Articles in Classical + Opera
Review: To conclude a whirlwind season of grand-scale narrative works that included Christopher Wheeldon’s Degas-inspired riff on “Swan Lake” and his Chicago World’s Fair-driven take on “The Nutcracker,” as well as the world premiere of Yuri Possokhov’s cinematic version of “Anna Karenina,” the Joffrey Ballet’s artistic director, Ashley Wheater, decided to shift gears in a most intriguing way. The result is “Across the Pond,” the umbrella title for a fascinating mixed bill showcasing three contemporary British choreographers,
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.
Review: Musically, the French Renaissance was a bountiful era that surely would never be forgotten. Yet curiously and regrettably, says the celebrated lute virtuoso and Renaissance expert Paul O’Dette, the music of 16th-century France has pretty much tumbled into oblivion. Which only makes the more alluring O’Dette’s appearance April 5-7 with the Newberry Consort for a program devoted to – what else? — la musique française à l’époque de la Renaissance.
April 3 Update: The musicians of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra had expected to play Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony on March 26 at Orchestra Hall. Instead, with the Chicago Symphony on strike, the visiting musicians took to the streets — one could almost say the barricades — in solidarity with their Chicago colleagues. Brass players from the two orchestras played briefly on the sidewalk in front of Orchestra Hall amid signs proclaiming their unity.
Review: Her colleagues sang tributes, the next generation of opera stars chipped in with the exuberance of youth and the audience rocked the house on soprano Renée Fleming’s night – a very vocal celebration of that superstar’s multifaceted 25-year association with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The concert March 23 at the Lyric Opera House acknowledged the many ways the singer has contributed to the company as vocal star, consultant and mentor over the last quarter-century.
Commentary: The pool of grand opera subscribers may be slowly shrinking nationally, but one can’t help feeling optimistic about Lyric Opera of Chicago’s long-term prospects as the company continues to refine and redefine itself. The Opera’s nimble branch – Lyric Unlimited – attracted two crowds of 1,100 each to the Harris Theater on March 15 and 17 for its latest chamber opera presentation, “An American Dream.” A loudly enthusiastic audience was the latest evidence of the hard work that Lyric has put into its own expanded vision.
Preview: Megastar soprano Renée Fleming, affectionately known in the opera world as “the diva next door,” remembers very well her debut 25 years ago at Lyric Opera of Chicago in the title role of Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah.” But that event is only the touchstone of Lyric’s glittering 25th anniversary concert March 23, which really celebrates a quarter-century of close partnership between the opera company and Fleming as singer, consultant and mentor.
Updated March 20: The striking musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will give two free performances they have dubbed “From the Heart of the Orchestra – Free Concerts for Chicago.” The two programs, announced as the first events in a projected series of free presentations, will feature a small ensemble playing chamber music March 22 and the full orchestra in works by Beethoven and Mozart on March 25. The musicians also made public letters of support from former CSO music director Daniel Barenboim and Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Review: Spring – and the warmer, more healthful weather it augurs – can’t come too soon for Lyric Opera of Chicago. As of this writing, two title-role singers are indisposed. At least one of them, soprano Albina Shagimuratova, made it through opening night as Violetta in Verdi’s “La traviata.” But the second star to withdraw, mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, wasn’t even up for the March 2 opening of Handel’s “Ariodante.” Julie Anne Miller was pressed into service on opening night as Ariodante, a huge “trouser” role aglitter with coloratura fireworks but also touched by music of profound reflection. Miller proved to be more and more impressive as the night wore on. ★★★★
Review: I confess I knew nothing about the 26-year-old Italian pianist Beatrice Rana before she made a phenomenal Symphony Center debut on Feb. 24. What initially lured me to her program was her choice of repertoire, including Chopin’s Etudes, Op. 25, and Ravel’s “Mirroirs.” In both her technical and interpretive skill, Rana proved to be extraordinary artist – one who held the audience at rapt attention.
Review: The Ninth Symphony of American composer William Schuman, which Chicago Symphony music director Riccardo Muti conducted for the first time, commemorates a painful moment in modern Italian history – the systematic murder of 335 Italian civilians, with one shot each to the back of the head, by German soldiers in the last weeks of World War II.
Review: Brotherly conflict is at the heart of composer Stefan Weisman’s extraordinary operatic adaptation of “The Scarlet Ibis,” a celebrated short story by James Hurst. The 95-minute opera reveals layers of meaning and symbolism and blurs intense naturalism with a kind of dreamy magical realism. The staging by Chicago Opera Theater manages to be at once touching and tender, tough and unflinching: a revelation of the work’s power and depth. ★★★★★
Review: Every opera that gains such enduring popularity as to acquire the epithet warhorse was once, well, a colt – exhilarating in its spunky freshness, its beauty undimmed by long familiarity and habitual service. The real marvel of Lyric Opera’s current staging of Verdi’s “La traviata” lies not just in its lustrous surfaces but rather in its surprising depth, in its true and affecting recovery of a splendor beyond – or, more to the point, before – habit. ★★★★★
Review: The Joffrey Ballet’s world premiere production of “Anna Karenina” is astonishing and thrilling on so many levels, from its concise distillation of Tolstoy’s prodigious novel, choreography that captures the story’s tragic essence and inspired multimedia effects to a superlative musical score. But this remarkable achievement is first and foremost tremendous theater. ★★★★★
Review: One of the world’s preeminent orchestras, the Amsterdam-based Concertgebouw is accustomed to touring, tallying 40 concerts away from home each year. But the brief U.S. tour included Chicago among only four cities treated to its renowned specialities. Richard Strauss’ highly personal 1897 fantasy for enormous orchestral forces “Ein Heldenleben” (A Hero’s Life) exploded with sound reverberating from the depths, gloried in woodwind sparkle and boasted the awesome grandeur of the Concertgebouw’s brass and battery.
Interview: By this point in soprano Nina Stemme’s operatic journey, the high-intensity role of Richard Strauss’ “Elektra” has emerged as a signature piece. Indeed, the Swedish singer and reigning Wagnerian soprano, who currently performs the distraught and vengeful Elektra in her debut with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, all but owns the part. She is the foremost Elektra in the world today, and she embraces the staggeringly difficult role as “the greatest joy” to sing.
Review: The great power of Richard Strauss’ “Elektra” lies in the transmogrification of a timeless tragedy through harrowing vocal music reinforced by an orchestral score so vivid, so nearly verbal, that it might stand alone as a symphonic drama. The magnificence of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current production resides in the depth of its humanity – that depth sounded by tremendous vocal performances and orchestral playing, under Donald Runnicles, that is absolutely graphic. ★★★★
Report: A monumental tribute to the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth highlights the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2019-20 season, its 10th under the stewardship of music director Riccardo Muti. In a season-long Beethoven immersion, Muti will conduct all nine symphonies and six different pianists will make their way collectively through the 32 sonatas. Muti will also preside over four world and U.S. premieres.
Preview: The consummation of a four-year project to produce Wagner’s “Ring” cycle and the beginning of a “five- or six-year” exploration of early Verdi highlight plans for the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2019-20 season, which also marks the 20th anniversary of Andrew Davis’ tenure as music director. After annual creations of Wagner’s “Das Rheingold,” “Die Walküre” and “Siegfried,” the Lyric will cap the “Ring” cycle with “Götterdämmerung” in April 2020, then pull the whole enterprise together with three turns through the complete tetralogy.
This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to and edited by Chicago On the Aisle.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma will perform Bach’s suites for unaccompanied cello in a free …
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.
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. ★★★★
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. ★★★
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.
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. ★★★
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.
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.
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.
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. ★★★★
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.