Articles in Classical + Opera
Review: An almost gemütlich take on Mozart’s 40th Symphony crowned the Chicago Symphony’s matinee concert on June 11 at Orchestra Hall, the final program in a three-week CSO mini-season that refused to let the pandemic sweep away all. If it was not the full Chicago Symphony on stage, the masked, socially distanced contingent was at least a healthy representation, and its sound under conductor Edo de Waart was recognizably vigorous, lustrous and poised.
Review: The second concert program of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s three-week, toe-in-the-water post-pandemic “season” almost took one back to that halcyon time before elbow-bumps replaced hand-shakes. The concert’s final flourish felt and sounded like the once-and-future CSO: a rousing, conspicuously virtuosic performance of Zoltán Kodály’s “Dances of Galánta” that even gave the impression of a stage filled with musicians.
Review: It was like music’s great beating heart could not ultimately be stilled, this ferocious burst of timpani and bass drum followed by a stentorian peal of brasses. When had the proclamation of Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” ever carried a more exhilarating message? The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, music itself, had returned to Orchestra Hall.
Preview: As Lyric Opera of Chicago moves toward that moment opera buffs in Chicagoland have long awaited, the post-pandemic opening of a new season Sept. 17, the company’s music director-designate, Enrique Mazzola, gives the impression of an artist well ahead of the curve. Speaking about Lyric’s new production of Verdi’s early “Macbeth,” which will bring live opera back to Chicago, the Spanish-born Italian conductor sounds like he’s already there.
Interview: Under the pandemic’s abiding if perhaps fading shadow, Lyric Opera of Chicago has fashioned a virtual salute to its exiting music director, Andrew Davis. With some very fine singers as well as the Lyric chorus, Davis led an ambitious video in his honor that debuts May 16. In a chat with Chicago On the Aisle, the maestro reflected on his two decades at the company’s artistic helm.
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.
Preview: Conductor Enrique Mazzola, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new music director-designate, presides at the piano over a selection of rare love songs by famous Italian composers, sung by the young professionals in training at Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center. Titled “Sole e Amore” – Sun and Love – the free program streams at 6 p.m. Feb. 21.
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.
Report: 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. The new digital series of on-demand, high-definition video recordings of chamber music – and later chamber orchestra – concerts will feature performances by CSO musicians filmed in Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.★★★
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. ★★★
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.
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.
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. ★★★
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.
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.