REVIEW: The Girl of the Golden West (Lyric Opera)

  
  

Sheriffs! Bandits! Damsels! Passion! What’s not to love?

  
  

Act 3 of "Girl of the Golden West," playing at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Dan Rest

  
Lyric Opera of Chicago presents
  
The Girl of the Golden West
   
Composed by Giacomo Puccini  
Libretto by
Carlo Zangarini and Guelfo Civini
Directed by
Vincent Liotta
at
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive (map)
through Feb 21  |  tickets: $56-$217  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I love a good Western. That may come as a surprise to some but maybe more of a surprise is the idea of a great Western opera – in Italian. Giacomo Puccini’s fascination with the American West is gloriously displayed in the Lyric Opera production of La Fanciulla Del West (or The Girl Of The Golden West). My dad used to call Westerns ‘horse operas’ because of all of the drama, brawling, greed, and damsels in distress. Luckily for us, Puccini’s Minnie is no mere damsel-in-distress when embodied by the fabulous soprano Deborah Voight.

Marcello Giordani and Deborah Voigt in the "Girl of Golden West", playing through February 21st at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Dan RestMs. Voight emanates strength with a healthy dose of ‘don’t mess with me’, making one of the great entrances in an opera – shooting off two rounds from her pistol to break up a fracas at the Polka saloon. Puccini’s interest in the “Wild West” was piqued by the European tours of the Buffalo Bill Western shows that included sharpshooter Annie Oakley. The deal was sealed, then, when – on a visit to New York – Puccini attended the Broadway play Girl of the Golden West by David Belasco.

Ms. Voight’s Minnie has just enough brass and fire to play with the boys and fend off the lascivious charm of the sheriff Jack Rance, played by baritone Marco Vratogna. Mr. Vratogna’s baritone is sexy and sinister. Rance is a sheriff and a gambler who thinks he has a direct line on Minnie’s virtue. Vratogna channels the great Yul Brynner with a shaved head and piercing intense gaze. I wondered if Brynner had modeled his Gunslinger on Jack Rance in the 1973 science fiction Western “Westworld”.

In every Western there must be an outlaw, especially if the bad guy is a smoldering misunderstood one. Enter the great tenor Marcello Giordani as Ramerrez aka Dick Johnson the hunted leader of a murderous gang of thieves out to steal the gold from this mining backwater.

Mr. Giordani has a gorgeous voice with velvety tones that never border on the strident or maudlin. He is a wonderful counterpoint to Ms. Voight’s powerful and clear soprano. Their acting is top notch in portraying two thunderstruck lovers. Voight’s bedroom eyes and womanly countenance enhance her performance. Meanwhile Giordani is quite entrancing and smoldering as her true love enraptured at the thought of one kiss from Minnie.

     
Marcello Giordani and Deborah Voigt in the "Girl of Golden West", playing through February 21st at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Dan Rest Act 1 of Girl of the Golden West playing at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Dan Rest
Debra Voigt with the men of the camp in Act 3 of "Girl of the Golden West" at Lyric Opera. Photo by Dan Rest Marcello Giordani and Deborah Voigt in the "Girl of Golden West", playing through February 21st at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Dan Rest

Mr. Vratogna (Sheriff Rance) and Ms. Voight have an excellent chemistry as well. Sheriff Rance’s intentions are less than honorable. He has a wife and Minnie is more of a trophy to be captured. There is a tense scene with Rance trying to force himself on Minnie and Ms. Voight’s portrayal is explosive in rebuffing him.

The supporting cast of “Fanciulla” is a combination of wonderful voices and fine acting. David Cangelosi is excellent as Nick the Polka bartender. He is a perfect comic relief as he pits the miners against one another in thinking they are at the top of the list for Minnie’s affections. Craig Irvin has a beautiful voice and excellent stage presence as Ashby the Wells Fargo man. I loved the portrayal of Sonora by the baritone Daniel Sutin. He has an exceptionally expressive visage to accompany the voice.

Puccini was my first exposure to opera with a Lyric production of La Boheme back in the 1970’s. His sense of theatre and drama are incomparable. He composed the lush and sweeping tragedies Tosca (recently produced at Lyric ★★★½) and Madama Butterfly. His works infuse humor, irony, and a wonderful sexiness to his characters for which I am grateful. He consistently wrote wonderful roles for women in particular. In “Fanciulla”, the role of Minnie is the only major female among at least forty men on the stage. It’s a powerhouse role to be undertaken by only the best and that is Deborah Voight.

Marco Vratogna, Marcello Giordani in "Girl of the Golden West" at Lyric Opera. Photo by Dan Rest.In my opinion, Puccini is the greatest theatrical composer history in history, and many have given homage or outright plagiarized his work. The Puccini estate sued Andrew Lloyd Webber over blatant lifts from “Fanciulla” in his version of The Phantom of The Opera – and the estate basically won, as Webber settled out of court. I also feel that Gene de Paul and Johnny Mercer owe a debt to Puccini for the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers score as well. Puccini’s rich and sweeping washes of sound are perfect for the Technicolor epics of John Ford and Stanley Donen, and – had Puccini he lived further into the 20th century – he  may have been witness to his influence on the American film soundtrack in Douglas Sirk melodramas and film noir classics.

The conductor for the evening was Sir Andrew Davis, who led the orchestra with command and joyful gusto. He has such joy for the music and that translates into an overall beautiful production. The Lyric is also gifted with the legendary Harold Prince as the original producer of “Fanciulla” in 1978 in Chicago. The director Vincent Liotta previously worked with Mr. Prince and has once again directed an excellent production.

Take the time to get acquainted with the treasure that is Chicago’s Lyric Opera. This is theatre and music that has persevered because of its beauty and soul-touching quality. It’s a chance to get dressed nice, put on your Sunday manners, and sit in one of the world’s great opera houses. Brava! Bravo! Te amo Maestro Puccini!

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
   
  

Act 1 of "Girl of the Golden West" at Lyric Opera. Photo by Dan Rest

     
     

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REVIEW: The Mikado (Lyric Opera of Chicago)

     
     

Lyric creates a perfect holiday gift

     
     

01 Neal Davies as Ko-Ko center with Lyric Opera Chorus THE MIKADO DAN_4344 c Dan Rest

   
Lyric Opera of Chicago presents
   
The Mikado
   
Written by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
Directed by Gary Griffin
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (map)
through Jan 21  |  tickets: $48-$217   |  more info 

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

I’ve found it, the perfect Christmas gift! It is Lyric Opera Chicago’s radiant, lush, sophisticated and gorgeous production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. One could even put a big red bow on it, the same color as the massive, velvety red flats that act as imperial Japanese doors to the proscenium of Lyric’s stage. They are perfect—as is the whole of Mark Thompson’s design for the production. How else to describe his set and costumes’ color palate but as a visual seduction that amplifies and fulfills Arthur Sullivan’s opulent score. Christine Binder’s lighting molds pure magic from Thompson’s rich golds, pinks, purples, reds, and sky blues, chartreuse 15 James Morris as THE MIKADO RST_9172 c Dan Restand wood tones. Updating the operetta to early 1920s Japan is also an inspired change that refreshes and illuminates good old G&S for today’s audience.

Conducted by Sir Andrew Davis and stage-directed by Gary Griffin, Lyric creates the kind of sumptuous dream that brings forth incredibly powerful musical moments, offset with sprightly comedy that makes the whole enterprise deceptively light and airy. That Davis and Chorus Master Donald Nally would draw gorgeous performances from their superlative cast may already seem a fete accompli to Lyric audiences; but that Griffin tops off the whole luxurious feast with the cherry and whipped cream perfection of precisely timed comedy is the real celebration of the evening. Clearly the cast is having too much fun and their enjoyment of W. S. Gilbert’s material is infectious.

Should this whole opera thing not work out, Neal Davies has a future in comedy. His Ko-Ko, a common tailor unexpectedly raised from near-execution (for the grave offense of flirting) to an appointment as Titipu’s Lord High Executioner, captures the wry mischievousness and cheerful nervousness of the arriviste who never expected to arrive. Of course, it helps to have one fabulously tacky hairpiece (wigs by Richard Jarvie) to clearly signal hopeful insecurity. Ko-Ko temporarily thwarts the romantic chance of the charmingly jejune Nanki-Poo (Toby Spence), who has journeyed to the village of Titipu to woo Yum-Yum (Andriana Chuchman), Ko-Ko’s ward and prospective bride-to-be.

      
07 Katharine Goeldner Andriana Chuchman Andrew Shore Emily Fons THE MIKADO RST_8395 c Dan Rest 10 Stephanie Blythe as Katisha THE MIKADO DBR_4064 c Dan Rest
06 Neal Davies as Ko-Ko THE MIKADO RST_8169 c Dan Rest 12 Toby Spence as Nanki-Poo Andriana Chuchman as Yum-Yum Neal Davies as Ko-Ko THE MIKADO RST_9010 c Dan Rest
   

In fact, in true G&S style, charmingly jejune is how one could describe the young leads of the show. It’s sounds cliché but, then, G&S revels in clichés–Spence and Chuchman make a darling, lyrical couple that clearly hasn’t got a gray cell to share between them. One relishes the heartfelt silliness of their romance, while becoming unfailingly reinvigorated at the prospect of romance succeeding—even though one can hardly say that it is ever really threatened. Meanwhile Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah (Andrew Shore) and Pish-Tush (Philip Kraus) regale the audience with the absurdities of their respective posts as Titipu’s administration. Shore doesn’t miss a hilarious beat pointing up Pooh-Bah’s ridiculous attachment to his pedigree or his decidedly mercenary approach to civil service. Together they crisply whip off “I am so proud,” wherein Ko-Ko realizes that, under the orders of the Mikado (James Morris), he must find someone in Titipu to execute within a month or it could be his head, once again, on the “big black block.”

Happily, Nanki-Poo arrives to do himself in and Ko-Ko persuades him not to squander his death in wasteful suicide—rather, do your patriotic duty and let the state kill you instead. He promises a month of married happiness with Yum-Yum in return for Nanki-Poo’s timely and well-celebrated execution. Just when it seems as though our young lovers have a chance at some limited happiness, Katisha (Stephanie Blythe) arrives in full force, seeking Nanki-Poo, who is actually the son of the Mikado and her betrothed.

Let me say that Lyric brought the big guns when they picked Blythe for this role. Her mezzo-soprano dominates the stage and one couldn’t ask for a more humorous or more resplendently-voiced ruthless virago. Tell us, how does it feel to have all that power, Ms. Blythe? Because Griffin’s staging allows her glorious full play, whether she is reaching operatic heights with the chorus with “Oh fool that fleest my hallowed joys!” and “For he’s going to marry Yum-Yum” or outshining the arrival of the Mikado in “Miya Sama.”

All that can be said of James Morris’s turn as the Mikado is that it’s too bad he doesn’t have more numbers. “A More Humane Mikado” is always an anticipated delight and Morris acquits himself with privileged dignity, polish and grace, while amusingly forbearing Katisha’s constant upstaging. The Mikado’s arrival precipitates the need for an execution and Ko-Ko decides to let Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo marry while faking Nanki-Poo’s execution on the death certificate. When Katisha discovers Nanki-Poo’s name on the certificate, his true identity as the Mikado’s son is revealed to all and Ko-Ko once again finds he is headed for the big, black block unless he can seduce Katisha into forgetting all about Nanki-Poo and marry him.

16 Neal Davies as Ko-Ko Stephanie Blythe as Katisha THE MIKADO RST_9339 c Dan RestThis is not to say that Davies’ excellent rendering of the classic “Tit-Willow” depends upon a tree, but Thompson’s set design brings home the song’s comic impact by balancing it against Yum-Yum’s enchanting declaration of self-love and Katisha’s misery at losing her chance at marital bliss. Under the radiant pinks of a tree festooned with cherry blossoms, Chuchman effortlessly delivers “The Sun Whose Rays;” the same tree is theatrically brought into the scene with twisted and barren branches against a backdrop of mournful indigos and purples when Katisha sings “Alone, and Yet Alive!” Then the same barren tree remains under which Ko-Ko stands to sing a made-up account, of a birdie committing suicide over blighted love, to seduce Katisha.

It’s a moment that simply and elegantly unites all three as it gently and reassuringly spoofs the heart in its outlandishly unreasonable passionate expectations.

It is a bit of silliness that is pure genius and that is what Lyric’s Mikado pulls off so well throughout the whole production. The show will send you into the cold winter night, your ear alight with its happy tunes and a joyful heart against the cares of this world. And what could be a better Christmas gift than that?

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
   
   

17 Andriana Chuchman Toby Spence Neal Davies, James Morris Stephanie Blythe THE MIKADO RST_9395 c Dan Rest

Running Time: 2 hours, 54 minutes. In English with projected English texts

 

 

     
     

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REVIEW: Carmen (Lyric Opera)

   

Exquisite performances make a restless ‘Carmen’ shine

 

Katharine Goeldner as Carmen - Lyric Opera - Photo by Dan Rest

   
Lyric Opera presents  
   
Carmen
   
Composed by Georges Bizet
Directed by
Henry Silverstien
Music directed by
Alain Altinoglu
at
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (map)
through March 27   |  
tickets: $38-$227   |   more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Even though Georges Bizet’s Carmen spawned some of the most recognizable melodies in classical music, it was a complete flop when it premiered in 1875, as critics pronounced it immoral even before it opened. Bizet died soon afterwards, never knowing his enduring popularity. Although considered an “opera comique,” the sensual and tragic love story pretty much murdered the style. The initial run almost bankrupted Paris’ Opera Comique, but Carmen’s influence went much further. The commercially viable, family friendly, yet artistically vapid form of the opera comique was made obsolete by Bizet’s genre-bending themes.

Katharine Goeldner and Yonghoon Lee - Act III of Carmen, Lyric Opera - photo by Dan Rest A straightforward, traditional production, Lyric Opera’s Carmen is simple (or at least as simple as the Lyric gets) and deeply passionate. The focus is on the layered characters of the piece, none of whom is solidly villain or hero—they’re all just human beings. The story, loosely based on a novella by Prosper Merimee, eschews melodrama for moral complexity. Under the levelheaded direction of Henry Silverstein, this story of love—requited and otherwise—remains explosive. Even after nearly four hours of arias, I found myself with plenty to mull over on the way home.

In a Seville filled with soldiers, romance, and pretty girls, Carmen holds the record for most heads turned. She’s a poor gypsy girl, but rich in passion and independence, loving whomever she pleases. Don Jose, a lowly corporal, is smitten by her charms, and Carmen fancies the soldier, too. He even goes to jail for two months, charged with abetting her escape when she is arrested for some local trouble. After his stint in prison, Don Jose gets a little clingy. His attempts to control her does not sit well with the fiery gypsy, who dumps the obsessed lover. Like most stories that start off like this, you can probably guess the ending—homicide, followed by instant regret. In operas, domestic disputes always end bloodier than in reality.

The success or failure of this show depends on the quality of the mezzo-soprano playing Carmen. Due to some medical issues, Katharine Goeldner took over for Kate Aldrich for all of the October dates. I can’t attest to how Aldrich would have performed the role, but Goeldner was delightful. As Bizet’s famous flirt, she’s vivacious and quick. I understand Don Jose’s desire to lock that down. While usually exuding mounds of charm, Goeldner can also key into Carmen’s vicious and irrational side. She has a proto-feminist vision of gender equality, awesome—but she also harbors some wacky, romantic notions, like forcing Jose to desert the army to be with her. Goeldner makes all these layers clear. Her singing was exquisite, especially her “Habanera,” where she coquettishly discloses her thesis on free love (with a wink).

Katharine Goeldner, Kyle Ketelsen in Act III - Lyric Opera Carmen - photo by Dan Rest

Katharine Goeldner and Yonghoon Lee, final scene of Bizet Carmen, Lyric Opera - photo by Dan Rest Katharine Goeldner, Yonghoon Lee - Lyric Opera Carmen - photo by Dan Rest Katharine Goeldner, Yonghoon Lee, Lyric Opera - Carmen - photo by Dan Rest
Kyle Ketelsen as Escamilo, Lyric Opera Carmen - photo Dan Rest Yonghoon Lee as Don Jose in Carmen - Lyric Opera - photo by Dan Rest

Flown in from South Korea, Yonghoon Lee nuances his portrayal of Don Jose with plenty of lovelorn stares and conflicted frowns. He doesn’t match the intense passion of Goeldner in his acting performance, but he still presents a hefty challenge. He also struggles with externalizing Jose’s rage well; sometimes the character’s jealousy comes off as awkward, or just plain silly.

Penned by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy, the libretto could be better shaped. There are some throwbacks to the opera comique style that are unnecessary, especially in the first act. For example, there is a long number where a pack of children rush on stage and sing about imitating the army. Still can’t figure out a point to that one, besides “who doesn’t love to see kids on stage?”

The final five minutes are breathtaking, a perfect, wretched harmony of sound, image, and content. Out of sight, the chorus faintly sings the praises of a bullfighter, interspersed by the final encounter between Carmen and Don Jose, basked in blood-red light and showered with rose petals. It’s a transcendent moment, one that makes the previous three acts worthwhile.

   
   
Review: ★★★½
   
   

Lyric Opera - Scene from Act I of Carmen - Photo by Dan Rest

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REVIEW: Macbeth (Lyric Opera Chicago)

 

Verdi’s "Macbeth" is a Beautiful Tragedy

 

32 Act Four, MACBETH pic12507 c. Robert Kusel

   
Lyric Opera presents
   
Macbeth
  
Composed by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by
Francesco Maria Piave
Directed by
Barbara Gaines
Music directed by
Renato Palumbo
at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (map)   
through October 30  | 
tickets: $46-$207  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

If Shakespeare were a rock band, Macbeth would likely be the first track on the B-side of his greatest hits album. The classic tragedy about a power-hungry Scottish royal couple is certainly popular, but has never managed to reach the same lofty placement on the theatrical mantle occupied by Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.

12 Nadja Michael, Thomas Hampson, MACBETH DBR_2517 c. Dan RestI can understand why. For me, the title character always came across as a brutish ogre who stomps around in fits of testosterone-driven rage. You can almost picture him delivering his lines, as poetic as they may be, in a series of grunts. He’s like the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the Shakespearean world.

But Lyric Opera’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth infuses the treasonous Scottish nobleman with a vulnerability I have never witnessed before. Perhaps it is because of the passionate singing, the low bellow delivered by performer Thomas Hampson, that allows you to really feel the emotions behind Macbeth’s words. Or perhaps it is that unique quality of opera wherein characters sing aloud their inner dialogue regardless of how many chorus members are on stage. Either way, this Macbeth may have a bold exterior, but there’s no mistaking that inside he hides a sensitive, insecure soul.

Although Hampson is billed as the star of the show, and he certainly delivers, the real standout is Nadja Michael as Lady Macbeth. This woman is absolutely outstanding, with a stunning presence anytime she’s onstage. The amount of endurance and vocal strength required to sing her four arias must be a harrowing task. Yet she does it without ever dropping her energy. And although the production is in Italian (with English super-titles), Michael’s acting and vocal inflection are paired so perfectly that you know what she is saying even if you have absolutely no clue what she is saying.

Leonardo Capalbo, as Macbeth’s foe Macduff, executes an aria in the fourth act that outdoes all the other male cast members. Sung right after he discovers Macbeth has slain Macduff’s entire family, it is a powerful and tragic piece that is infused with real heart, mourning and rage.

Unfortunately, Štefan Kocán’s portrayal of Banquo. Kocan is not as impressive – he has a uniquely guttural voice that, while I appreciate its distinctiveness, serves as a distraction.

21 Nadja Michael, MACBETH DBR_3062 c. Dan Rest 18 Nadja Michael, Thomas Hampson, MACBETH DBR_2666 c. Dan Rest
03 Nadja Michael, MACBETH DBR_2329 c. Dan Rest 29 Thomas Hampson, MACBETH DBR_3218 c. Dan Rest 23 Thomas Hampson, Nadja Michael, MACBETH pic11478 c. Robert Kusel
15 Act One, MACBETH pic22287 c. Robert Kusel 09 Nadja Michael, Thomas Hampson, MACBETH DBR_2463 c. Dan Rest

As you would guess, the Lyric does not shy away from spectacle. There’s plenty of eye-catching scenes throughout, including the opening which features not one but three actors flying through the air on cables. The set itself is towering, resembling a giant metal spaceship. Although it’s impressive in its scale, the futuristic look of the sleek metal seems out of place for a play in which swords are considered advanced weaponry.

Macbeth may be a man’s world, but that doesn’t mean a woman can’t steal the show. And Michael certainly does as Lady Macbeth. At the same time, the intensity of Verdi’s musical orchestrations brings unparalleled clarity to this Elizabethan classic, which – for all its action – really is about emotional tragedy.

For a combination of stunning spectacle and masterful acting and singing, Macbeth is the perfect production for those wanting to witness opera for the first time.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

01 Act One, MACBETH pic04030 c. Robert Kusel

 

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REVIEW: Marriage of Figaro (Lyric Opera)

This marriage is a flawless, fun farce

 figaro14

Lyric Opera of Chicago presents:

Marriage of Figaro

Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conducted by
Sir Andrew Davis
Stage directed by
Herbert Kellner
Projected English supertitles by Francis Rizzo
at
Civic Opera House through March 27th (more info)

By Katy Walsh

figaro01Figaro wants to marry Susanna. Marcellina wants to marry Figaro. Bartolo wants to marry the Countess. The Count wants Susanna. The Countess wants the Count. Cherubino wants everybody.  Arias of lust love are in the air!

Lyric Opera of Chicago presents Marriage of Figaro, composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. A four act opera buffa (comedy) performed in Italian with projected English translations. A sequel to The Barber of Seville, the opera is set in the late eighteenth century. Figaro and Susanna want to marry. As servants of the Count, the union must be authorized by him. In addition, the Count may choose to invoke the custom of ‘having the bride’ before giving her away. The Count is not the only one interfering with Figaro’s marriage. Debts and betrayals have followed him from his The Barber of Seville days. Through a comedic series of tricks and twists, love eventually conquers all.

Throughout all four acts, this cast sings and plays well together. It’s like watching a group of friends setting up good natured pranks to teach each other a lesson. Leading the playful spirit, Danielle De Niese (Susanna) is an adorable, lively sprite with pitch-perfect, comedic timing. Kyle Ketelsen (Figaro) delivers a solid bass-baritone performance as the ultimate cocky player. Anne Schwanewilms (Countess) laments the loss of her husband’s affections in a gorgeous rendition of “Porgi Amor”, and later vows to regain his love in “Dove Sono”. Within the frivolity of the frenzy of multiple charades, her arias are the quiet moments of true clarity and sadness of love lost. The Countess describes her husband as ‘modern: faithless, willful, not so much jealous, as vain.’ Mariusz Kwiecien (Count) embodies that description while – being the brunt of the shams – struggling at the same time. Kwiecien delivers his own spectacular aria “Vedro, mentr’io sospiro” with promises of vengeance to the pranksters. Joyce DiDonato (Cherubino) is a woman playing a boy sometimes playing a woman. She’s hilarious with her portrayal of a youth; a slave to his strong lustful infatuations. In a smaller role, Andrea Silvestrelli (Bartolo) makes his presence memorable with his booming bass singing. His aria “La vendetta” is magnificent. In particular, in one sequence, Silvestrelli squeezes his huge, rich voice through a series of rapid notes. Amazing.

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The Lyric Opera of Chicago has chosen to close its 2009-2010 season with a warhorse. Even to new opera goers, this Mozart’s masterpiece has familiar pieces. The overture and a few of the arias are used in movie scores to enhance themes of multiple plots colliding or love loss. The Lyric has cast it perfect and – under the guidance of Sir Andrew Davis at the baton – Marriage of Figaro hits all the right notes for high spirited high-jinx.  Highly recommended!

From the first note of the overture to the standing ovation, Marriage of Figaro is a flawless, fun farce!

Rating: ★★★★

 

Running Time: Three hours and forty-five minutes includes a thirty minute intermission

Note: Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, based on Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais’ play La folle journee, ou Le marriage de Figaro (1784).

View (2010-02) Marriage of Figaro - Lyric Opera

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REVIEW: The Damnation of Faust (Lyric Opera of Chicago)

This damnation is visually stunning

 25. Part Four, DAMNATION OF FAUST _CLK6664

Lyric Opera of Chicago presents

The Damnation of Faust

Composed by Hector Berlioz 
Libretto by Berlioz and
Almire Gandonniere
Adapted from
Gerard de Nerval’s translation of Goethe’s Faust
Stage directed by
Stephen Langridge
Conducted by
Sir Andrew Davis
through March 17th
(more info, tickets)

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Multi-colored saber lights, pole dancing and life-size shadowboxes, Lyric Opera of Chicago puts a modern twist on a legendary tale in The Damnation of Faust. Composed by Hector Berlioz, The Damnation of Faust was first conceived as an “opera concert” but later termed a “legend dramatique.” Sung in French with projected English titles, the show is nineteen scenes presented in four parts with an epilogue.

21. Paul Groves, DAMNATION OF FAUST  _BLK4499 In Goethe’s epic, Faust is seduced by Mephistopheles and falls for the woman of his dreams, Marguerite. Mephistopheles plays matchmaker and arranges the meeting. Faust seduces Marguerite. After the loving, Faust leaves her. Obsessed with passionate memories, Marguerite goes crazy waiting for Faust to return. In her fervor, she accidentally kills her mother and is condemned to die. To save Marguerite, Faust signs over his soul to Mephistopheles. Lyric Opera of Chicago’s The Damnation of Faust is a familiar story dressed up with a dazzling light show.

Not quite operatic, this legend dramatique has several long musical melodies without any singing. Susan Graham (Marguerite) sings for the first time in part three, scene ten. Along with Paul Groves (Faust), Graham sings a passionate duet “Ange adore.” Clad in a purple shiny suit, (Mephistopheles) John Relyea’s booming voice commands the stage dominion. Christian Van Horn (Brander) also establishes a strong presence with his sporadic moments of song. Singing, however, takes a secondary role in this current production of The Damnation of Faust. Hell, it’s all about the visual!

The production set debuting in The Damnation of Faust is fantastic. George Souglides (set and costume designer), Wolfgang Gobbel (lighting designer) and John Boesche (projection designer) have teamed up to add contemporary layers to the traditional 1800’s backdrop for this story. The fresh approach is immediately apparent as the show opens. Surrounded in dramatic black, the set is a life-size shadowbox. Ten feet above stage level, it houses Faust in an office cubicle with projections of his computer typing. This amazing shadowbox technique is utilized in different scenes, decreasing and increasing depending on the action. Setting the tone with illumination are these magnificent overhead lights suspended on wires. Moving up and down and tilted sideways, these fun techno-color changing lights are surreal in an almost cartoonish way. The renovation of the classic continues with peasants being re-imagined as office drones. The orchestration of a dream sequence using duplicate characters and repetitive motion in a perfectly synchronized fashion is fascinating.

07. Part Two, DAMNATIONO OF FAUST _BLK4313 13. Susan Graham, John Relyea, DAMNATION OF FAUST _BLK4404
01. Paul Groves, DAMNATION OF FAUST  _LHK5284 20. Part Three, DAMNATION OF FAUST _CLK6536

Onstage, the pacing and choreography of The Damnation of Faust appears flawlessly in sync (choreography by Philippe Giraudeau). Offstage, they may have been dealing with some issues. For opening night, there were some distractive pauses between scenes… sometimes even when there wasn’t an apparent set change. The curtains closed, and the audience awkwardly waited in the dark. Most notably, the pause stretched five minutes before the final scene. When the curtain finally rose, a herd of children are shepherded on to the stage. Although the kids add a dimension to the celestial chorus, their presence may be causing a diversion from the movement. Or maybe the kids weren’t the issue. The clunkiness could be the bi-product of a nineteen scene show. Regardless, The Damnation of Faust is a hell-of-a stunning visual. To calm the devil inside, be patient with scene transitions and read the story synopsis in the program. 

Rating: ★★★½

Performed in French with English Titles

Running Time: Two hours and fifty minutes includes a fifteen minute intermission and several scene transition pauses

05. Part Two, DAMNATION OF FAUST _CLK6203

View (2010-02) The Damnation of Faust - Lyric Opera

 

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REVIEW: Elixir of Love (Lyric Opera)

The elixir works, audience swoons!

 elixir-title

All photos by Dan Rest

Lyric Opera presents

The Elixir of Love

 

By Gaetano Donizetti
Libretto by
Felice Romani
Conducted by
Bruno Campanella
Stage directed by
Giulio Chazalettes
Thru February 22nd  (more info)

By Katy Walsh

09. Gabriele Viviani, Nicole Cabell. The Elixir of Love. DBR_4986 c. Dan RestWe’ve seen it before – a guy in love (lust?) uses alcohol to overcome his shyness and catch the girl. Lyric Opera presents their own version of this scenario in The Elixir of Love by Gaetano Donizetti. Nemorino is in love with Adina. Adina is playing the field by flirting with a touring soldier, Belcore. To win Adina’s heart, Nemorino buys an elixir from a traveling peddler, Dulcamara. The potion is actually of bottle of Bordeaux. Eager to make a little cash, Dulcamara proclaims the miracle tonic clears up the complexion, cures joint pain and makes people fall in love. Due to a series of circumstances, all the village women try to court Nemorino. Both Adina and Dulcamara are stunned to observe Nemorino’s popularity. And all ends up well in the end.

Sung in Italian with English subtitles, The Elixir of Love has the signature opera element of multiple characters singing different words simultaneously for a rich sound. Unlike many operas, this show is a light hearted romantic comedy.

To be a principal in an opera, the prerequisite is a fantastic singing voice; an ability to act is not a deal breaker. Making his Lyric Opera debut, Giuseppe Fillanoti (Nemorino) is the full entertainment package. He can sing. He can act. And he’s nice to look at. Fillanoti plays the romantic lead with innocent simplicity and comedic timing. In the show’s most familiar aria “Una furtiva lagrima” (“One furtive tear”), Fillanoti is flawless in his soulful celebration. Holding her own, Nicole Cabell (Adina) is a playful match for Fillanoti. She sings through a range of personas: light-hearted flirt to strategic game player to nervous competitor to woman in love. Although Fillanoti and Cabell are cast perfectly together, their harmonious coupling will end with their February 5th performance. Frank Lopardo (Nemorino) and Susanna Phillips (Adina) will take over the roles from February 7th thru 22nd. The rest of the cast will be featured for the entirety of the run including the wonderful performances of a cocky Belcore (Gabriele Viviani), smooth-singing salesman Dulcamara (Alessandro Corbelli), and village women leader Giannetta (Angela Mannino).

06. Act 1, The Elixir of Love. RST_2054 c. Dan Rest 11. Alessandro Corbelli, Nicole Cabell. The Elixir of Love. DBR_5233 c. Dan Rest
04. Nicole Cabell, Giuseppe Filianoti. The Elixir of Love. DBR_4630 c. Dan Rest 07. Giuseppe Filianoti, Alessandro Corbelli. The Elixir of Love. DBR_4818 c. Dan Rest

Though the cast shines, the creative design is lackluster. The costumes and set of The Elixir of Love are stagnant. Having anticipated the theatrical spectacle as is the Lyric Opera style, it’s a little disappointing. But as a consolation, LO does bring out a live horse on stage pulling the peddler’s wagon, though – because of the massive stage – the horse blends in with the 50+ villagers chorus. (I can’t help but question how Lyric gets a horse inside the Civic Opera House and where does it stand between scenes. As classy as the Lyric is, I like to imagine that the horse has his own dressing room equipped with the best carrots and saddle soap.)

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, The Elixir of Love is the perfect date opera. It’s a romantic comedy that has a happy ending. This is not always the case in real life or on the opera stage, so enjoy it while you can.

 

Rating: ★★★½

 

03. Nicole Cabell, Giuseppe Filianoti. The Elixir of Love. DBR_4609 c. Dan Rest 15. Alessandro Corbelli. The Elixir of Love. RST_1172 c. Dan Rest 13. Giuseppe Filianoti. The Elixir of Love. RST_1022 c. Dan Rest

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