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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Lyric Opera announces 2010-2011 season

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Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

2010/2011 Season

 

The Lyric Opera kicks off its 56th season on October 1st presenting 68 performances of 8 operas in a 24-week period. On January 26, 2010, the upcoming season schedule was announced by General Director William Mason. Joining Mr. Mason at the press conference to discuss next year’s performances were Sir Andrew Davis, Music Director and Barbara Gaines, Director for Macbeth and Artistic Director for Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

by Katy Walsh 


Macbeth  October 1st through 30th 

By Giuseppe Verdi
Italian with projected English translation (libretto) 
Directed by Barbara Gaines*, Artistic Director of Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
Conducted by Renato Palumbo
Principals: Thomas Hampson, Nadja Michael*, Dimitri Pittas, Stefan Kocan*, and Carter Scott
Extra Special: New production by designers James Noone (sets), Virgil C. Johnson (costumes) and Robert Wierzel (lights).

 


Carmen October 13st through 29th and March 12th through March 27th

By Georges Bizet
French with projected English translation
Directed by John Copley
Conducted by Alain Altinoglu*
Principals:

  • October: Kate Aldrich*, Yonghoon Lee*, Elaine Alvarez, and Kyle Ketelsen
  • March: Nadia Krasteva*, Brandon Jovanovich, Nicole Cabell and Kyle Ketelsen

Extra Special: Fire burning Warhorse!


A Midsummer Night’s Dream November 5th through 23rd 

By Benjamin Britten
English with projected English translation
Directed by Neil Armfield
Conducted by Rory Macdonald*
Principals: David Daniels, Anna Christy, Peter Rose, Keith Jameson, Wilbur Pauley, Kelley O’Connor*, Shawn Mathey*, Elizabeth DeShong, Lucas Meachem, and Erin Wall

Extra Special: Lyric Opera premiere – new production designed by Dale Ferguson* (sets and costumes) and Damien Cooper* (lighting).

 


A Masked Ball  November 15th through December 10th 

By Giuseppe Verdi
Italian with projected English translation
Directed by Renata Scotto
Conducted by Asher Fisch
Principals: Frank Lopardo, Sondra Radvanovsky, Mark Delavan, Stephanie Blythe*, and Kathleen Kim

Extra Special: New San Francisco production by designers Zack Brown (sets) and Christine Binder (lights).


The Mikado  December 6th through January 21st 

By William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan
English with projected English translation
Directed by Gary Griffin
Conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric’s Music Director
Principals: James Morris, Neal Davies, Stephanie Blythe, Toby Spence*, Andriana Chuchman, Andrew Shore, Phillip Kraus, and Katharine Goeldner

Extra Special: New production by designers Mark Thompson* (sets and costumes) and Christine Binder (lights).


The Girl of the Golden West  January 22nd through February 21st 

By Giacomo Puccini
Italian with projected English translation
Directed by Vincent Liotta
Conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric’s Music Director
Principals: Deborah Voigt, Marcello Giordani, Marco Vratogna*, David Cangelosi, and Daniel Sutin

Extra Special: Premiering at the Metropolitan Opera in 1910, this Puccini classic is celebrating a centennial anniversary.


Lohengrin February 11th through March 8th 

By Richard Wagner
German with projected English translation
Directed by Elijah Moshinsky
Conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric’s Music Director
Principals: Johan Botha, Emily Magee, Michaela Schuster*, Greer Grimsley, Georg Zeppenfeld*, and Lester Lynch

Extra Special: New production designed by John Napier* (sets and costumes) and Christine Binder (lights).

 


Hercules  March 4th through 21st 

By George Frederic Handel
English with projected English translation
Directed by Peter Sellars
Conducted by Henry Bickett
Principals: Eric Owens, Alice Coote, David Daniels, Lucy Crowe*, and Richard Croft

Extra Special: Lyric Opera premiere! New production designed by George Tsypin (sets), Dunya Ramicova (costumes) and James F. Ingalls (lighting).

 


fleur_de_lis * Lyric Opera Debut

Twenty-three subscription packages will be offered with a 25% down payment plan option. Individual tickets for the 2010/2011 will be made available closer to the beginning of the season. It’s never too early to make a plan to experience the majesty that is the Lyric Opera.

REVIEW: Elixir of Love (Lyric Opera)

The elixir works, audience swoons!

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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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REVIEW: Tosca (Lyric Opera)

Puccini’s Violent Love Story Masterpiece

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Lyric Opera Presents

Tosca

By Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica
Conducted by Stephen Lord
Stage directed by Paula Suozzi
Thru January 29th (ticket info)

By Katy Walsh

tosca11Torture, murder, execution, suicide, despite the violent nature of this warhorse opera, Tosca contributes some of the most familiar romantic opera melodies to the mainstream. The Lyric Opera presents Tosca by Giacomo Puccini. Performed in Italian with projected English supertitles (by Francis Rizzo), Tosca is based on Victorien Sardou’s play La Tosca. Floria Tosca is a celebrated opera singer in Rome. Her lover, Mario Cavaradossi, aids an escaped political prisoner and is arrested. The villainous chief of police, Scarpia, coerces Tosca into saving Cavaradossi with promises of sexual favors. Betrayal ensues. No one gets what they want… except the audience. From the first aria of Recondita armonia to the duet Amaro sol per te, the memorable harmonies plunge the audience into an all consuming passionate love story, best experienced as an opera.

The Lyric opened its 2009/2010 season with this crowd pleaser and remounted it this month for a three week winter escape. The principals have changed for this mini-run but the sets and the huge supporting cast are the same. Act I in the Church of Sant’ Andrea della Valle ends with a visual explosion. The house of worship is already decked out with ornate details befitting the 1800’s (set designer Renzo Mongiardino). Cue the Chicago Children’s Choir, several clergy and church-goers in various liturgical vestments and Sunday best finery (costumes by Marcel Escoffier), the 100+ people on stage are merely a spectacular backdrop for Scarpia’s vow to destroy Cavaradossi and have Tosca. It’s these elaborate dramatic moments that elicit the inaudible oohs and aahs usually reserved for fireworks.

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Even without the stimulation of extensive sets and costumes, Tosca is still one of Puccini’s masterpieces, sung to perfection by the newest principals. Violeta Urmana (Tosca) sings magnificently through a range of emotions; irrational, jealousy, demanding, enraged, passionate, and desperate. Marco Berti (Cavaradossi) is the lover of beautiful things with unfortunate timing that leads to trouble with his diva girlfriend, an escaped prisoner, and evil police chief. Lucio Gallo is the creepy Baron Scarpia. He delivers wicked lyrics (translated) like “I lust, and then I pursue the one I desire, I satisfy myself, and throw her away” and “How you despise me but that is just how I want you.” Certainly, every woman in the audience wants to stab this guy – but, of course, not until after the final note of Lyric’s exquisite Tosca is heard.

Rating: ★★★½

SPOILER ALERT: Tosca committing suicide is questionable. The dramatic moment is lost behind a prison wall as if she is just escaping. But maybe that’s the Lyric Opera twist, Tosca finally gets a happy ending. Tosca escapes to sing again!

Note: All pictures by Dan Rest

 

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REVIEW: Lyric Opera’s “The Merry Widow”

 Shopping around for a second husband can be so much fun!

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The Lyric Opera of Chicago presents:

The Merry Widow

Libretto by Viktor León and Leon Stein
Based on Henri Meilhac’s comedy “L’attache’ d’ambassade”
English lyrics and dialogue by Sheldon Harnick
Conducted by Emmanuel Villaume
Stage directed by Gary Griffin
Thru January 16th 

Review by Katy Walsh

mw9 Boy loves girl. Family won’t let him marry her because she’s penniless. She marries another and becomes a wealthy widow. Boy still loves girl. Now, his country wants him to  marry her because she has 20 million francs. Girl loves boy but fears he loves her for her money. Add in a cheating wife, French lover, overbearing Baron and dancing girls and the results are the Lyric Opera of Chicago presents The Merry Widow. Originally produced in German in 1905, The Merry Widow is sung in English as an operetta in three acts.

Arguably, an operetta basically stands for “opera lite.” Tastes great, less filling. With its origins in the 1800’s, an operetta introduced a less dramatic version of opera to audiences. Utilizing comedy, simpler plots and happier tunes, the operetta became the precursor to contemporary musicals. For diehard opera fans, an operetta is like drinking Miller Lite when you prefer a Guinness. For opera newbies, an operetta is like sipping your first beer to acquire a taste for hops. For all, The Merry Widow is a lively romantic comedy presented with all the grandeur and majesty as is the Lyric Opera hallmark.

 

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Unlike most traditional operas, The Merry Widow has segments of spoken dialogue, dancing sequences and informal familiarity. Breaking the fourth wall, Roger Honeywell (Count Danilo Danilovich) emphasizes a joke by guffawing with the audience. Honeywell, along with Jeff Dumas (Njegus) and Dale Travis (Baron Mirko Zeta), set the playful mood with physical comedy. A particularly fun musical dance number, “Every Woman,” has several of the male cast members commiserating on how difficult women are. Later, it’s the ladies’ turn with dance hall girls performing the Can-Can, a line dance complete with pulled up skirts and leg shaking. Elizabeth Futral (Hanna Glawari) has the vibrant presence to carry the main title The Merry Widow. Although she captivates the audience with her soprano precision, there are moments for her and Honeywell where vocal subtlety is overwhelmed by the orchestra.

From the moment the curtain rises, the audience is treated to spectacular sets (Daniel Ostling). The first act is built around a magnificent staircase, several stories high. Later the scene at Maxim’s features a moving stage on stage within a bi-level dance hall. The costumes (David Burke and Mara Blumenfeld) range from early 1900 elegant aristocrat to vibrant gawdy Can-Can dancer. Visually appealing and lighthearted amusing, this production shows how much fun shopping around for a second husband can be.

 

Rating: ★★★½

 

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Review: Lyric Opera’s “Ernani”

Masterful Execution of a Verdi Unknown

 Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of Ernani 10/24/09.

Lyric Opera of Chicago presents

Ernani

At the Civic Opera House
By Giuseppe Verdi
Based on Victor Hugo’s tragedy Hernani
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Conducted by Renato Palumbo
Stage directed by Jose Maria Condemi
Thru November 23rd (buy tickets)

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Ernani09 The Lyric Opera presents Ernani, an opera written by Giuseppe Verdi and first performed in 1844. The Italian opera with projected English subtitles tells the tale of Elvira’s suitors, all fighting for her love: Ernani, Don Carlo-King of Spain and Don Ruy Gomez de Silva. The outlaw, Ernani storms Silva’s castle to abduct Elvira. He runs into the King and an Elvira abduction already in progress. Silva enters furious that his fiancé is being double-abducted in his own home. In love with Ernani, Elvira escapes her marriage to Silva by becoming a hostage of the King’s. Because Silva keeps him from being arrested, Ernani pledges his life to him. In Ernani terms, this promise means Silva gets to decide when Ernani will die. So, after the King pardons everyone and orders Elvira to marry Ernani, who shows up as the wedding crasher? Silva appears and asks Ernani, “poison or dagger?” Ernani chooses a dagger, stabs himself and dies in Elvira’s arms.

A brief announcement at the beginning of Act II informs the audience that Salvatore Licitra (Ernani) begs forgiveness at his inability to sing at his optimal level. Because of the faulty microphone, it’s unclear what the issue is. The person next to me asks, “did he say tracheotomy?” I’m certain it is a trace of bronchitis or another ailment. No matter what Licitra’s struggle is, his performance is stellar. Only in duets with the powerful soprano performance of Sondra Radvanovsky (Elvira) did it occur to me that Licitra might be in a challenging match. Along with the King (Boaz Daniel) and Silva (Giacomo Prestia), the opera is sung magnificently. Adding to the grandeur of the performance, set and costume designer Scott Marr uses the huge cast adorned in finery or cloaked in black to contrast a wedding from the catacombs. With multiple wardrobe and set changes, the dynamic production is eye candy to the audience. Elvira’s costumes, designed by Donna Langman, are particularly exquisite.

 

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Ernani is a must see for its magnificent performances, beautiful costumes, and elaborate sets. The actual opera? Not so much. Verdi wrote Ernani early in his career at age 31. It doesn’t have the memorable arias of his later works, like; La Traviata, Aida, Rigoletto and Falstaff. The story is clunky. In Act II, Elvira tells Ernani she decided to marry Silva when she heard he was dead. What? I want Ernani to ask, or rather sing, “what happened during the intermission that made you think I was dead?” It’s also unclear why these three men all want Elvira when it’s obvious she only wants Ernani. Is it because she dresses nice? I don’t get it. And because it’s an opera, I’m ready for a tragic ending to a love story. Possible alternative endings after Ernani and Elvira’s wedding: Silva kills Ernani, the king kills Ernani, Elvira chokes on a piece of cake and because Ernani thinks she’s dead, he kills himself, she spits out cake realizes he’s dead and kills herself. But Ernani’s suicide because he promised Silva, his nemesis, that he would? Elvira totes around a dagger threatening to kill herself throughout the show but ultimately doesn’t as Ernani dies in her arms. Unsatisfying, Verdi!

Rating: «««

 

More: Watch the Ernani video trailer.     |     Listen to Ernani scene commentary.

 

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Pictures by Dan Rest

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