Sunday, 18 February 2018 02:36

Review: ‘Cosi fan tutte’ at Lyric Opera

“No woman ever died for love” says Despina in Mozart’s charming little opera ‘Cosi fan tutte’. There may not be any deaths from love but, maybe a few tickled funny bones in this revival going on now at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Originally conceived by John Cox about ten years ago, this version of ‘Cosi fan tutte’ moves the setting to WWI, or 1914. This seasons’ production is largely the same with direction by Bruno Ravella.

‘Cosi fan tutte’ is a lighter work by opera standards. It’s basically a rom-com sung in Italian. Written in 1790, Mozart would only see this opera performed five times in his life, as he died the following year. Mozart operas are typically upbeat with plenty of repeated phrasing. There’s no shortage of beauty pouring out of the pit conducted by James Gaffigan. This is a very accessible piece in both music and performances.

The plot is fairly uncomplicated. Two men Ferrando (Andrew Stenson) and Guglielmo (Joshua Hopkins) question the fidelity of their fiances Fiordiligi (Ana Maria Martinez) and Dorabella (Marianne Crebassa). With the help of Don Alfonso (Alessandro Corbelli) and sexy maid Despina (Elena Tsallagova), the two men pretend to go off to war. They return to their future wives in disguise and each attempts to seduce the other’s fiancé. If it sounds familiar, it is. This opera is loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’.

Few people attend an opera for the dramatic chops of the performers. Opera is about beautiful music first and foremost. That said, these two fantastic sopranos are also gifted comedic actresses. The over-the-top emotions of these two characters makes for some really great physical humor. The projected dialogue is almost as ridiculous as the plot itself. Martinez takes up the pious role, making her seduction all the more fun to watch. Crebassa is the goofball and her performance radiates joy even as she’s cheating on her fiance. Though, it’s really Tsallagova who runs away with the laughs in her performance as Despina. This is also her US debut. A talent we’ll hopefully see more of in coming seasons.

As always, the set and costumes are sumptuous. Setting this piece in 1914 gives costume and set designer Robert Perdziola a lot to work with. It’s not terribly often you seen somewhat modern fashion at the Lyric. There are some lovely flapper-flavored looks going on. Nothing quite compares to the second act opening though. A background of venetian boats adorned with twinkling lights opens up to reveal the imposter suitors sailing in to claim their respective victories. The visual against the lovely Mozart music is one of the most arresting moments of the evening.

‘Cosi fan tutte’ is not an opera you’ll find on any before-you-die lists, but it’s an opera worth seeing. While it’s not the shortest show of Lyric’s season, clocking in at just under four hours, it’s definitely the easiest to get into. The music is for everyone, and will leave you feeling warm and tingly.

Through March 16th at Lyric Opera of Chicago. 20 N Wacker Drive. 312-827-5600

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Artists from the bands Postmodern Jukebox, tUnE-yArDs and Diane Coffee join Broadway and West End talent for Lyric Opera’s North American premiere of Timothy Sheader’s explosive Olivier Award-winning production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, presented from April 27 to May 20, 2018 at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago (press opening April 28).
 
The Lyric cast includes: Broadway artist Heath Saunders (Jesus); three-time GRAMMY Award-nominated soul singer Ryan Shaw (Judas); tUnE-yArDs tour vocalist Jo Lampert (Mary Magdalene); Broadway and Postmodern Jukebox crooners Michael Cunio (Pilate) and Mykal Kilgore (Simon Zealotes); Diane Coffee frontman Shaun Fleming (Herod); Chicago-based Broadway artist Joseph Anthony Byrd (Annas); West End favorite Cavin Cornwall (Caiaphas); and Chicago-based artist Andrew Mueller (Peter).
 
To guarantee a front row rock concert experience, Lyric will offer orchestra pit seating—the closest possible position to the stage—for the first time in the company's Broadway musical history. This new, up-front seating goes on sale today for students through Lyric’s NEXT discount ticket program, and will be made available to the general public at a later date.
 
Single tickets for Jesus Christ Superstar start at $44 and are on sale now at jcsuperstar.org, in person at the Lyric Opera House box office, or by calling 312-827-5600.
 
Three-time Olivier Award winner Timothy Sheader directs the North American premiere of his acclaimed 2016 production from Regent’s Park Open-Air Theatre. Sheader will be joined in Chicago by the original creative team, including music director Tom Deering, Olivier Award-winning choreographer Drew McOnie, Tony Award-nominated set & costume designer Tom Scutt, and Olivier Award-nominated lighting designer Lee Curran. The Chicago production will feature members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus.
 
Jesus Christ Superstar is an iconic rock opera that reinvented musical theater for the modern age. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, this global blockbuster tells the story of the final weeks in the life of Jesus Christ, from the perspective of Judas Iscariot. As Christ’s followers grow more fervent, Judas must make his fateful choice between faith and betrayal. Filled with an exciting mix of musical styles that draw upon 1970s rock, gospel, folk and funk themes, this contemporary imagining of the biblical tale features high-energy dance and powerful storytelling.

To learn more about Lyric’s current season, go to lyricopera.org.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre
Monday, 05 February 2018 12:09

Review: I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

There are fewer things in theatre more exciting the curtain going up on the first act of an opera. Often there’s no ceremony or pre-recorded note from management. The lights dim and the overture begins. How enchanting to take your first look at the sumptuous sets and costumes Lyric Opera has created for this production. Pilgrim-chic you might call it. Tradition and form make opera a unique theatrical experience. On a snowy Sunday afternoon, the curtain came up on Bellini’s ‘I Puritani’, signaling to its audience, get comfortable.

Eric Einhorn’s production of Bellini’s drama runs just under four hours with two intermissions. The first act is the longest at eighty minutes. ‘I Puritani’ concerns a Puritan hamlet in which a young princess Elvira (Albina Shagimuratova) chooses another suitor, Arturo, over the pre-arranged marriage to Riccardo (Anthony Clark Evans). Just before the wedding, Arturo obliges himself to save condemned Queen Enrichetta (Lauren Decker). While he’s smuggling her out of the country, word returns to Elvira that her fiancé has run off with another woman. She is devastated and the army pursues him.

Yeah, that’s the plot. Nearly four hours to convey that relatively simple story along with Bellini’s beautiful score. This is why opera is special, because for four hours, we really don’t care what the plot is. For centuries opera was performed without the super script translations, leaving the audience to presume based on summaries in their playbills. Projected translations are used sparingly in this production of ‘I Puritani’ – maybe because the plot is so uncomplicated, they’re not necessary. In any case, they’re certainly not missed and would likely be distracting. What should be paid attention to are these beautiful singers and the gorgeous orchestra.

A significant difference between musical theatre and opera is that the leads are not expected to be great actors. Voice is most important in these roles, especially in Bellini’s works. He believed that a beautiful voice is what stirs audience emotions. He’s not wrong. Though, Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova is a good actress. She’s not heard until the second scene, but her performance is easily the most accessible aspect of this production. Her heartbreak is palpable in voice and gesture regardless of language. Act II is worth the entire afternoon.

As always, the costumes and sets are overwhelmingly beautiful. Haunting imagery is captured by the large cast numbers and soaring melodies. ‘I Puritani’ may lose the attention of its audience during the lengthy solos, but will quickly recapture focus when the whole ensemble fills the stage. Just as exciting as the curtain going up, is the curtain coming down. Opera enthusiasts scream “brava” and beg for more curtain calls, a truly opera-specific tradition. In opera, the energy of the experience sustains the art itself.

Through February 28 at Lyric Opera of Chicago. 20 N Wacker Drive. 312-827-5600

 

Published in Theatre in Review

The Pearl Fishers has been called Bizet’s most beautiful opera. Lyric’s electric production is certainly one of the most beautiful visually as well. 

The continuously melodious score also represents a departure from more familiar opera, with just one principal female role, Leila (soprano Marina Rebeka) and with the strongest duets sung by the male roles, Zurga (baritone Mariusz Kwiecien) and Nadir (tenor Matthew Silvestrelli, a home grown talent from Lyric’s own Ryan school).

This production of The Pearl Fishers is also striking for its primitivist scene designs, expressive lighting, and dance sequences that provide a fresh and contemporary take on the mythical setting of the story. This season’s move of the Joffrey Ballet into the role of Lyric’s in-house dance troupe provides an added creative dynamic for each production.

The choreography in The Pearl Fishers – and every Lyric show for that matter - probably deserves a separate review under the Dance sections. It is quite sensational, adding a flavor all its own, especially in the seamless combination with the performer’s dress. The animal dancers have a kind of Julie Taymor Lion King thing going, and this is courtesy of the break out talent of Sandra Rhodes.

Production and costume designs are by Rhodes. Done for the San Diego Opera Company and Michigan Opera Company, both are visual triumphs, and technical achievements. Rhodes must dress regal principal singers, an active corps of supernumerary fisherman and villagers, and a ballet troupe in fashion that advances the narrative, but will not come undone in energetic dance interludes. It’s the ultimate active ware. 

Bizet, known widely today for his later opera Carmen, was just 24 when The Pearl Fishers premiered in 1838. It is the story of a fishing village set in “ancient” Ceylon (today’s Sir Lanka), within a Hindu temple grounds as a center of much of the action.

As to theology, history, and culture, the opera has the story all wrong. At the time Europeans were entranced with the exotic Orient – but it was also terra incognita. (One Sri Lankan academe notes the opera originally was set in Mexico, the contemporary heart of global pearl production, until someone pointed out to Bizet that it was not in the Orient.) There was no Wikipedia back then.

Nevertheless, in the Hindu temple at Lyric we find Buddhist monks and an annual ritual in which a vestal virgin must abstain from romance overnight at the temple, or she will be sacrificed. (She gets a precious pearl if she is well behaved.) A high priest is also chief justice over all such executions. The God Brahma is also involved. 

The plot revolves around two young men, Zurga and Nadir, who previously competed for Leila, but now have pledged undying friendship, both forswearing her in the interest of preserving their friendship. 

Darndest thing! Leila is this year’s vestal candidate. And so we have a scene in which the tenor creeps into the temple to seduce her – with lots of “I must have you” tenor-ing, and even more “no you must go or you will be killed” soprano-ing.

Of course, the high priest Nourabad (bass Andrea Silvestrelli) catches them, and we’ll let you go to the opera to find out what happens. The Lyric calls the relationship between the guys a bromance, and the intensity of their fealty made me research whether Georges Bizet was gay (he was married with a daughter). Suffice it to say "gay" still means "happy" in the world of opera. 

The Lyric Opera’s production of The Pearl Fishers comes highly recommended for what opera productions should be, and you have three more opportunities on December 4, 7 and 10.

Published in Theatre in Review

“I’ve always favored unbridled passions,” sings Wotan in the Lyric Opera’s new production of Richard Wagner’s “Die Walküre” This is the second installment in Wagner’s epic 4-opera cycle “Das Rheingold” Lyric produced the first opera last season and will sequentially include the next two operas in their forthcoming seasons. In 2020, there will be a special presentation of all four productions.

Five hours is a long time to spend in a theater. Wagner is especially challenging for those not particularly versed in classical music. That said, this gorgeous production by David Pountney is well worth the time. If you’re wondering if you needed to see the first opera to understand the second, you absolutely do not. “Die Walküre” is a standalone with a clear conclusion. Most will at least be familiar with “The Ride of the Valkyries”

“Die Walküre” is sung entirely in German with projected subtitles. Try to imagine a time in which there were no subtitles. The plot is very weird, perhaps it was best to only assume what’s going on. Essentially, this is an opera about incest and that seems pretty racy for its 1870 premiere. The music is incredible though, which likely contributed to its cannon status.

The first act is surely what to come for, coincidentally it’s also the shortest. In the first act we meet the incestuous lovers Siegmund (Brandon Jovanovich) and Sieglund (Elisabet Strid). Siegmund rescues Sieglund from an unhappy marriage and wards off her husband with a magical sword only he’s able to pluck from a tree stump. He then impregnates his sister wife, despite that they know they’re related. Insert shrug emoji here. Staging in the first act is pretty sexual for a 19th Century opera. Siegmund’s sword is an obvious phallic symbol and Pountney’s blocking leaves little to the imagination. The blatant eroticism helps spice up the melodrama.

Logically, this affair angers the gods and they send favored Valkyrie Brünnhilde to kill Siegmund. Reknown soprano Christine Goerke reprises the role of Brünnhilde, which she’s previously sung for a few other companies. For those unfamiliar with this opera, it would seem like a bit of a surprise that the story really ends up being about Brünnhilde and her relationship with her father Wotan (Eric Owens). The two shine together in the final act, despite the nearly agonizing repetition of dialogue.

This is an exciting and beautiful production. The aesthetic is almost like an old movie set. The horses upon which the Valkyries fly are hand operated by the ensemble. It makes you wonder, how did Wagner envision this special effect at the time he wrote it? Each scene is darkly lit and costumes are trimmed in red. The time period seems to be undecided as costumes appear to span the decades.

With only seven performances, this special production is a must-see for local opera enthusiasts. For those unfamiliar with opera, attend without trepidation. The production may run just a little under five hours (with two 30-minute intermissions), but the evening seems to fly by.

Through November 30th at Lyric Opera of Chicago. 20 N Wacker Drive. 312-332-2244

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Court jester Rigoletto prefers to hide his misery behind jokes and mockery of others. But it’s not the only thing he hides; his beloved daughter Gilda lives with him unbeknownst to the world; he selfishly keeps her locked away in fear of losing his only joy.

This famous Juiseppe Verdi’s three-act opera is new to Chicago. Directed by E. Loren Meeker, this production brings many great stars to the Lyric Opera’s stage. Quinn Kelsey’s powerful baritone skillfully conveys a wide spectrum of emotions: anger at the world and his character’s disfigurement, despise for the world, yet tender love for his daughter. A Ryan Opera Center alumnus and 2015 winner of the Metropolitan Opera Beverly Sills award, Kelsey’s solemn looks combined with the brassy voice is the perfect fit for the role of the hardened hunchback fighting for his happiness. But the real magic happens when Rigoletto and Gilda first appear together in Act I. The Italian soprano Rosa Feola is divine; the beautiful quality of her voice brings something special to every scene she is in. But it’s the supreme blend of the two voices of the father/daughter duets that create divine auditory harmony. Feola’s character Gilda is innocent and loving; isolated and hidden away in the house by her father, she’s desperate to love romantically. So, when she is encountered by the Duke of Mantua pretending to be a penniless student, she falls in love immediately and fatally.

Tenor Matthew Polennzani is spectacular as Rigoletto’s handsome master, Duke of Mantua. Encouraged by his sharp-tongued court jester, he lusts after every pretty woman in town. Pleasing his master by making fun of the courtiers whose wives and daughters Duke wants to seduce, Rigoletto has no real friends yet many enemies. One of such courtiers, Count Monterone, whose daughter the Duke of Mantua deflowered, gets angry at Rigoletto and places a curse on him. Superstitious Rigoletto takes the curse very seriously; pre-occupied with the old man’s words, he can think of nothing else. The opera’s original title was La maledizione (The Curse); based on Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi s’amuse, Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave.

Elegant and rather minimalist, the cleverly designed set has modern feel to it. Set designer Michael Yeargan created clean lines of buildings unburdened by embellishments or much color. Reflective floor surfaces in Acts II and III run into the back wall transforming half the stage into an endlessly large body of water. Seamlessly moving walls and buildings quietly encroach onto Rigolettos’ world as events make turn for the worst.

While we expect operas to be very colorful and the performers extravagantly dressed, the costumes of the current production are disappointedly modest and monochromatic, less Rigolettos’ bright outfit (costume designer Constance Hoffman); it’s sometimes challenging to distinguish characters from one another, especially from far away.

When lonely Gilda is encountered by the Duke of Mantua pretending to be a penniless student, she falls in love with the charming, albeit deceitful, Duke immediately and fatally. The Duke has Gilda abducted and subsequently dishonored. Ashamed, she confesses to Rigoletto, and her vengeful father hires an Assassin in order to kill the Duke. Ukrainian born very capable bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk, though lacking certain viciousness one would expect from an assassin, is nevertheless very good; and together with mezzo-soprano Zanda Svede who plays his accomplice sister Maddalena in the opera, they make a splendid team. Duke of Mantua’s life is spared when Gilda, dressed in mans clothing, sacrifices her life for love. Rigoletto is devastated and realizes that the ‘curse” came true.

Orchestra led by Conductor Marco Armilliato provides live score.

Playing through November 3rd - for more show information visit www.lyricopera.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

The first time I went to the opera was in elementary school to see La Triviata. It was a school sponsored field trip that took kids to Los Angeles to see the opera, the symphony, museums, and the ballet, exposing them to the arts at an early age. Though I had no idea what was being said, or what I was really watching, I loved it, and not just because I wasn’t in class on a school day. The orchestra, the singers, the theater itself, it was all so grand for a child. Though I didn’t have the same reaction to the Lyric Opera on Friday, it was nonetheless that childhood experience that helped to shape my appreciation and love for the opera.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its 2017 season with Orphée et Eurydice. The plot centers on Orphée (Dmitry Korchak), whose singing was so beautiful that it could charm the fierce guardians of the Underworld. Encouraged by the god of love, Amour (Lauren Snouffer), Orphée travels to Hades to bring his dead wife, Eurydice (Andriana Chuchman), back to earth. This opera was a powerhouse of talent with 60 members of the Lyric Opera Chorus, 47 members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra, and 43 dancers of The Joffrey Ballet all working to put on this production; not to mention the ushers, the ticket agents, the janitors, and more, just to stage this opera with a run time of a little more than 2 hours.

There wasn’t much to this opera lyric-wise. There are many repetitious lines to accompany the score, but very little substance despite being such an enthralling mythological story line. What made this opera worth seeing was the Joffrey Ballet. Their performance was one of the best I have seen from the company. They added movement and beauty to the opera, bringing visual clarity to the mythical worlds of Hades and Elysium. Overall, it was a spectacular engagement of the fine arts. A performance that should be enjoyed by the masses.

Unfortunately, the opera is inherently old and doesn’t attract the masses. It’s target audience is old. The theater it performs in is old. The Lyric Opera is currently fundraising in order to renovate its theater, but it hasn’t had much luck. Tickets prices are exorbitant and the people who can afford to go are old. Like any passing of the guard, the opera needs to focus on reaching out to the next generation of opera-lovers, otherwise their primary patrons will be gone within the next decade or so with few people left to appreciate, or afford, the opera. And that’s why exposure at a young age is so vital. You’ll be hard pressed to find many millennials who say “I love the opera” or even “I’m going to the opera!” Just in my immediate circle of friends and co-workers, very few people had even seen the opera. What the Lyrics Opera should do is work with local school districts; bus kids in from all area of the city and the surrounding area to see performances throughout their season. They should offer discount nights in order to attract new audiences, or play the show live in the park for discounted tickets or free; anything to increase opera’s fan base and expose the art to different audiences the most important of those being youths. I was lucky as a child to have had the opportunity to see the opera, and I’ve been lucky to have gotten to see shows as an adult. I only hope the Lyric Opera of Chicago does community outreach like this, or increases its outreach or I fear, like Eurydice, it will die, only there might not be an Orphée around to save it.

Remaining performance dates for Orphée et Eurydice are Oct. 12th and 15th at 2pm. For tickets and information call (312) 827-5600 or go to lyricopera.org/orphee.

Published in Theatre Reviews

The Lyric Opera continues its Broadway at Lyric series, with the fifth installment in the series - My Fair Lady which opened on Saturday to a full house. The musical is based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw and inspired by the Greek myth of Pygmalion, a sculptor who falls in love with his creation. The play and the musical translate this myth into the story of Henry Higgins and his “project” Eliza Doolittle. Eliza is a Cockney flower girl who has a run in with Higgins, a professor of phonetics, and Colonel Pickering, a fellow linguist in front of the Royal Opera House where Higgins brags that in six months he could turn Eliza into a lady by teaching her to speak proper English. Eliza takes him up on that challenge, and urged on by Pickering, they begin their lessons. Over time, Eliza’s speech improves and with some elegant new clothes she almost passes her first test at the Ascot Racecourse, and reaches her prime as the Embassy Ball where she fascinates the crowd and is asked to dance by the Crown Prince. Throughout their time together, Eliza starts to have feelings for Henry, but even after her spectacular showing at the ball, he barely gives her the time of day, focusing instead on how great of a job he did. Only after Eliza leaves, does he start to realize he may have actually developed feelings for her as well, thus falling for his “creation”. 

 

As expected, the production is a massive one, worthy of the Lyric Opera, boasting a cast of 56 singers, dancers and actors. This allows for some excellent ensemble pieces which take over the stage with energy. Choreographer Lynne Page took on this large cast with enthusiasm, creating interesting, playful and engaging choreography which is the highlight of the show. One of the most impressive numbers is by far “Get Me to the Church on Time”. Donald Maxwell as Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza’s father, was excellent creating a loud and boisterous, yet endearing, character that leads this scene which is executed with precision and gusto. 

 

The set design has its ups and downs. The Covent Garden tenement scenes are backed by a flat white on white backdrop and is only brought into a third dimension with the addition of some (also white) columns. While the large cast helps to liven up the Covent Garden setting during numbers like “With a Little Bit of Luck”, it leaves some colors and dimension to be desired. Higgins study on the other hand, while also based in shades of ivory, creates more on an interesting backdrop to indoor scenes, making use of the desk, chairs and various phonographs, as well as rows and rows of bookshelves and a second story to add dimension to the scenes set here. 

 

Lisa O’Hare as Eliza is excellent and brings the role to life with her powerful voice and commanding stage presence. Her transformation throughout the show is believable and she carries the audience into the unexpected challenges that she faced as a result of her makeover. Richard E. Grant plays Henry Higgins opposite Eliza. While he perfectly captures the immaturity and poor manners of the ridiculously intelligent character, the role is played too over the top, with exaggerated movements that seem to flail around the stage at times. Nicolas Le Prevost as Colonel Pickering provides some good counter balances to Higgins and Bryce Pinkham as Freddy, Eliza’s enamored suitor, really shines in “On the Street Where You Live”. 

 

Overall the production is strong, and has a huge presence, more due to its tremendous cast and elegant, colorful and sparkly costumes designed by Anthony Powell (which makes the scene at the Ball a joy to watch!) than the set or staging itself. With some exceptional performances bringing to life some very iconic songs, the good far outweighs the bad in this production of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady, directed by Olivier Fredj. My Fair Lady is running at the Lyric Opera through May 21st. For tickets and more show information visit https://www.lyricopera.org/.  

 

Published in Theatre in Review

In anticipation of high ticket demand, Lyric Opera of Chicago announced today that the initial block of tickets for its Spring 2018 production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar will be available for sale a year in advance, starting Thursday, March 9, 2017 at 10 a.m. The North American debut of Jesus Christ Superstar, in a reimagining of Timothy Sheader’s award-winning production from London’s Regent’s Park Open-Air Theatre, will be presented at Lyric’s Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, April 27 - May 20, 2018.  Single tickets, which start at $44.00, will be available online at https://www.lyricopera.org/concertstickets/calendar/2017-2018/productions/lyricopera/jesus-christ-superstar-tickets, by visiting Lyric’s Civic Opera House box office, or by calling 312-827-5600.

Three-time Olivier Award winner Timothy Sheader directs the American debut of his acclaimed 2016 production from Regent’s Park Open-Air Theatre. Sheader will be joined in Chicago by the original creative team from this production to re-envision and mount the grand-scale Lyric production, including Olivier Award-winning choreographer Drew McOnie, Tony Award-nominated set & costume designer Tom Scutt and Olivier Award-nominated lighting designer, Lee Curran. The Chicago production will feature an all-star cast (to be announced at a later date), along with members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

Jesus Christ Superstar is the sixth installment of Lyric’s Musical Initiative. It follows Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s beloved My Fair Lady, which is being presented at Lyric’s Civic Opera House, April 28-May 21, 2017.  

“Up to now in our musical theater productions, we’ve concentrated on American classics,” notes Lyric's General Director, President & CEO Anthony Freud, “but in 2017/18, for the first time, we’re producing an iconic rock opera, one that suits a big theater: Jesus Christ Superstar.” In director Timothy Sheader’s production, “Our audience will be reminded that this is a truly unforgettable piece. When it arrived in America in 1972, it became one of the greatest successes in Broadway history, and it’s been enthralling audiences everywhere ever since.”

Jesus Christ Superstar is an iconic rock opera that reinvented musical theater for the modern age. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, this global blockbuster tells the story of the final weeks in the life of Jesus Christ, from the perspective of Judas Iscariot. As Christ’s followers grow more fervent, Judas must make his fateful choice between faith and betrayal. Filled with an exciting mix of musical styles that draw upon 1970s rock, gospel, folk and funk themes, this contemporary imagining of the biblical tale features high-energy dance and powerful storytelling.

The Lyric Opera premiere of Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar is generously made possible by Lead Sponsor The Negaunee Foundation and cosponsor Mr. and Mrs. J. Christopher Reyes. Production by The Regent’s Park Theatre London.

Single tickets for the balance of Lyric Opera’s 2017/18 season will go on sale in July 2017. Season subscriptions are on-sale now by visiting https://www.lyricopera.org/concertstickets/1718-lyric-opera-season

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre
Monday, 13 February 2017 16:02

Carmen: Love in the Time of Rebellion

The heart wants what the heart wants and the fiery, rebellious Carmen, in the self-titled opera now playing at Lyric Opera of Chicago, follows that truism all the way to a tragic end. Set against the backdrop of Seville, Spain, during the Spanish Civil War of the 1900's, we see obsession, passion, freedom and love all come together in this story of a deadly love triangle.

 

Don José (Joseph Calleja), a soldier in the army, is sent to break up a fight at a cigarette factory. There he meets the seductive gypsy Carmen (Ekaterina Gubanova). He becomes so enthralled and bewitched by her that he abandons his childhood sweetheart Micaëla (Eleanor Buratto) and deserts his post just to follow her. But the tighter he tries to hold on their love the more Carmen longs to be free. José eventually loses her to the toreador (bull fighter) Escamillo (Christian Van Horn), resulting in a heartrending ending.

 

It is difficult to root for the love of Don José and Carmen, especially as the opera unfolds and we see how brutal and abusive José can be. Nothing is more discordant than seeing José sing about the depth of his love for Carmen after he just threw her across a table. There is no doubt that he believes he loves her and loves her deeply – he gave up everything to follow her. But perhaps the real question is does he know her or is he just enraptured by a seductive illusion that he couldn’t resist?

 

Don José consistently tries to get Carmen to bend to his will and be framed by his restrictive love. But Carmen’s will is just too strong, her lust for life too vivid and her need for freedom too all-encompassing to be captured in his stranglehold of love.

 

Carmen later meets Escamillo, the celebrated bull fighter and hero, who dares to love her for who she is – a rebellious bird. After all her wanderings she has finally found a home and true love but it comes at a very high price.

 

This thrilling story of Carmen is revealed through soaring, passionate arias; spoken dialogue; a beautiful score of Georges Bizet’s popular and very recognizable music; and ballet.

 

The addition of the ballet dancers adds so much more to the telling of the story. In particular, the bull which is used as a visual symbol throughout the production depicting both a disastrous love affair and a man caught in a flaming tailspin. We see the bull at key points during the opera from the opening moments all the way to the tragic end where Escamillo’s bull fight occurs simultaneously with Don José and Carmen’s final fight.

 

Ekaterina Gubanova is brilliant as Carmen while Joseph Calleja is equal to the task as Don Jose. 

 

Recommended.

 

Carmen is performed in French with projected English translations and the running time is approximately 3 hours and 5 minutes, including 1 intermission.

 

The opera runs through March 25 at Lyric’s Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Performance dates are Feb. 11, 22, 28, Mar. 3, 6, 22, 25 at 7:30pm; Feb. 15, 19, Mar. 16, 19 at 2:00pm. For tickets and information, call (312) 827-5600 or click here.

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review
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