REVIEW: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Lyric Opera)

     
     

Britten adds tonal mysticism to terrestrial Shakespearean comedy

 

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The Lyric Opera of Chicago presents
   
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
     
Composed by Benjamin Britten
Libretto by
Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears
Ardis Krainik Theatre, 20 N. Wacker (map)
through Nov. 23  |  tickets: $43-$204  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Fairies clash, couples quarrel, actors fight, the forest is a hotbed for ‘tragical mirth.’ The fates of happy endings rest in the hands of one nymph and he better not puck it up!  Lyric Opera of Chicago presents A Midsummer Night’s Dream, an English opera composed by Benjamin Britten based on the Shakespearean comedy. A Midsummer Night’s Dream crashes three worlds together. In the shadow land, the king and queen of the fairies are fighting over a newly acquired child-servant. In the A Midsummer's Night Dream - Lyric Opera 10mortal realm, a runaway bride flees with her lover. She is chased by her lawfully-intended groom, who is being stalked by the bride’s best friend. On the theatrical stage, an acting troupe disputes over roles in rehearsals. It’s become one disenchanted forest. To cast a spell on the woods’ inhabitants, the king has an underling push a little herb. Puck gets all the parties stoned. It turns into a swingers’ love fest where one guy ends up quite the ass. Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the Shakespearean mystical comedy played out with a hazy melody.

The show opens in an Avatar-type world designed by Dale Ferguson. The green fabric walls and ceiling are breathing organisms with rhythmic movement. The backdrop is a see-through tapestry showcasing silhouettes for the dreamy ambiance. A beautiful silky stage-size ribbon acts as a top cover to the action. It ripples and flows to frame the story. To add to the magical surroundings, the Anima – Young Singers of Chicago – are multiple white- ghosted cherubs. The young voices blend heavenly with their master and mistress. David Daniels (Oberon) sings the counter-tenor role with an otherworldly sound. As he floats above his dominion, Daniels’ eerie vocal range sets the whimsical tone for the elfin world. With an exquisite long- trained gown, Anna Christy (Tytania) is a regal presence even when making love to a donkey. A Midsummer Night’s Dream breaks operatic form for the role of Puck. Esteban Andres Cruz (Puck) is perfect as the impish sprite delivering his verses without singing.

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For some, the real show begins in the third act for the play within the play. The acting troupe performs a farce within a farce entitled “Pyramus and Thisbe”. An extended version has been staged much to the audience’s delight. As the divo, Peter Rose (Bottom) is hilarious in bellowing out his songs and his overacting. His fairy hook-up descends in a surreal swirling exit. The morning after, he awakes in oblivion to magnificently sing “when my cue comes, call me.”  Bottom’s stage love of his life is Keith Jameson’s Thisbe (in drag). Jameson emphasizes over-the-top dainty and is rewarded with mega-laughs. The wall, the moon, the lion, the dog – the entire cast delivers laugh-out-loud comedy on the stage within a stage.

Between being enchanted by fairies and amused by the actors, the mortals place third in the race for attention. In the non-opera version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the love-cluster of Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena is center stage. For Britten, it’s more of a side to the entrée. His main course is a hearty helping of elfin magic with save-room-the-actors-brought dessert. The real sustenance is the fantasy melodies sung memorably by Daniels and the youthful chorus. These ample portions overpower the familiar sides of girl-chases-boy-chasing- girl-with-other-boy harmonies. Then, it’s time to indulge in the absurd treat that is so enjoyable because it’s way overdone. Dessert: it’s all that with extra nuts. Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a visual imagined magical kingdom frolicked with actors looking for work and mortals looking for love. Sweet dreams are made of these, who am I to disagree?

  
  
 Rating: ★★★½
  
  

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs November 8th, 10th, 20th, 23rd at 7:30pm, and November 13th, 17th at 2pm

Running Time: Three hours and twenty minutes includes a fifteen minute intermission.

         
        

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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.

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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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