Home » Archive by Category

Articles in Classical + Opera

Old friend MTT leads CSO in a Russian thrilla, and an impressive Brit makes podium debut

Dec 15, 2018 – 10:41 pm
MTT CSO Todd Rosenberg 2018

Review: A banner in the rotunda of Symphony Center proclaims coming concerts of “HOLIDAY CHEER,” in just such sizable letters, but the last two weeks of the Chicago Symphony’s classical subscription concerts – first under British conductor Edward Gardner and then Michael Tilson Thomas – have exuded a festive air of their own.

‘Il trovatore’ at the Lyric Opera of Chicago: Vital foursome re-energizes a Verdi classic

Nov 21, 2018 – 2:28 pm
Il trovatore feature image (Lyric Opera of Chicago)

Review: When people talk about high-energy spectacle and romantic intensity in Italian opera, “Il Trovatore” is the classic Exhibit A. An instant hit when it opened in Rome, it’s still a winner. Lyric’s three-way production with the San Francisco Opera and the Met is a concept that remains dynamic and fresh, from the flash and wham of gypsy smithies hammering away at their swords in the extravagant Anvil Chorus, to the tragic love triangle that complicates a civil war unfolding. ★★★★

In jewel-box setting, Chicago Opera Theater polishes rare Tchaikovsky treasure ‘Iolanta’

Nov 16, 2018 – 5:35 pm
COT 'Iolanta' 14 feature image Michael Brosilow

Review: It’s not often that you can pull a forgotten gem out of the trunk, showcase it in a tasteful setting, and reveal it for the magnificently neglected thing that it is. Chicago Opera Theater has succeeded in doing us that favor with Tchaikovsky’s dreamy, naturalistic 1892 opera “Iolanta” – the composer’s last – performed by able forces at the Studebaker, a lovingly refurbished 740-seat jewel-box on Michigan Avenue that also dates from that same last decade of the 19th century. ★★★

Maestro, father, grandfather: Muti dedicates CSO’s Verdi Requiem to massacre victims

Nov 10, 2018 – 2:00 pm
CSO181108_192 Feature image (Todd Rosenberg)

Review: In the aftermath of a California gunman’s rampage, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus delivered heart-stirring performance, resplendent with awe and penitence, delicately threaded with human doubt, and led by the world’s finest living interpreter of this work.

‘Siegfried’ at Lyric Opera: Amid witty optics, short-pants hero meets gravitas of Eric Owens

Nov 6, 2018 – 2:14 pm
Siegfried Lyric Chicago 2018 (Todd Rosenberg)

Review: The first sign of the enemy in “Siegfried” was a shiny-red three-toed claw, beckoning from under Lyric Opera curtain, as if to say, “I’m Fafner the Dragon, and I’m ready to rumble.” The crowd rippled with mirth and stayed on top of the details in Wagner’s lively saga about the great god Wotan, played by bass-baritone Eric Owens, and the brash young Siegfried, whose help is needed if Wotan’s plan to save the gods has half a chance. ★★★

After 12-year absence from CSO, Barenboim returns with ‘My Homeland’ – but not his own

Nov 3, 2018 – 1:52 pm

Review: No living conductor, not even music director Riccardo Muti, enjoys a longer association with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra than Daniel Barenboim. It was 48 years ago this month that the Israeli musical polymath, then all of 28, led the CSO for the first time. Barenboim would become the CSO’s music director in 1991 and hold that post until 2006. On Nov. 1, for the first time in the 12 years since he stepped down, Barenboim returned to conduct the CSO in the six symphonic poems of Smetana’s “Má vlast” (My Homeland), a reading more attuned to virtuosic effect than to the work’s essential Bohemian nationalism.

Haitink takes a misstep on the CSO podium, but not in grand turn through Bruckner Sixth

Oct 26, 2018 – 1:43 pm
Bernard Haitink (Clive Barda)

Review: Amid a roaring ovation for his eloquent account of Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 89-year-old Bernard Haitink lost his footing on the step at the side of the podium and doubled over onto the Orchestra Hall stage. In an instant, the audience’s elation turned to a mass gasp of horror. But minutes later, the venerable maestro was gesturing to the relieved players and cheering public to assure them that all was well.

Premiere of Mantovani’s eclectic ‘Threnos’ accents CSO memorial fare with Marin Alsop

Oct 21, 2018 – 9:34 pm
10/18/18 8:20:39 PM
Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Marin Alsop conductor
Daniil Trifonov piano
Bruno Mantovani composer



Mantovani Threnos [World Premiere, CSO Commission]
Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3
Bridge Lament
Copland Symphony No. 3

© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018

Review: Years, anniversaries, and commemorations arguably form the backbone of contemporary classical concert programming, and this year’s centenary of the end of the First World War is exemplary. Conductor Marin Alsop’s program with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Oct. 19 at Orchestra Hall featured works by American, Russian, and British musicians written in response to the First and Second World Wars and their aftermath, plus a major world premiere from the French composer Bruno Mantovani, commissioned by the CSO and Jennifer Pritzker, founder of Chicago’s Pritzker Military Museum & Library.

‘Idomeneo’ at Lyric Opera: Strike gives way to stellar Mozart and new reign of euphoria

Oct 19, 2018 – 6:35 pm
Feat IDOMENEO_0V8A6337-Cropped_c.Kyle Flubacker

Review: Neptune scowled, but grand opera is back on the boards at the Lyric Opera House, and you could all but taste relief in the torrent of applause as the curtain went up on the season’s first post-strike performance of Mozart’s early masterpiece “Idomeneo.” Jean-Pierre Ponelle’s iconic production greeted the crowd. ★★★★

Strike settled, Lyric Opera set to raise curtain on Mozart’s ‘Idomeneo’ and Part 3 of ‘Ring’

Oct 15, 2018 – 4:20 pm
Feature 1

Report: After the brief, harrowing intermission of a strike by its orchestra, the Lyric Opera of Chicago is back in business. Members of the Chicago Federation of Musicians ratified a new contract Oct. 14, ending a five-day walkout and clearing the way for the Lyric to declare Oct. 18 as the deferred opening night of Mozart’s “Idomeneo.” The Lyric Opera House actually re-opens its doors Oct. 17 with a performance of Puccini’s “La bohème,” which launched the current season.

Lyric Opera, striking orchestra reach accord, ending walkout; musicians ratify agreement

Oct 13, 2018 – 7:36 pm
sub feature

Update: Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Federation of Musicians Local #10-208 (CFM) have reached a multi-year labor agreement extending through the 2020/21 season. On Oct. 14, the Chicago Federation of Musicians voted to ratify the tentative agreement reached one day earlier. No further details or comments were available. The musicians went on strike Oct. 9 in response to cuts in compensation and work weeks sought by management.

Orozco-Estrada leads CSO through nature’s realm in pageant of Mahler Third Symphony

Oct 13, 2018 – 4:45 pm
CSO Orozco-Estrada_Andres_feature image (Werner_Kmetitsch)

Review: While the sounds of birds chirping and animals flitting can be heard in the Symphony No. 3 in D minor, the work is much more than a mere evocation of an idyll. Indeed, the composer takes listeners on an extraordinary musical, philosophical and auto-biographical journey. Colombian-born Andrés Orozco-Estrada guided the Chicago Symphony in a performance that captured the full richness, variety and scope of Mahler’s odyssey.

Healthy and ambitious, Joffrey Ballet plans epic storytelling as core of 2018-19 season

Oct 10, 2018 – 8:36 pm
'Swan Lake' returns to the Joffrey in 2018-29 season (Cheryl Mann) featured image

Preview: Three grand narratives headline the Joffrey’s new season opening October 17 at the Auditorium Theatre: Remounts of Christopher Wheeldon’s ingenious ballet-within-a-ballet version of “Swan Lake” and his Chicago-oriented “Nutcracker,” plus the world premiere of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” choreographed by fellow Russian Yuri Possokhov.

‘La bohème’ at Lyric Opera: Splendid voices, squandered in an unsentimental tool shed

Oct 7, 2018 – 3:31 pm
La Boheme Lyric Opera 2018

Review: Despite a superior musical performance by a fine international cast, and firmly idiomatic orchestral playing and choral work from the promising Venezuelan-Swiss conductor Domingo Hindoyan, in his Lyric debut, the new-to-Chicago “La bohème” by director Richard Jones is a major letdown, a misconceived case of too much here and too little there.★★★

New Mazzoli cycle sparkles amid vocal gems as Collaborative Arts honors the art of song

Oct 5, 2018 – 1:12 pm
Feature 1 Elliot Mandel

Review: The Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago is on a mission. Now in its ninth season, the Institute has dedicated its considerable energy to the preservation of art song as a germane form for contemporary audiences. The Institute kicked off its 2018 Collaborative Works Festival on Sept. 5 with diverse repertoire that included the Midwest premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s new cycle “Songs from the Operas.” Next up, on Oct. 28, the Institute will observe the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day with Mahler’s “Des Knaben Wunderhorn.”

With CSO blazing, Riccardo Muti brings back Hindemith masterpiece ‘Mathis der Maler’

Oct 5, 2018 – 1:11 pm
Feature img Detail from portrait of Paul_Hindemith 1931 (Rudolf_Heinisch via wiki)

Review: After an absence of more than 20 years from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra repertoire, Muti and the CSO have brought back Hindemith’s magnum opus in a brilliant, deeply considered performance. French pianist David Fray was the cool, unconvincing soloist in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto.

Opulence of ‘Scheherazade,’ Mozart writ large: Who can resist sound of Muti’s Chicago band?

Sep 28, 2018 – 4:28 pm
Muti CSO

Review: Music director Riccardo Muti’s second week of concerts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was notably conservative – Mozart’s Overture to “Don Giovanni” and his Symphony No. 40 in G minor, together with Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” – but even curmudgeonly critics had to acknowledge the consistently high level of performance the maestro drew from his remarkable ensemble in a program Sept. 27 at a packed and enthusiastic Orchestra Hall.

Muti, CSO open with Shostakovich monument ‘Babi Yar’; composer’s widow attends concert

Sep 22, 2018 – 1:03 pm

Review: Music director Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra opened their 2018-19 season Sept. 21 with an eloquent and gripping performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 (“Babi Yar”) on verses of Yevgeny Yevtushenko memorializing the massacre of Jews by German soldiers near Kiev in 1941. The composer’s widow, Irina Shostakovich, joined Muti on stage at Orchestra Hall for a post-performance conversation.

Conductor uncorks a Bolcom birthday toast, and pours dark, bracing Fifth of Tchaikovsky

Jul 7, 2018 – 3:56 pm
sub feature

Review: The rewards just keep coming at this summer’s Grant Park Music Festival. After a splendid opening stint of concerts, artistic director Carlos Kalmar gave place to conductor Dennis Russell Davies on July 6, and the result was yet another stellar program – this one offering an 80th birthday tribute to composer William Bolcom with his Fourth Symphony as well as a potently dramatic take on Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

Summer roll: Conductor Carlos Kalmar leads Grant Park Orchestra in a festival of delights

Jun 29, 2018 – 1:18 pm
Feature 1

Review: The Grant Park Festival Orchestra’s June 27 concert at Millennium Park, under the baton of music director Carlos Kalmar and featuring London Symphony principal flute Adam Walker, offered an exemplary instance of Kalmar’s wide-ranging command of musical periods and styles. In music requiring great ensemble finesse, understatement and transparency, Kalmar’s disciplined orchestra delivered on all counts.

In single soft flourish of Rossini ‘Stabat Mater,’ Muti effect tells in Chicago Symphony, Chorus

Jun 27, 2018 – 3:27 pm
Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus undertake Rossini's "Stabat Mater" with soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova, tenor Dmitry Korchak and bass-baritone Eric Owens. (© Todd Rosenberg)

Review: If there was a moment during the season-ending concert that summed up the singular achievement of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the long-term influence of Riccardo Muti, it came near the end of Rossini’s “Stabat Mater,” a Catholic hymn to Mary that pulls the listeners into the mother’s grief at the foot of the cross and offers transcendence. The three-line prayer “Quando corpus morietur” (“When my body dies, let me live in Paradise, too”) is so very human and humble that the listener might not notice how treacherous it is to sing. The Chicago Symphony Chorus imbued it with a powerful emotion that filled the hall, yet with sound so soft it barely hung on a thread.

Muti, Chicago Symphony name Missy Mazzoli as Mead composer-in-residence for two years

Jun 26, 2018 – 11:53 am
Missy Mazzoli CSO composer in residence (Marylene Mey)

This Just In:: Music director Riccardo Muti has selected American composer Missy Mazzoli as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s new Mead Composer-in-Residence, beginning a two-year term on July 1 and continuing through June 30, 2020. Mazzoli, 37, is already the recipient of prestigious grants and awards, including a Fulbright Grant and the Best New Opera Award for 2017 from the Music Critics Association of North America, for “Breaking the Waves.”

Like a constellation viewed above the skyline, Grant Park Chorus ascends in Chicago night

Jun 21, 2018 – 3:28 pm
The Pleiades feature image

Review: A Grant Park Music Festival concert celebrating singers and song featured the world premiere setting of Native American songs and stories about a star cluster called “The Pleiades,” which is visible to the naked eye in colder months. Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds wrote it to be performed during the Chorus America Conference, which brought hundreds of the nation’s choruses large and small to Chicago. It played nicely in the out-of-doors in preamble to starlight and fireworks on the night before the summer solstice.

The stars align – Muti, Ma, CSO – as visitors from U.S. orchestras catch a cosmic concert

Jun 17, 2018 – 11:35 pm
Feature 1

Review: You could say the 600 representatives of symphony orchestras from around the country who heard the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with music director Riccardo Muti and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, were in the right place at the right time. If ever there was a musical nexus, this was one: the convergence of those particular performing forces and the work at hand, Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 2, a sublime masterpiece captured at Orchestra Hall on June 14 in every dimension of its dark drama, searing introspection and virtuosic eloquence.

Grant Park Fest’s all-summer concert party begins with a selfie of bad-news Belshazzar

Jun 17, 2018 – 12:36 pm
Feature 1

Review: Summer’s obviously just over the horizon: The musicians, chorus, maestro and devotees of the Grant Park Music Festival are already partying like the equinox has happened. As the centerpiece of the festival’s 84th summer opener, June 13-16, William Walton’s grand and colorful oratorio “Belshazzar’s Feast” felt like a reflection of the block-party atmosphere at Millennium Park.

‘L’Orontea’ at Haymarket Opera: Love’s perils keep Queen’s court at play in Baroque comedy

Jun 4, 2018 – 5:26 pm
Feature 1 Topher Alexander

Review: There’s a very old charm in the number 7, and it applies with a capital C to the final production of Haymarket Opera Company’s seventh season – a thoroughly charming romp through Antonio Cesti’s “L’Orontea.” This 17th-century concoction of romance, light-hearted comedy (with one leg in farce) and good tunes is just the ticket for some pre-summer fun. ★★★★

In a personal take on musical style, Salonen transfigures Schoenberg, Bartók and the CSO

May 28, 2018 – 5:49 pm
Feature 1 Rosenberg

Review: It was like two weeks with another orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s consecutive programs with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra punctuated by his leadership of the 20th anniversary concert of MusicNOW. It was a heady, exciting stretch in which the Chicago Symphony sounded like a different band. CSO music directdor Riccardo Muti’s ideal of this orchestra as the Vienna Philharmonic West was nowhere in sight from the get-go of a May 25 concert with Mitsuko Uchida as soloist in Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

Salonen leads Chicago Symphony on Mahler’s Ninth Symphony voyage of life, transcendence

May 20, 2018 – 9:02 pm
Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen with soloist Yo-Yo Ma.Adams, Salonen, Stravinsky

Review: Somewhere along the mountainous range of peak moments in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s recent seasons stands the performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony led by Esa-Pekka Salonen on May 17 at Orchestra Hall. It was memorable in a degree commensurate with the monumentality of the work itself, and the Ninth Symphony vies only with the song-symphony “Das Lied von der Erde” as Mahler’s absolute masterwork.

Spaces at the Art Institute frame MusicNOW as contemporary venture observes 20th year

May 13, 2018 – 10:16 am
CSO180507_141 feature image

Review: The MusicNOW endeavor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is in the middle of a roaring spring expansion under the cultivating flair of composers-in-residence Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonek. The latest MusicNOW shoot was an experiment within three different spaces at the rambling Art Institute of Chicago, including Chagall’s America Windows room. And that was preamble to the MusicNOW grand finale, featuring two world premieres, on May 21 at Orchestra Hall.

Schumann’s shadowed Violin Concerto finally gets CSO debut, and Saint-Saëns raises roof

May 12, 2018 – 10:32 pm
Feature 1

Review: The history of Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D minor is effectively brief and considerably checkered. It was composed in 1853, then put away – by devoted friends of Schumann who considered their action to be judicious – and not resuscitated for another eight decades. The work’s few advocates today include violinist Isabelle Faust, who was the soloist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s very first performance of the concerto on May 11.