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Dec 8, 2017 – 11:22 am

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. ★★★

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‘Linda Vista’ at Steppenwolf: Letts’ new play frames photographer who can’t get selfie right

May 21, 2017 – 5:12 pm
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Review: Wheeler, the only name he goes by, is a smart guy, a good photographer and his own worst enemy. He’s the case study in self-destruction at the center of Tracy Letts’ new play “Linda Vista,” now headed into the final week of a crackling production directed by Dexter Bullard at Steppenwolf Theatre. Wheeler – played with barbed comic timing and ruinous ferocity by Ian Barford – imagines himself astride the world, or indeed like Jupiter above it, taking the measure of all the things and people in it and finding that people mostly don’t measure up. ★★★★

In a journey across Brahms’ symphonies, Muti found both lyric dramatist, master classicist

May 16, 2017 – 7:46 am
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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.

Muti, leading the CSO through Brahms cycle, says unsuspected sadness edges symphonies

May 12, 2017 – 12:13 pm
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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.

In a spin at Lyric, ‘My Fair Lady’ still leaves romance in lurch, but the show’s irresistible

May 9, 2017 – 4:40 pm
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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. ★★★★

Baton (and lantern) in hand, Muti commences rediscovery survey of the Brahms symphonies

May 9, 2017 – 1:52 pm
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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.

Pianist Murray Perahia forges an alluring path from bright Bach through a Beethoven thicket

May 8, 2017 – 2:25 pm
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Review: Musical virtuosity is the sum of diverse parts, only the most obvious of which is great technical prowess. Pianist Murray Perahia’s recital May 7 at Orchestra Hall offered a veritable punch list of the qualities that add up to consummate musicianship. Its was a stylistic sweep from the last of Bach’s six “French” Suites through Schubert’s Four “Impromptus,” D. 935, to Beethoven’s monumental Sonata in B-flat, Op. 106 (“Hammerklavier”).

In soft music of bubbles and cactus needles, concert attunes the ear to whispered sounds

Apr 25, 2017 – 11:08 am
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Review: In conventional classical-music concerts, it’s easy to get so swept up in elements like melody, harmony and rhythm that we overlook the essence of the individual sounds involved. In other words, we see the forest but not the trees. In a concert April 23 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the focus was very much on the trees. Titled “Whisper(s),” it featured magical “quiet sounds” like the gentle gurgling of water bubbles and the almost imperceptible ping of a plucked cactus needle.

‘The Perfect American’ at Chicago Opera: Portrait of Walt Disney, animated but imperfect

Apr 24, 2017 – 5:21 pm
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Review: The Philip Glass-Rudolph Wurlitzer opera “The Perfect American” focuses on the last months of Walt Disney’s life as he agonizes over his impending death and looks back at his career and childhood, especially memories of his hometown, an idyllic Marceline, Mo., which clearly was the inspiration for Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland. In a production at the Harris Theater, it isn’t hard to see why Chicago Opera Theater was drawn to the work. ★★★

Long-range ‘Aladdin’ tour opens in Chicago, and out pops a magical musical extravaganza

Apr 21, 2017 – 9:02 pm
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Review: How do you translate the film magic of Disney to the musical theater? In the case of “Aladdin” – which has launched a North American tour at the Cadillac Palace with future stops in Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco and points further – you cram the stage with sets, people, smoke, glitter, explosions, magic tricks, gold, jokes and outsized personalities, and let nostalgia do the rest. Sometimes it dazzles, sometimes it falls flat, but mostly “Aladdin” is great fun, a magic carpet ride. ★★★★

As CSO concertmaster Chen takes spotlight, band behind him is like blue-blooded family

Apr 20, 2017 – 10:44 am
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Interview: Every time violinist Robert Chen, concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, steps in front of his colleagues as soloist, he knows one thing very well: A solid troupe has his back. Chen will be in that happy place April 20, 22 and 23 at Orchestra Hall when he plays Bartók’s early Violin Concerto No. 1 with guest conductor Neeme Järvi. The program will get an additional performance April 21 in Wheaton.

Ravinia Festival creates role of conductor laureate for beloved leader James Levine

Apr 12, 2017 – 2:43 pm
James Levine (Cory Weaver)

This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
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Longtime music director will renew his summer residency, conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and leading master …

Chicago Opera Theater’s end-of-season gala involves surprise guest Philip Glass

Apr 12, 2017 – 2:03 pm
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
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Celebrate with Philip Glass and COT! COT’s End of Season Gala involves surprise guest Philip Glass!
April 12, 2016 …

Jeremy Piven leads intimate discussion with Kevin Spacey at Gene Siskel Film Center benefit

Apr 12, 2017 – 12:33 pm
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
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“Kevin Spacey: Renaissance Man,” features In-Depth Conversation with Golden Globe and Emmy Award-Winner Piven and Spacey …

From Lyric Opera stage, pair of stars launch into a swinging orbit around the world of song

Apr 12, 2017 – 10:09 am
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Review: Musical artistry at 360º was on display April 9 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in a joint recital by tenor Lawrence Brownlee and bass-baritone Eric Owens, with the marvelously adroit Craig Terry at the piano. Through a rousing program, the two singers showed their vast, enthusiastic and refreshingly diverse audience a broad and deeply felt repertoire of spirituals, traditional songs and Broadway favorites as well as the opera for which they are celebrated.

Dutoit sees a wide spiritual gamut before him in Easter weekend with Chicago Symphony

Apr 11, 2017 – 1:51 pm
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Preview: Musical reflections on Easter, transcendent and intimate and existential, form conductor Charles Dutoit’s multilayered theme for his concerts April 13-15 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The gentler parts are well known; for many listeners, however, the other part, a spiritual warp of upheaval and terror born of World War II, may come as revelation in startling terms.

With Haitink sidelined, James Conlon steps in and leads CSO, singers in Mahler to remember

Apr 2, 2017 – 10:42 am
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Review: When the Chicago Symphony Orchestra released its program schedule for the current season, among the brightest highlights – one of those don’t-miss concerts – was Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde,” to be led by Bernard Haitink, who at age 88 is unsurpassed among Mahler conductors today. Then, just days before the performance weekend, March 30-April 1, Haitink canceled due to illness. But when James Conlon, former music director of the Ravinia Festival, answered the call, “Das Lied” found its full voice.

Lyric Opera’s ‘Rising Stars’ concert reflects program designed to help young talent shine

Apr 1, 2017 – 8:44 pm
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Report: They were everywhere onstage all season, and seven are taking their final bows. It’s time to cut the cake for the gifted young artists who are emerging from the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s high-level Ryan Opera Center multi-year training program. They are venturing forth, some with bookings already in hand.

In ‘Hamilton’ immersion, Chicago school kids embroider the musical with riffs of their own

Mar 31, 2017 – 6:13 am
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Report: I wish every adult attending the hit musical “Hamilton” could see it the way nearly 20,000 Chicagoans in their mid-teens will experience it over the coming months. And not just because of the $10 tickets for a show that generally costs hundreds. What each student comes away with is a personalized connection to America’s birth.

Facing the music, if not her public, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter delivers a stellar recital

Mar 30, 2017 – 3:33 pm
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Review: Very curious, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter’s recital March 29 at Orchestra Hall with her longtime collaborator, pianist Lambert Orkis. The programming was imaginative, the performances elegant, forceful, seamlessly integrated. What was so odd was Mutter’s choice not to play out to the house, but rather to offer at best a profile as she leaned into the piano and in at least one instance read from a score propped up next to Orkis’ own music.

‘Venus in Fur’ – oops, ‘The Scene’ at Writers: Coulda, maybe shoulda, been the other play

Mar 29, 2017 – 3:40 pm
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Review: A ditzy girl, who turns out to be a veritable demon, brings a self-absorbed guy crashing down. He doesn’t see it coming, never has a prayer. Ah, you know that play? Right. It’s David Ives’ “Venus in Fur,” of course. Well, it’s back with us again, more or less, in Theresa Rebeck’s “The Scene” at Writers Theatre. When I say more or less, I mean there’s more involved – actors, situations, sex – but the sum amounts to less of consequence or, along the way, dramatic merit. ★★

Daniil Trifonov’s knockout recital points up high value of Symphony Center piano series

Mar 27, 2017 – 4:59 pm
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Review: Daniil Trifonov’s prodigious recital March 26 at Orchestra Hall provided a ringing reminder of what a treasure the Symphony Center Presents annual piano series is. To have 10 such virtuosi parade across that stage over the course of a season is a gift not to be taken lightly. Still, that said, Trifonov’s heady program was exceptional even for the world-class keyboard lineup that populates the SCP series.

Postmortem opera: ‘Charlie Parker’s Yardbird’ catches bop star musing on life – after death

Mar 26, 2017 – 12:10 am
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Review: I can only assume that tenor Lawrence Brownlee’s next operatic role will be Muhammad Ali. It took Brownlee all of five minutes as legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker to own that tragic character – to reveal a deeply flawed figure as one who was determined to be his own man, a brilliant, scarred fighter who proved to the world that he was the greatest. The Lyric Opera of Chicago production of “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” by Daniel Schnyder and Bridgette A. Wimberly, runs through March 26 at the Harris Theater. ★★★★

Verdi’s Requiem, as bold act by Nazi-era Jews, comes to Chicago in multimedia concert event

Mar 21, 2017 – 3:44 pm
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Preview: “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín,” a multimedia creation with orchestra, chorus, vocal soloists, narrators and film clips, will be presented under author-conductor Murry Sidlin on March 23 at Orchestra Hall. Sidlin developed the project to memorialize Jews who learned and performed Verdi’s Requiem in figurative protest against their Nazi oppressors at the Terezin concentration camp.

‘Carmen’ (redux) at the Lyric: Leads change, young conductor steps in – and the heat’s on

Mar 20, 2017 – 9:24 pm
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Review: Lest any insatiable lover of Bizet’s opera “Carmen” be put off by the idea of a “second cast,” as the Lyric Opera of Chicago has now changed the leads in its continuing production, let me put this as plainly as possible: The mid-run advent of mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili in the title role, with tenor Brandon Jovanovich now portraying the tragically smitten Don José, isn’t just hot stuff; it is scorched earth. ★★★★

In a many-splendored program, Muti and CSO match world premiere, Uchida’s Beethoven

Mar 20, 2017 – 5:48 am
3/16/17 8:35:06 PM -- Chicago, IL, USA

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Riccardo Muti Conductor
Mitsuko Uchida piano

Rossini Overture to La scala di seta
Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3
S. Adams many words of love

[World Premiere, CSO Commission]
 © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

Review: With music director Riccardo Muti back on the podium, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra delivered a bravura world premiere with Samuel Adams’ “many words of love,” framed by an elegant and emotionally charged performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with soloist Mitsuko Uchida and a vivacious account of Schumann’s Fourth Symphony, which remarkably enough the CSO had not played since 2003.

With ‘Hamilton’ gang added to cast, Concert for America brings stellar benefit to Chicago

Mar 18, 2017 – 7:20 am
Melissa Manchester will perform in Chicago's Concert for America. (Randee St. Nicholas)

Preview: Concert for America is headed to Chicago on March 20 with stars including Melissa Manchester and the cast of “Hamilton.”

‘Earthquakes in London’ at Steep: Our roiling planet may soon resemble a fractured family

Mar 15, 2017 – 9:02 am
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Review: Mike Bartlett’s “Earthquakes in London,” at Steep Theatre, is an intriguing excursion that conflates garden variety family dysfunction with nothing less than the end of days. The show closes March 18, and it’s worth catching – not for its perfection (it is imperfect), but for its rigorous melding of intricate, credible characters and a provocative foray into magical realism. ★★★

Placido Domingo’s gala return to Lyric Opera rekindles long love affair across the footlights

Mar 12, 2017 – 10:49 pm
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Review: There was palpable energy at the Civic Opera House on March 9 when the Lyric Opera of Chicago presented “Celebrating Placido,” an evening of music and mirth with the remarkable Placido Domingo, who at age 76 still engenders that singular frisson felt upon hearing his first phrases as only the greatest vocalists are able to do.

Converging on a cosmic plane, CSO and Ma find star stuff in Salonen’s new Cello Concerto

Mar 10, 2017 – 5:48 pm
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Review: As the audience packed into Orchestra Hall whooped its enthusiasm for Esa-Pekka Salonen’s new Cello Concerto, just given its world premiere by soloist Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Salonen conducting, the two stars of the moment gleefully pointed fingers at each other as if to say, “You’re the man,” and, “Oh no, you’re the man.” They were both right.

‘Uncle Vanya’ at Goodman: Seeking purpose, or a numbing refill when the glass is drained

Mar 8, 2017 – 10:23 pm
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Review: Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” an existential snapshot of lost souls at a signless crossroads, exemplifies theater as an ensemble endeavor. In Annie Baker’s modernized, razor-sharp adaptation of the play, complemented by a directorial tour de force from Robert Falls, Goodman Theatre brings the spirit of dramatic teamwork to vibrant life. ★★★★★