Review: HE/SHE (Chicago Opera Theater)

  
  

A stark stage filled with robust emotion

  
  
Joseph Kaiser in Chicago Opera Theater's "HE/SHE". Photo by Liz Lauren. Jennifer Johnson Cano in Chicago Opera Theater's "HE/SHE". Photo by Liz Lauren.
  
  
Chicago Opera Theater presents
  
HE/SHE
  
Music by Robert Schuman and Leos Janáček
at Harris Theater, Millennium Park (map)
through May 8  |  tickets: $25-$75  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh 

Act One

  

Act Two

        
     Frauenliebe und Leben     The Diary of One Who Disappeared
            by Robert Schuman                             by Leos Janáček
         

Reviewed by Katy Walsh 

She loves him.  He loves her.  A woman and man express the spectrum of emotions for loving the wrong person.  Chicago Opera Theater concludes its 2011 Spring Season with HE/SHE, a operatic tribute to obsessive loveDeviating from a traditional show, Chicago Opera Theater presents a concert experience.  In the first half, a mezzo-soprano sings in German Frauenliebe und Leben by Robert Schumann.  Following the intermission, a tenor sings in Czech The Diary of One Who Disappeared by Leos Janáček.  The combination proves an intriguing and entertaining gender sing-off. It’s not just another he-sang/she-sang side of the same Jennifer Johnson Cano in story.  The pieces are totally separate but connected through the misery of mutual unrequited love.  HE/SHE passionately sings his/her heart out for the love of her/him.  

After the stunning spectacles of Death and the Powers (our review ★★★) and Medea (review ★★★★); the simplicity of the HE/SHE set-up startles initially: a piano; he or she.  There is no elaborate scenery, costumes or chorus.  The orchestra pit is empty.  It has a no-thrills send-off feel.  When the music starts, the stark stage fills up with robust emotion.  Jennifer Johnson Cano sings exquisitely the story of her man.  Cano shares the relational joys and pain with a controlled ‘this must be a dream’ desperation.  Cano poignantly sings about ‘staring into an empty world.‘  Her sadness permeates the audience with lingering despair.  It’s a powerful contrast to Joseph Kaiser.  Kaiser commandingly sings with a fury of intensity. An animated Kaiser thunders about the bewitching powers of a gypsy.  His emotional rant engages through to a climatic finale.  Brandy Lynn Hawkins (gypsy) and the off-stage voices of Lelia Bowie, Hannah Dixon and Megan Rose Williams aid the storytelling with sweet, haunting melodies.

For both segments, the back of the stage turns into a full-length movie screen.  Traditionally, supertitles are projected in snippets above the stage.  For HE/SHE, the supertitles become illustrations of the emotion.  For Frauenliebe und Leben, the supertitles are romantic, handwritten script.  They gradually appear and disappear in a montage of old fashion photographs.  The black and white photos beautifully Jennifer Johnson Cano in Chicago Opera Theater's "HE/SHE". Photo by Liz Lauren.chronicle a woman’s life from childhood to marriage to death.  The Diary of One Who Disappeared  uses a chaotic, bold font.  The words are spliced onto lush, vibrant images of nature.  Within the abstract artistry, a ghostly woman sporadically appears.  Projection designer Hillary Leben effectively gives the audience snapshots of what’s going on inside the heads of the tormented lovers.

The entire show is accompanied by a solo pianist Craig Terry.  The uncomplicated choice continues to draw focus to the complex emotional singing.  In theory, the decision is simple and strong.  In reality, the Harris Theater’s concrete facade is an echo chamber.  Without an orchestra to provide a sound buffer, every cough, whisper, dropped program is an audible distraction.  Despite that unwanted soundtrack, HE/SHE boldly finishes off Chicago Opera Theater’s innovative season with a return to the basics: spectacular operatic singing!

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
     

Joseph Kaiser in Chicago Opera Theater's "HE/SHE". Photo by Liz Lauren.

HE/SHE is sung in German with English supertitle and in Czech with English supertitles. Run Time: 90 minutes including one intermission

All photos by Liz Lauren 

   

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Review: Medea (Chicago Opera Theater)

  
  

Medea casts its dark, irresistible spell

  
  

Anna Stephany as Medea, ensemble in background. Photo by Liz Lauren

  
Chicago Opera Theater presents
  
Medea
  
Written by Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Stage Directed by James Durrah
Conducted by Christian Curnyn
at Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph (map)
thru May 1  |  tickets: $30-$120  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Visually stunning, musically sumptuous, Director James Durrah’s vision for Marc-Antione Charpentier’s Medea (Médée) unifies contemporary minimalism with the controlled, ritualistic stateliness of French Baroque opera. Every sleek and suggestive element of Chicago Opera Theater’s production not only buttresses the underlying power and deadly magnificence of its central character, Médée (Anna Stephany), the sorceress who’s been done wrong by her man, but also establishes the pernicious atmosphere at the court of mendacious royalty.

Anna Stephany, as Medea, stands with her 2 children. Photo by Liz Lauren. From modern dance movement to costuming (also Durrah), to the stark, bold set design of bent wood clashed against metal (François-Pierre Couture), to the lighting design’s color palette of sepia, gold, pale yellow, copper, dark blue and smoky black (Julian Pike), COT’s design elements load their production with chic sophistication that meshes easily with the lush and powerful elegance of Charpentier’s compositions. Such a well-integrated design not only pays off in building to and amplifying Médée’s mournful rages and witchy moments, but also frames and supports the intrigues carried out at the court of Corinth.

Jason (Colin Ainsworth), Médée and their sons have fled to Corinth in the wake of Médée’s murder of Thessaly’s King Pelias. While Jason sues for protection from King Creon (Evan Boyer), Médée already suspects that he has fallen in love with the king’s daughter Creuse (Micaëla Oeste). Stephany’s deeply psychological performance strikes the right tenuous balance, wavering over Médée’s love for Jason, for whom she has killed and sacrificed, and yielding to jealous suspicions that become confirmed with each hour. Once Jason arrives, Ainsworth and Stephany convincingly render the sensual tension between this troubled pair. Jason tries to persuade Médée that every favor he pursues with Creuse he does only to secure their refuge. Adding insult to injury, Jason persuades Médée to give her cloak to Creuse, since the princess has admired it and such a gift may help their plea.

The cloak is everything. Rich, velvety black with a glossy persimmon lining, the cloak sets Médée apart, particularly as she enters at the back of the stage, hand-in-hand with her two sons in their pajamas of blue white. It’s an otherworldly moment that contrasts potent, mysterious danger with unsuspecting innocence. Likewise, once Creuse dons the cloak in Act Four (already poisoned by Médée), she flaunts it like a spoiled rich girl who has usurped Medee’s power. Certainly much fun is had in interim scenes, wherein Médée calls upon the spirits of the underworld to poison the cloak for Creuse’s undoing. (Trust the Chorus to act out their zombie best!) But the more accessible power plays come through each woman’s possession and manipulation of the cloak.

Micaela Oeste as Creuse, background: Ensemble. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Anna Stephany as Medea, Colin Ainsworth as Jason. Photo by Liz Lauren Paul LaRosa as Oronte, surrounded by Ensemble. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Being baroque opera, manipulation and intrigue is key. King Creon lures Oronte (Paul LaRosa) to Corinth’s defense against the Thessalians with the promise of marriage to Creuse. But Creon really intends Creuse for Jason and makes every move to remove the threat of Médée’s presence by sending her into exile without her children. Fools–they should know not to mess with Médée. But often, more compelling than her carrying out her revenge are scenes in which characters are still sorting out everyone’s hidden agenda.

The cast is theatrically adept and vocally powerful. The Baroque Band, a Chicago-based ensemble since 2007, conducted by Christian Curnyn, provides rich, majestic and period-perfect musical underpinning to each character’s lies and deceptions. Under the veneer of civilization beats passionate hearts, just as driven to satisfy desire as Médée’s — they only lack the mojo to back it up.

Well, COT’s Medea has tons of mojo. More’s the pity that there are only three more performances before it closes–run, do not walk, to see them.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

The ensemble of Chicago Opera Theater's 'Medea' surrounds Anna Stephany (Medea).  Photo by Liz Lauren.

Chicago Opera Theater’s Medea continues at Millennium Park’s Harris Theater through May 1st, with performances April 27 and 29 at 7:30, and May 1 at 3pm.  Tickets are $30-$120, and can be purchased by phone (312-334-7777) or on the web (HarrisTheaterChicago.org).  For more info, visit the company’s website:  www.chicagooperatheater.org. Medea is sung in French, with English supertitles.

 

     

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Beers and Baritones? Only with Chicago Opera Theater

 
Opera Underground 

When: November 18, 6pm–8pm

Enjoy a night of mingling and music with unlimited wine, handcrafted beer, and light appetizers at Rock Bottom Brewery for only $25! Opera Underground is COT’s club of young professionals ages 21 to 45.

Opera Underground