Review: Hercules (Lyric Opera of Chicago)

  
  

Well-intentioned ‘Hercules’ can’t build momentum

  
  

Part One  HERCULES  Lyric Opera Chorus - Dan Rest

  
Lyric Opera of Chicago presents
  
Hercules
  
Composed by George Frideric Handel
Directed by
Peter Sellars
Conducted by
Harry Bicket
at Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive (map)
thru March 21  | 
tickets: $33-$217  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

For his oratorio Hercules, Handel decided to forego hydras, golden apples, and Augean stables. Instead, he wrote a three hour piece about the very last snippet of Hercules’ myth: the point where the victorious Hercules returns from war and is murdered by his jealous wife, Dejanira, who suspects he bedded his recent captive, Iole. It’s an intense story; the 90’s TV show and Disney movie don’t even touch this stuff. Instead of an epic, Handel crafts an immensely personal and psychologically complex narrative complete with pounding arias and swirling recitatives.

Mackarthur Johnson, Lucy Crowe in Lyric Opera's 'Hercules'. Photo credit: Dan RestThe puckish Peter Sellars, always one for concepts and re-imaginings, directed this new production of George Frideric Handel’s Hercules. Sellars zooms in on themes concerning how war affects soldiers. The production ponders that even if you can take the warrior out of the war, can you take the war out of the warrior? It is an idea that mystified Sophocles, the writer of Handel’s source material The Trachiniae, yet it’s a problem that we face now with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq still blazing (and veterans living on the street).

Sellars’ Hercules is both an ancient saga and a modern conundrum. Hercules (Eric Owens) wears the camouflage and flak vest of a 21st Century combatant; the captured Iole (Lucy Crowe) dons an Abu Gharib-style orange jumpsuit and sings her first notes from under a black sack. Sellars steals the images from newsreels, slaps them on-stage, and makes them sing.

The major issue with Lyric’s fresh opera is that Handel’s storytelling fails to captivate. He originally meant the piece to be an oratorio, or a “musical drama” in his own words. Handel wrote 26 such oratorios, a genre written for concert performances and negligible interaction amongst performers (or what we in the biz call “acting”). He didn’t necessarily intend for the harpsichord-heavy work to pack opera houses. He packs his composition with de capo arias – loads of thematic repetitions with tidbits of embellishment and alteration as per the singers. The opera feels like an overly-extended Miesner exercise, with certain phrases (such as when Dejanira, overwhelmed by guilt, begs for her ghost to be whipped by scorpions) repeated over and over. It ventures into snooze-fest territory.

Several moments break the pattern and grabs hold of one’s attention. All of the choral numbers were welcome (although the choreography was often out-of-sync), especially when they muse, gossip and hiss about the nature of jealousy. Alice Coote’s Dejanira is the real driver of the story, not the titular hero. Coote’s performance manages to be pained, majestic, and honest. The English mezzo-soprano doesn’t shy away from diving to hellish emotional depths, yet she exudes grace in all she does. When Handel writes him in, Eric Owens’ growling Hercules is also terrific. Crowe’s singing is top-notch even if her characterization is too stiff. One of my personal favorites is David Daniels’ Lichas (a part originally meant for a contralto).  A gopher for Hercules and his wife, we watch as he does all he can to console and connect the couple, even though this ends in terrible failure.

     
Alice Coote, David Daniels, Eric Owens - HERCULES - Dan Rest Eric Owens, Alice Coote - HERCULES - Dan Rest
Alice Coote and David Daniels HERCULES - Photo credit Dan Rest Alice Coote, Eric Owens - HERCULES - Dan Rest Alice Coote Dejanira in HERCULES - Photo Credit Dan Rest

Sellars’ ideas are valuable and pertinent—veterans were brought in for dress rehearsals and gave the production a standing ovation. He fleshes out themes that make Handel seem powerfully contemporary. George Tsypin’s set is simple, just a few weathered columns and boulders, but it comes to life with James Ingalls’ dazzling (and occasionally terrifying) lighting.

Once you dig past Handel’s redundancy, Dejanira and Hercules seem remarkably layered. Stuck on the home front, they are dealing with a realistic quagmire, even if the circumstances (like him being a demigod and her killing him with a coat that rips out his organs) are not. Handel’s Hercules is a confounding work, but Sellars, a populist at heart, stares it down unflinchingly.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
   
  

Alice Coote, Eric Owens, Lucy Crowe, Marckarthur Johnson, Richard Croft - Hercules - Dan Rest 

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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: A Masked Ball (Lyric Opera Chicago)

   
  

Women take the lead in Lyric’s stunning Verdi production

   
  

13 Act Three A MASKED BALL DAN_4071 c Dan Rest

   
The Lyric Opera presents
  
A Masked Ball
  
By Giuseppe Verdi
Directed by
Renata Scotto
Conducted by
Asher Fisch
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (map)
Thru Dec 10  | 
tickets: $43-$217  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

I recently re-watched the Bugs Bunny short “What’s Opera, Doc?” and I was amazed by how well it adhered to the traditional visual aesthetic and plot structure of actual operas. The epic landscapes, the buxom blondes, the sudden tragedy in the final act – it’s obvious the director, Chuck Jones, had a deep appreciation for the medium. Renata Scotto’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s A Masked Ball similarly delights in these opera conventions, and her traditional direction captures the majestic grandeur of the lush score. Asher Fisch conducts an orchestra that performs Verdi’s music with precision and intensity, and although there are occasional balance issues with the vocalists, the orchestra is otherwise fine accompaniment for the talented singers.

06 Sondra Radvanovsky Frank Lopardo A MASKED BALL DBR_0519 c Dan RestIn Stockholm, Sweden, King Gustavus III’s (Frank Lopardo) political competitors conspire against him as his thoughts linger on the magnificent Amelia Anckarström (Sondra Radvanovsky), the wife of his private secretary Count Anckarström (Mark Delevan). When Gustavus’s page Oscar (Kathleen Kim) tells him of the fortune teller Mme. Arvidson (Stephanie Blythe), the king grabs the opportunity to learn his fate, but receives less than favorable news: he will be killed by the next hand he shakes. Upon shaking the hand of his closest friend Count Anckarström, events are set in motion that lead to the Count’s alliance with Gustavus’s opposition.

In the leading role, Lopardo’s vocals are technically astounding, but their lyrical quality lacks the dramatic intensity that would make Gustavus a more believable political leader Lopardo. There is a conscious choice to have Gustavus’s role as lover take precedence over his position as king, but the political intrigue could be enhanced by a more aggressive tenor. Delevan disappoints as the piece’s main villain, and his inconsistent vocal positioning diminishes the resonance of his sound. Opera should appear effortless, but there’s a lack of comfort in Delevan that can be both seen and heard, especially in the presence of his masterful female costars.

The weaknesses of the men in the cast are more than compensated by the women, who showcase stunning vocals that elevate the entire production. The petite Kathleen Kim finds herself surrounded by men for most of the show, and her voice glides above the males to lend an air of innocence and sweetness to the tense atmosphere of the early scenes. In her lower register, Kim is occasionally overpowered by the orchestra, but on the whole she gives an exemplary performance in her gender-crossed role.

     
09 Sondra Radvanovsky Frank Lopardo A MASKED BALL RST_7779 c Dan Rest 05 Frank Lopardo Stephanie Blythe A MASKED BALL RST_7318 c Dan Rest
07 Sondra Radvanovsky Mark Delavan A MASKED BALL RST_7499 c Dan Rest 10 Sondra Radvanovsky Frank Lopardo Kathleen Kim A MASKED BALL RST_7860 c Dan Rest 01 Frank Lopardo A MASKED BALL RST_7009 c Dan Rest

The production really begins in the first act’s second scene, when Stephanie Blythe takes the stage as the mysterious Mme. Arvidson, delivering the aria “Re dell’abiso” with astonishing force. Just like her fortunes, which exert their influence long after they’ve been told, the character makes an impression that lingers throughout the entire production, despite only appearing in one scene. Blythe has immense control of her powerful instrument, a quality she shares with Radvonovsky, who stuns as the forlorn Amelia. Amelia’s two arias, “Ma dall’arido stelo divulsa” and “Morro, ma prima in grazia,” are the most powerful moments of the entire show, with Sondra Radvonovsky’s incredibly sonorous voice maintaining strength and clarity in all registers. Her singing emphasizes the expressive qualities of Verdi’s music, and the level of trust she puts in the composer translates to complete comfort on stage.

Under the direction of Renata Scotto, herself a renowned soprano, the women take charge of the production. Despite the unevenness of their male counterparts, the women ignite the drama and splendor of Verdi’s music; their dedication gives A Masked Ball the grand scale that makes opera such an exciting art form.

   
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

12 Act Two A MASKED BALL DAN_3956 c Dan Rest

        
       

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Chicago Opera Theater 2nd-annual Opera Cruise

navypier-boat

cot-logo

 

2nd Annual Opera Cruise

High C’s on the High Seas

 

Thursday, August 12th

 

Don’t miss out! This Thursday, August 12th, the Chicago Opera Theater (COT) will set sail on Lake Michigan to celebrate a memorable evening of opera on its second annual Opera Cruise. The cruise will feature a short performance by soprano Nancy Gustafson and baritone Paul La Rosa.

I am thrilled to set sail again on beautiful Lake Michigan for a second straight year with our COT friends and family," said General Director Brian Dickie. "Last year was a remarkable success, and we hope to raise even more money for COT this year.

The voyage will begin at 6pm (boarding begins at 5:30pm) with hors d’oeuvres and an open bar including wine, beer, and COT’s Signature Cocktail, the "Operatini". In addition, there will be a raffle featuring prizes of a studio suite at Hotel Sax, a three month membership to Equinox, a wine tasting party for ten people at Tasting deVine Cellars, plus much more!

 

nancy gustafson

Nancy Gustafson

paul larosa

Paul La Rosa

The highlight of the evening will be a short concert by international opera star Nancy Gustafson, singing with Paul La Rosa, member of Lyric Opera’s esteemed Ryan Opera Center. Ms. Gustafson’s engagements in America have included the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.  In Europe she has performed in Vienna and Munich, at La Scala, Milan, and London’s Covent Garden, and appeared in Hamburg, Geneva, Rome, Turin, and Berlin, and at the Bastille Opera in Paris. She received rave reviews in Chicago Opera Theater’s production of Erwartung in 2007. Mr. La Rosa made his debut in 2009 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Kuligin in Kát’a Kabanová and also sang Cascada in The Merry Widow. (our review ★★★½)

The Opera Cruise will continue with dancing under the stars and over Lake Michigan until the boat docks at 8pm.

What:         "High Cs on the High Seas" – 2nd Annual Opera Cruise on Lake Michigan

When:         Thursday August 12, 2010, 5:30-8:00pm
Where:       Boat leaves at 6:00pm from Navy Pier on Kanan Cruises (boarding begins at 5:30pm)  Click here for directions.

Cost:

  • $85 per person includes concert, dancing, hors-d’oeuvres and open bar
  • $100 per person includes all of the above plus 3 raffle tickets.  (Raffle tickets will also be sold on boat:  3 for $20)
  • $60 per person is the discounted Opera Underground ticket for young persons aged 21-45 (ID required).

Tickets: 312.704.8414 or ChicagoOperaTheater.org

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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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