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All concept and no cattle: This ‘Oklahoma!’ rethinks the musical, shrinking it to a twang

Jan 19, 2022 – 11:01 am
Sean Grandillo and Sasha Hutchings marry OKLAHOMA! - Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade 550

Review: What is one to make of the musical “Oklahoma!” in the current stripped-down, aggressively modernized and message-laden version that is twanging merrily away at the CIBC Theater? In short, this traveling musical comes across as brashly aggressive in its contemporary aim, yet surprisingly thin on delivery. ★★

Lyric brings fresh magic to Mozart’s ‘Flute’ with silent film look and, yes, pink elephants

Nov 11, 2021 – 11:44 am
10. LOC The Magic Flute - Ying Fang Brenton Ryan - photo Cory Weaver 590

Review: For the third time this fall, Lyric Opera of Chicago has given its audience a production to talk about. Currently on the boards is “The Magic Flute” in a now famously brash production that plays out against the facade of a great wall that acts like a silent movie screen, the camera’s flickering white light and all. Little windows and ledges in the wall pop open to allow singers to lean or step out and sing as they interact with fanciful cartoons of giant bugs, fairies, skeletons, even pink elephants – oh, my! ★★★★

James Conlon, remembering Bernard Haitink, leads CSO concert of solemnity and brilliance

Oct 24, 2021 – 6:29 pm
Bernard Haitink 550

Review: In a concert that turned out to be a memorial to the eminent conductor Bernard Haitink (1929-2021), who was long and closely associated with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, James Conlon led Shostakovich’s somber Chamber Symphony, an arrangement of his Eighth String Quartet. The effect was wrenchingly beautiful, the experience cathartic, a fitting remembrance of Haitink, who had led his CSO colleagues at Orchestra Hall, at Ravinia, and throughout Europe and Asia on tour.

Lyric spirits meet at last: Riccardo Muti leads CSO in poetic turn through music by Mazzoli

Oct 8, 2021 – 6:32 pm
Missy Mazzoli CSO composer debut 2021-10-07 Todd Rosenberg

Review: Of all the composers-in-residence appointed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during music director Riccardo Muti’s tenure, Mazzoli is the one whose interests are most in sync with his. She has several successful operas and lyric works under her belt already. Muti led Mazzoli’s intense yet dreamlike “These Worlds in Us” on Oct. 8 at Orchestra Hall. Her tenure as CSO composer in residence, disrupted by Covid, had ended June 30.

As CSO’s music director turns 80, Lightfoot proclaims ‘Riccardo Muti Day In Chicago’

Jul 27, 2021 – 4:16 pm
Riccardo Muti

Report: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has issued a proclamation recognizing July 28, 2021, as “Riccardo Muti Day” in the city of Chicago, in honor of “an extraordinary man” on the occasion of his 80th birthday. “I could not be more proud to join his family, friends, colleagues, and fans in commemorating this occasion,” stated Mayor Lightfoot, while noting Muti’s multiple Grammy Awards with the CSO and his work to bring music to all Chicagoans including seniors, veterans, students and incarcerated youths.

Sound the trumpets (and trombones and all): Chicago Symphony’s tuning up for its return

May 5, 2021 – 5:40 pm
Sound the trumpets feature image 550

Report: Some 14 months after giving its last performance at Orchestra Hall, so long banished from its home and audience by the pandemic, the Chicago Symphony begins and ends its 2020-21 season with a three-weekend flurry of concerts under three different conductors starting May 27 with a showcase for the orchestra’s vaunted brass section.

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

Jun 17, 2020 – 6:59 pm
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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.

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.

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.

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

Feb 24, 2020 – 5:56 pm
B Jovanovich_ QUEEN OF SPADES_Lyric Chicago_c.Cory Weaver

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.★★★

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.

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.

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. ★★★

‘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. ★★★★

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. ★★★★

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.

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.”

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.

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.”

‘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, 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.

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.

Even as Muti cast his light on Verdi’s ‘Aida,’ unplanned drama ruled over the CSO stage

Jun 26, 2019 – 10:34 am
6/21/19 7:52:10 PM -- Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Riccardo Muti conductor
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe chorus director
Krassimira Stoyanova soprano (Aida)
Anita Rachvelishvili mezzo-soprano (Amneris)
Francesco Meli tenor (Radamès)
Kiril Manolov baritone (Amonasro)
Ildar Abdrazakov bass (Ramfis)
Eric Owens bass-baritone (The King)
Issachah Savage tenor (Messenger)
Kimberly Gunderson soprano (The Priestess)
Tasha Koontz soprano (The Priestess)


© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019

Review: The soprano in the title role of Verdi’s “Aida” struggled with illness, only to be replaced in the second of three performances by a young singer who jumped in without rehearsal. And still the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus led by Riccardo Muti scored a general triumph in their season finale – thanks in no small part to mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili’s brilliant singing as Amneris.

‘Killing Game’ at Red Orchid: They’re dropping like flies in a wacky plague on all their houses

May 15, 2019 – 4:40 pm
Ionesco Killling Game feature image

Review: Eugène Ionesco’s “Killing Game” won’t solve life’s Big Riddle – why we’re here at all – for you. But this imaginative production directed by Dado will provide you with acidly brilliant company at A Red Orchid Theatre, where 13 skilled actors play many, many roles – because otherwise their parts would have been exceedingly brief. The citizens are dropping dead in dizzying succession, and in often ridiculous fashion, of an unknown cause. ★★★★

‘Moby-Dick’ at Chicago Opera Theater: Condensing the scope, cranking up the power

Apr 29, 2019 – 4:24 pm
Moby-Dick Press feature image Selects Michael Brosilow 15

Review: When Jake Heggies’ opera “Moby-Dick” had its world premiere in Dallas in 2010, everything about it was gargantuan and cutting edge technically, with enormous set pieces, elements flying in and out, lighting sufficient to evoke boat-swallowing storms at sea, and whale-size computer graphics. But a new and nifty mid-size design concept, seen at Chicago Opera Theater at the Harris atop Millennium Park, was just as thrilling, even more intense, as it zoomed in on the swirling human action and lurking danger in the vast surround. ★★★★

CSO strike ends with 5-year contract accord; musicians accept phased change in pensions

Apr 27, 2019 – 10:54 am
Feature image Steve Lester 4.24.2019 IMG_2712

Report: The striking musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra voted April 27 to approve a new five-year contract that compromises on pensions and projects wage increases totaling 13.25 percent. The agreement was reached April 26, the day Mayor Rahm Emanuel stepped into a contentious dispute between the musicians and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association that had led to the strike March 11. Under the new agreement, the pension plan will be frozen after the 2022-23 season and transition thereafter to a model that shifts the future investment burden to the musicians themselves. Unanimous approval by the musicians came hours before the Association board of trustees also voted to approve the contract.

Chicago Symphony throw-down is private: musicians and trustees only; all others beat it

Apr 14, 2019 – 9:13 pm
Strike Commentary feature 1

Commentary: The strike by musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, now entering its second month, has brought into focus some realities about high-level orchestras in our time, the nature of work stoppages such as this one and the framework of negotiations between musicians and management. Perhaps the first point to be made is the inappropriateness of outsiders to presume to judge how an impasse in negotiations should be resolved.