panache, that the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and music director Kent Nagano offered Oct. 15 at Orchestra Hall. With a sumptuous encore of Ravel’s grandly wrought “La valse,” the visitors might have been saying, “We can do this all night.” But by that point, after a sterling account of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, Nagano’s splendid ensemble was beyond needing to prove anything. “La valse,” opulent and sensuous and undulating, wasn’t so much a statement as a gift.

With a recital beyond ambitious, series opens celebrating Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas

Oct 16, 2019 – 11:27 am
Kirill Gerstein Marco Borggreve

Review: Hard to know if it was in the spirit of the Chicago Marathon or what, but the Russian-American pianist Kirill Gerstein opened the Chicago Symphony Center’s nine-part season-long Beethoven 250 celebration of the composer’s 32 piano sonatas with a recital Oct. 13 that definitely went the extra mile. Having delivered a fresh, rhythmically electric and often playful account of five relatively early Beethoven sonatas, Gerstein unleashed – as an encore, no less – Beethoven’s formidable “Eroica” Variations.

‘The Brothers Size’ at Steppenwolf: The lyrical storm, and heartache, of unconditional love

Oct 15, 2019 – 5:44 pm
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Review: The sleeper don’t-miss show of Chicago’s autumn theater season falls under the perhaps inauspicious heading of Steppenwolf’s Young Adult series. Make no mistake, the emphasis here is on “adult,” and Steppenwolf’s superbly cast and directed – indeed, choreographed – staging of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “The Brothers Size” is exquisite theater that will reward the most experienced drama buff. ★★★★★

‘Luisa Miller’ at Lyric Opera of Chicago: Verdi rarity is a happy augury for Mazzola era

Oct 14, 2019 – 10:42 am
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Review: We shall see whether Lyric Opera of Chicago, when it comes under the musical leadership of Enrique Mazzola in 2021, pursues the plan of departing music director Andrew Davis to explore the early, less familiar operas of Giuseppe Verdi. The idea has merit, and I think Mazzola will stick with it. There are signs to support that probability in the example immediately at hand: Verdi’s “Luisa Miller,” which Mazzola himself conducts with spirit, insight and evident belief in the opera’s worth. ★★★

Pianist Kirill Gerstein, launching Beethoven sonata cycle, sees works as mirror of struggle

Oct 12, 2019 – 3:44 pm
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Interview: Pianist Kirill Gerstein, who leads off a season-long excursion through Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas to be performed by a parade of virtuosos at Orchestra Hall, views the sonatas not only as the composer’s most personal medium but also as an inventive progression sometimes skewed in modern reckoning – and sometimes unduly sanctified.

It’s two years until he takes Lyric Opera reins, but Enrique Mazzola already feels like family

Oct 11, 2019 – 3:15 pm
Enrique Mazzola Jean-Baptiste Millot feature image

Interview: The year 2019 has been for Enrique Mazzola an intense and rewarding breakthrough year he’ll remember for the rest of his life. Named music director designate at Lyric Opera of Chicago, effective with the 2021-22 season, Mazzola talks about learning the ropes in Berlin, Sazburg, New York and Paris and his desire to bring all that experience “energetically to the Lyric,” which he envisions as “a big music home for everybody.”

‘A Doll’s House’ at Writers: Ibsen condensed
to a suffocating essence, bursting with breath

Oct 10, 2019 – 10:58 pm
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Review: The 90-minute distillation of Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” now on display at Writers Theatre is a fast ride to a shattering finish – an emotional grinder that goes instantly and unflinchingly to the core of this still-remarkable story of a woman’s painful self-discovery, and it never lets up. ★★★★★

Rising conductor shows his mettle with CSO in Shostakovich symphony, concerto premiere

Oct 6, 2019 – 10:49 pm
10/3/19 8:33:24 PM -- Chicago, IL USA
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
James Gaffigan conductor
Cynthia Yeh percussion

Dorman Eternal Rhythm [United States Premiere]
Shostakovich Symphony No. 8


© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019

Review: James Gaffigan, winner 15 years ago of the Sir Georg Solti International Conducting Competition at age 25, is checking off debuts with the world’s major orchestras and opera companies with work that is typically vibrant and rhythmically vigorous. As the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first guest conductor this season, Gaffigan displayed his musical authority in two substantial and challenging works – Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 and the U.S. premiere of Avner Dorman’s “Eternal Rhythm,” a percussion concerto with CSO principal Cynthia Yeh as soloist.

‘Oslo’ musters two fiercely opposing forces
in throes of history. Theater, yes… but drama?

Oct 5, 2019 – 12:54 pm
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Review: One might describe J.T. Rogers’ “Oslo” as a historical feel-good play, the historical happy outcome of which didn’t last very long. It’s a process drama that depicts the secret (verbal) slug-out in 1993 between representatives of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in a valiant effort to bring peace to the Middle East. The production created by TimeLine Theatre and co-produced by Broadway in Chicago is tightly wound and well acted, but it cannot escape the play’s strait-jacketed narrative or rise above the fact that none of this feels especially compelling a quarter-century on. ★★

CSO percussionist needs fast hands, and feet, to cover the challenge of a wild new concerto

Oct 2, 2019 – 2:47 pm
6/18/18 5:31:36 PM

Cynthia Yeh Photography in Studio

Hair by Alex Brown
Makeup by Stephanie Jeong

© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018

Interview: If there is anyone in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra whose onstage attire should include a pair of sneakers, it is principal percussionist Cynthia Yeh, who will be at the center of attention for three concerts Oct. 3-5 as the soloist in the widely anticipated U.S. premiere of Avner Dorman’s free-wheeling concerto “Eternal Rhythm.”

‘Bernhardt/Hamlet’ at Goodman: Actress dons breeches to play a prince, sans all that poetry

Oct 1, 2019 – 10:08 pm
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Review: In early 1899, at the heady height of her dizzying fame, the French actress Sarah Bernhardt reopened a Paris theater she had acquired and renamed after herself. Almost immediately, this ever controversial star was upsetting norms again by playing the title role in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”  That audacious gambit reimagined is the stuff of Theresa Rebeck’s plainly titled play “Bernhardt/Hamlet,” now on semi-satisfying view at Goodman Theatre. ★★

‘Barber of Seville’ at Lyric Opera: Girl power prevails amid vocal fireworks, lots of laughs

Sep 30, 2019 – 6:43 pm
9/25/19 2:03:44 PM -- Chicago, IL USA
Lyric Opera of Chicago
The Barber of Seville Dress Rehearsal
Rossini 
Sir Andrew Davis conductor

© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019

Review: In love and determined to get her way, an awesome spitfire turns to Figaro, the barber, for assistance in Rossini’s gleefully funny opera buffa, “The Barber of Seville.” It’s now playing at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in a Broadway style production, with sun-drenched Moorish touches, roving set pieces on wheels, and a motley crew of singing comedians. ★★★★

Muti and CSO begin Beethoven cycle with leap from alpha to titanic ‘Eroica’ as the true omega

Sep 27, 2019 – 3:29 pm
9/26/19 8:29:56 PM -- Chicago, IL USA
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Riccardo Muti, Conductor
Beethoven Consecration of the House Overture
Beethoven Symphony No. 1
Beethoven Symphony No. 3 (Eroica)

© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019

Review: When the Chicago Symphony Orchestra had sounded the last blazing notes of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony to end the first concert in a season-long traversal of the nine symphonies with music director Riccardo Muti, I found myself wondering: Where do we go from here? Onward, of course. But upward? In this most universally embracing and aspiring of musical forms, did Beethoven ever actually transcend the “Eroica,” mind you, his third symphony? What Muti and this virtuoso orchestra did with the monumental “Eroica,” on Sept. 26 at Orchestra Hall, was exhilarating to witness.

‘King Hedley II’ at Court: Peripheral Wilson propelled to center stage with bruising force

Sep 26, 2019 – 11:30 pm
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Review: Of the 10 plays that make up August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, a decade by decade series of tableaux depicting the African American experience through the 20th century, “King Hedley II” may be the least familiar to theater audiences. But this grim, ultimately crushing drama is by no means the least potent. Witness Court Theatre’s knock-out production featuring a stellar cast under the wise direction of Ron OJ Parson. ★★★★★

Muti, poised to lead CSO in Beethoven cycle, hears symphonies as nine cosmic questions

Sep 25, 2019 – 5:08 pm
Riccardo Muti on Beethoven feature image

Interview: Fresh from Italy’s Ravenna Festival, where he conducts and teaches every summer, Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is plunging into a season-long cycle through Beethoven’s symphonies in anticipation of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 1770. “It will be a document of my admiration and love for the Chicago Symphony,” Muti says. The venture begins with the First and Third Symphonies in concerts Sept. 26-28 at Orchestra Hall.

‘The King’s Speech’ at Chicago Shakespeare: In his personal storm, a monarch finds a port

Sep 23, 2019 – 4:54 pm
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Review: It’s the most improbable of buddy plays, David Seidler’s “The King’s Speech.” It just happens to be true, and its essential humanity is on captivating display in a masterful production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The most common of commoners, an obscure Australian speech therapist on an extended visit to London, is confronted by the most regal of royals: the soon to be crowned George VI of England, who suffers from a lifelong stutter and will find himself thrust into the roiling vortex of a world on the brink of war. ★★★★★

Theater 2019-20: Court begins Oedipus cycle, continues Wilson, reframes ‘Iliad’ in a museum

Sep 22, 2019 – 10:05 am
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Seventh in a series of season previews: Ask Court Theatre artistic director Charles Newell to sum up the company’s coming season, and he could begin with quite a list of projects, and he does – eventually. But at the top of Newell’s mind is the big, one might say really big, picture. “Artistically, financially, any way you might want to measure it,” he says, “this is the most ambitious season in Court’s history, and the riskiest.” The season opener is August Wilson’s “King Hedley II,” with Kelvin Roston, Jr., in the title role.

Muti and CSO open with calm Mendelssohn, suppressed cry of pain from Shostakovich

Sep 21, 2019 – 2:19 pm
9/19/19 8:13:20 PM -- Chicago, IL USA
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Riccardo Muti, Conductor
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano

Mendelssohn Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage Overture
Grieg Piano Concerto
Scriabin Rêverie
Shostakovich Symphony No. 6

© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019

Review: Riccardo Muti launched the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s new season with a fresh revival of Shostakovich’s dark Stalin-era Sixth Symphony, which seemed relevant and contemporary under his command. Then Grieg’s Piano Concerto sparkled anew with Leif Ove Andsnes’ light keyboard touch.

Theater 2019-20: Move to a new home in view as Northlight dots 45th season with premieres

Sep 21, 2019 – 8:30 am
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Sixth in a series of season previews: With one world premiere looming up, only to be followed immediately by another, Northlight Theatre artistic director BJ Jones’ hands and plate and time are pretty well filled. But in the cracks he’s also planning ahead to 2021-22, when Northlight expects to relocate from Skokie to a brand-new building in Evanston. This season’s opener, Jane Anderson’s “Mother of the Maid,” about that visionary girl Joan of Arc and her mom, runs through Oct. 20.