Articles in Classical + Opera
Review: A dark and mythical love story set long, long ago in an imaginary locale in China, Giacomo Puccini’s final opera, “Turandot,” has traditionally brought out the grand in grand opera. And so it does again in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s lavish production, which is dominated by a massive, eye-grabbing sculpture of a serpentine dragon that undulates across and through a steeply raked set with an array of other changing scenic touches. ★★★
Review: Just when you think you’ve seen the ultimate dysfunctional family on stage, along comes Suzanne Heathcote’s gritty play “I Saw My Neighbor on the Train and I Didn’t Even Smile,” a stunner that touches a core of hope in a mesmerizing production at Redtwist Theatre. ★★★★
Review: For a living, pulsating definition of Romanticism, look no further than the 25-year-old Georges Bizet’s opera “The Pearl Fishers.” Worlds away from the verismo terrain of “Carmen,” which would cap Bizet’s brief life just 12 years later, “Les pêcheurs de perles” is an exotic love poem set in ancient Ceylon, its soaring lyricism consummated in one man’s ultimate sacrifice offered to another in the name of both love and friendship. The whole seductive package – remote enchantment, grand singing, evocative costumes, stylized sets – comes together in a splendid production at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. ★★★★
Review: Any deeply satisfying concerto performance bespeaks a close collaboration between soloist and conductor, yet even by that measure the majestic and probing Brahms First Piano Concerto delivered by Kirill Gerstein with Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Nov. 17 was a rare, one might say time-stopping, experience.
Review: When the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s current season is well into the books, I will remember in detail the perfect convergence of music and moment that was the Nov. 11 concert with conductor Manfred Honeck and violinist Arabella Steinbacher. The pairing of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto and Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major was ideally suited to Honeck, the 59-year-old, Austrian-born music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Review: Many an admiring adjective could be attached to the Mariinsky Orchestra, the St. Petersburg ensemble conducted by Valery Gergiev that lit up Orchestra Hall on Nov. 8 with a big, blazing concert of works by Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Strauss – not to mention two Wagner encores that measured up to everything that had gone before. But the encomium that ruled my dizzied head by the end of this ambitious and thoroughly rewarding performance was durable.This troupe is in the midst of a coast-to-coast U.S. tour that would test the strength and spirit of, well, a rock band.
Review: In 1492, while Columbus was unveiling a new world far to the west across an uncharted ocean, the Jews were being thrown out of Spain. Those who would not convert to Catholicism were ordered, on pain of death, to leave. This suddenly banished people, compelled to find new lives around the Mediterranean basin and across Europe, took with them a long and rich musical tradition nurtured in Spanish soil. The multifaceted musical legacy of the Sephardim – literally Spanish Jews – was the enchanting theme of the Newberry Consort’s first program of the season.
Review: The consummate musicianship of András Schiff is well known to Chicago aficionados of the piano. He’s a familiar face in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s annual recital series. Yet even his most ardent fans might have been surprised by Schiff’s masterly conducting – from the keyboard and in strictly orchestral fare – in a diverse and delightful program with the CSO.
Review: There are times in opera when great singing rises above problematic production. Voices triumph over Konzept. But not even a glorious performance by bass-baritone Eric Owens – or the exemplary musical leadership of Andrew Davis – could compensate for the sum of gruesome design and muddle-headed staging heaped upon Wagner’s “Die Walküre” at Lyric Opera of Chicago. ★★★
‘Rigoletto’ at the Lyric Opera: Not for the eye, but it’s a triple treat vocally, and that’s no jest
Review: Thanks to the vocally resplendent and emotionally engaged performances by baritone Quinn Kelsey as the hateful and paranoid court jester Rigoletto, soprano Rosa Feola as his sheltered and naïve daughter Gilda and tenor Matthew Polenzani as the sexually predatory Duke of Mantua, the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s take on Verdi’s “Rigoletto” pays significant rewards as psychological drama. But this bleak, objectified production created 20 years ago for the San Francisco Opera with sets by Michael Yeargan – and directed here by E. Loren Meeker – all but nullifies the work as theater. ★★★
Review: The Symphony Center piano series opened Oct. 8 with an astounding concert by the French Canadian pianist Louis Lortie devoted entirely to Liszt’s masterful “Années de pèlerinage.” This was a rare and ravishing performance evoking Liszt’s years of pilgrimage as an itinerant virtuoso. Throughout the two halves of the concert you could hear a pin drop in Orchestra Hall.
Review: I caught up belatedly with the Chicago Symphony’s season-opening program under music director Riccardo Muti – a spritz of modernism in Penderecki’s “The Awakening of Jacob,” soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter’s spell-binding flight through the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and Muti’s revelatory account of Schumann’s Second Symphony — then two nights later heard the program that continues through Oct. 1: the world premiere of CSO resident composer Elizabeth Ogonek’s alluring “All These Lighted Things” and perhaps the greatest performance of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony that I’ve witnessed in 50 years as a critic.
Review: My first reaction to the sublime Elysium Fields scene in “Orphée et Eurydice,” as conceived by John Neumeier for the Chicago Lyric Opera, was that I was actually looking at Gluck’s music — that I was “seeing” the sound, so perfectly twinned were the diaphanous movements of the dancers to the serene music representing spirits in afterlife. My second reaction was that Neumeier knows his Freud. With plenty of insight and practical know-how, he has crafted a brilliant contemporary scheme for this 1774 Paris version of Gluck’s opera, which draws from the ancient myth of Orphée’s rescue attempt in the underworld. ★★★★★
This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Music Director Riccardo Muti returns to Chicago in September for his first Chicago Symphony Orchestra residency …
This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Chicago Sinfonietta, the nation’s most diverse orchestra, kicks off its 30th anniversary with concerts on the theme Trademark, showcasing unusual …
Review: We’re well into another Grant Park Music Festival season that has demonstrated once again the value of conductor Carlos Kalmar’s artistic leadership through 18 summers. Where else but in Millennium Park, under Kalmar’s baton, might one hope to hear the likes of Swiss composer Frank Martin’s grand-scaled, inexplicably neglected oratorio “In terra pax,” a profound and moving reflection on the long-awaited end of the carnage that was World War II.
Review: Americana and Romanticism, as well as a thoughtful view of America’s shadowed past, were on display at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion on July 19 when Brett Mitchell led the Grant Park Orchestra in works by Kenji Bunch and Copland as well as Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concerto No. 3 with soloist Angelo Xiang Yu, who had no trouble demonstrating why he won the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition in 2010.
Review: Bustin’ with freshness, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s June has been almost a season unto itself. The programs have been rich, novel and imbued with summer’s ease. Packed houses have been treated to programs of considerable class, as the names of Riccardo Muti, Susanna Mälkki, John Williams and Branford Marsalis imply. And there is still a big fish in the sea.
Interview: Despite sounding hoarse over the phone because of a cold, Susanna Phillips gushed enthusiasm about making her debut at the Grant Park Music Festival on June 21 in a concert conducted by festival music director Carlos Kalmar. She’s just as enthusiastic about the unusual repertoire she’ll be performing, Aaron Copland’s “Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson.”
Preview: A bountiful smorgasbord of classical music enriches the summer fare at the 2017 Ravinia Festival. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra puts in a stint with an array of guest conductors and soloists at the festival pavilion, while on a smaller scale indoor venues will see a parade of string quartets and pianists. We offer a comprehensive look-ahead at Ravinia’s classical presentation.
Review: Music director Carlos Kalmar’s always imaginative – and often quite bold – programming for the Grant Park Music Festival hit an early peak June 16 and 17 in his choice of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ prodigious “Sea Symphony.” This 70-minute masterpiece for orchestra, chorus, soprano and baritone uses texts from Walt Whitman’s poem “Leaves of Grass” to create an epic duality: a great paean to the sea and a metaphor for the grandeur and the possibilities of human life.
Review: As prodigious as it was unusual, pianist Kirill Gerstein’s recital June 11 at Orchestra Hall bundled the double rarity of Brahms’ ambitious early Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp minor and the full dozen of Liszt’s spectacular “Transcendental” Etudes. To the teenage Brahms’ brash grand sonata Gerstein, now age 37, brought a young man’s bravura spirit, and in Liszt’s monumental Etudes he showed a leonine profile of strength, agility and grace.
Preview: The 2017 Grant Park Music Festival begins Wednesday, June 14. Here’s a look at all that’s in store on the great lawn at Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, where star-gazing, the Lake Michigan breeze and great music are free. See our highlights preview.
Review: The Chicago Symphony is, at its present time in history, a Mozart orchestra of sheer delight. With Austrian guest conductor Manfred Honeck and English pianist Paul Lewis as able interlocutors, the nimble ensemble has the brightness, delicacy and tensile strength to float long lines at breakneck speeds, remaining ever lyrical while having wicked fun.
Preview: Manfred Honeck, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, returns to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to lead concerts June 8-13 that might be characterized as a theme with variations. The theme is Mozart; the variations are, well, comprehensive. “To celebrate Mozart in just one concert program is never easy,” says the maestro, in his ninth year with Pittsburgh at age 58. “How do you make choices among so many masterpieces?”
Review: Shanghai-born violinist Yuan-Qing Yu is a tenacious advocate for contemporary music and a member of the Chicago Symphony. Czech-born Pavel Šporcl is a celebrated virtuoso with a gypsy crossover streak and a bodaciously blue violin. They brought their international project “Alla Zingarese,” which involves Chicago’s Civitas and Šporcl’s Gipsy Way ensembles, to Chicago May 21 before laying down the tracks for the local Cedille label.
Review: Riccardo Muti still has one program to go in this, his seventh season as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. We might think of the impending finale – a mixed bag of orchestral music, choruses and arias from Italian opera in concerts June 22-25 – as a grand encore to the conductor’s roundly rewarding season of appearances with the CSO. Or perhaps as a festive postlude to his splendid traversal of Brahms’ symphonies over the last two weeks.
Interview: Riccardo Muti has been conducting the symphonies of Brahms for 45 years, but to his current total immersion project with the Chicago Symphony he brings the excitement of a perpetual student. In a conversation with Chicago On the Aisle, after performing the First and Second Symphonies and with the Third and Fourth scheduled through May 13, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s music director said he was thrilled with the way things were going and conveyed the exhilaration of discoveries that have put into focus his remarkable experiences with Brahms as a young man.
Review: For more than a century, people have been arguing about the ending of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” the play behind Lerner and Loewe’s beloved musical “My Fair Lady.” Now the Lyric Opera of Chicago jumps into this amusing fray, but don’t expect the matter to be cleared up. When it comes to the cockney guttersnipe Eliza Doolittle and the phonetics professor who successfully passes her off as an aristocrat, the romantic stakes are still dizzy with spin. ★★★★
Review: Ordinarily, the idea of hearing Brahms’ four ultra-familiar symphonies performed consecutively over two weekends might seem, well, unimaginative. Brahms in the care of CSO music director Riccardo Muti suddenly transforms the routine into a journey of discovery greatly to be anticipated. And illuminating it was when Muti led Brahms’ First and Second Symphonies on May 4 at Orchestra Hall to commence a cycle that winds up May 11-13 when the CSO turns to Symphonies 3 and 4.