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“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

Watching an inner circle of Druids contemplate the eventual fall of Rome, my thoughts turned to Game of Thrones, to Mad Maxx’s Thunderdome, even alighting ever so briefly on our own political landscape.  

Lyric Opera’s production Bellini’s beautiful 1831 opera carefully builds such a world, with Iron Age sets in neutral grays, tattooed warriors in leather, heads shaved or dreadlocks piled high, wielding battleaxes, calling for war with the Romans who have desecrated their forest sanctums. 

Then comes Norma, part priestess, part divinity, channeling to her people the spirits of the gods of earth. Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky is the embodiment of the celebrated bel canto singing Bellini calls for, the carefully crafted libretto all gorgeous melody and harmony – no shouted operatic dialog, just lyrical musical poetry in song. This is opera for opera haters. 

Norma must certainly be the most accessible of the operas produced by the Lyric, and its success – along with Bellini’s masterful composition – is largely on the strength of the designers of its costumes and sets. Above those Druids (that term refers to the learned class among the Celtic people of Europe) a sacred oak floats on its side. A rolling altar brings priestess Norma up to the tree, where she cut the boughs of Mistletoe with a golden sickle. This is the very ceremony the real Celtic Druids would hold on new moons following the Winter Solstice. Notably women and men shared the power in this society whose women took the lead. 

While I am not deeply schooled in the opera form and knew nothing of Norma before attending, I was very much able to feel, see and hear all this happening on the Lyric Opera stage, where Norma works her magic. The opera overall was a co-production of the Lyric, the San Francisco Opera, Toronto’s Canadian Opera Company, and Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu.  And no wonder it is so wonderful:

• The set was designed by David Korins, nominated for a Tony for his sets on Hamilton, with scenery built and painted in the shops at the Canada and San Francisco Opera

• Costumes are by Jessica Jahn, and were fabricated at the San Francisco Opera costume shop; makeup and wigs are by Sarah Hatten

• Lighting, by Duane Schuler, is a huge part of the production, allowing the singers to concentrate on their music while shifting the focal point in concert with the development of each scene. 

The traditional opera-style drama in the story stems from two Druid women secretly falling for the same Roman proconsul – the emissary whose culture will ultimately destroy the Celt’s world. But this drama rises to a level of tragedy, as Norma determines that, having destroyed her priestly standing, and broken her spiritual bond with her secret love affair with the Roman, she must leave her role, and sacrifice her life in a ritual ceremony. 

Tenor Russell Thomas as the Roman proconsul Pollione is the perfect vocal complement to Radvanosky (she is from Berwyn, by the way), and bass Andrea Silvestrelli towers (literally - he is quite tall - and musically) above the scenes as Norma’s father, Oroveso. 

As an opera, this production is sterling. The Lyric Opera Orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Frizza, was flawless, supporting in perfect balance the soloists and chorus. Kevin Newbury directed the action at a steady clip, never lagging, and paced continuously in harmony with the score.  

The design of this production is much more than window dressing. It conveys the essence of a timeless story: a noble native culture is upended by powerful invaders, whose influence portends the end of a way of life. Lyric Opera's Norma is highly recommended

Published in Theatre in Review

Mozart’s The Magic Flute, now playing at the Lyric Opera of Chicago is an enchanting and charming performance - a perfect family outing especially for the holiday season.

 

Based on Mozart’s final and majestic opera, The Magic Flute is a timeless tale of good versus evil, perseverance, and love conquering all.

 

The basic storyline revolves around Princess Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night who has been captured by the high priest Sarastro. Prince Tamino falls in love with a portrait of Pamina he receives from the queen’s three ladies. The queen tells Tamino that if he finds Pamina, she will be his. Papageno, the queen's birdcatcher, joins him on the quest. Aided by Tamino’s magic flute and Papageno’s magic bells, they face numerous challenges separately and together, including an encounter with the comically savage Monostatos, who lusts after Pamina. Three genies are their guides. Eventually, the Queen of the Night is vanquished, Tamino and Pamina are united, and Papageno finds love with Papagena as the queen's forces of evil yield to the forces of good. 

 

Directed by Neil Armfield, the staging of the Lyrics’ version of the Magic Flute is not only inventive with the use of the “play within a play” technique but it also is accessible with a warm familial glow, making it an enjoyable experience for opera lovers and newcomers alike.

 

With the theme of a backyard party, the show opens with a lovely 1950's Midwestern-style colonial home, designed by Dale Ferguson, filling the stage and slowly rotating as bright stars glitter in the backdrop like spotlights shining down on the performance that is taking place.

 

The house buzzes with activity as a diverse group of people arrive carrying packages and other items as they prepare for a bit of “backyard community theater” in a production put on by the neighborhood kids.

 

Perfectly designed rooms from the upstairs bedroom to the dining room and kitchen below are glimpsed through the windows revealing small vignettes of preparation for the evening performance. One neighbor hangs lights along the backyard deck and others set up chairs for the audience and operate the spotlights.

 

Then finally, after every piece is in place, the neighbors are seated. The kids' show begins and the real audience is transported into a land of fantasy with soaring arias. In particular, soprano Kathryn Lewek in her Lyric debut as Queen of the Night and bass-baritone Adam Plachetka, as Papageno (the queen's birdcatcher) were vocal standouts but the entire cast was sublime.

 

Highly recommended.

 

The Magic Flute runs until January 27 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. There is a free 30-minute pre-performance talk in the theater starting an hour before each performance. For tickets and information call (312) 827-5600 or go to www.lyricopera.org/Flute.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

On the 400th year anniversary of William Shakespeare's death Lyric Opera of Chicago appropriately chose to commemorate the famed playwright’s life by putting on an outstanding production of Romeo and Juliet. Helping to make this such a special piece of operatic theatre, Joseph Calleja and Susanna Phillips as the tragically famous lovesick couple do a magnificent job vocally and emotionally throughout the show to bring the real spirit of youthful, love at first sight to life. 

 

The show begins with the stage curtain up and the entire cast ominously moves towards the audience singing the overture which was very effective in setting the tone of the times the play is set in. 

 

Soprano Susanna Phillips, perfectly complimenting tenor Calleja, is especially great in her role. Dressed all in pink with gold sparkles, she embodies the very essence of springtime love in her opening number.  When, at one point, she begs her nanny to stop talking about her impending marriage to an older man that Juliet does not love you really want her to get her wish, as her fresh hopeful desire to just dance and enjoy life is very infectious.

 

Joshua Hopkins as Romeo’s best pal Mercutio and Jason Slayden as Juliet’s short-fused cousin Tybalt also take to their roles with vigor and precision, really capturing the two sworn enemies’ disdain for each other while baritone Christian Van Horn is well cast as Friar Laurence, who means well though his efforts only end in tragedy.   

I loved ALL the costumes by Jennifer Tipton!  The rich, fabrics and colors, her hats and accessories for the women brought the whole stage to life. Also, the swashbuckling style of leather and velvet for the men was extremely entertaining and fitting to watch both their swordplay and Romeo’s lovemaking to Juliet.

 

Michael Yeargan's unit set is foreboding and appropriately towers over the cast as if to say there is no escape from this time period and its rules. However, I was looking forward to several set changes. Instead, the central platform served as a ballroom dance floor, Friar Laurence's cell, a town square and the crypt where the young couple meet their fate. I felt this modern touch of using a single large white sheet to signify Juliet's bedroom, then the church, and the burial shroud, etc., etc., was very one dimensional. The cast, so visually stunning, is so large even the hefty set seemed to barely contain them in various scenes. Still, overall, the production is a grand spectacle that is as colorful and enchanting as it is memorable.

 

Directed with fierce and daring force by Bartlett Sher, the Tony Award-winning Broadway director who's making his Lyric debut with this French piece by Charles Gounod, Romeo and Juliet succeeds marvelously on many levels. Of course this can only be accomplished with the comprehensive orchestral conducting of Emmanuel Villaume, who leads the often powerful and sometimes dreamy soundtrack to create a truly hauntingly tragic yet beautiful experience.  The romanticism of the writing is so beautiful, so poetic, I found myself watching the screen high above the stage trying to memorize some of the pure poetry as the play went along. The lines of love and adoration spoken by Romeo and Juliet to each other were so exquisitely written, I have never seen an American adaptation of this or any love story which compares to this poetic version of the play.

 

No spoilers but there is a slight change to the ending scene that might throw off a few viewers but I still found it quite enjoyable. 

 

This is a perfect opera to take your date to for an evening of romance that will thrill and delight. Your children will love this show because it renders the story of forbidden love and the destruction of such love because of unforgiving, ignorant family feuding and brings it to life in a compassionate and ever so romantic way.

 

Romeo and Juliet is being performed at Lyric Opera of Chicago through March 19th and is sure to please the casual and more adventurous theatre and opera lovers alike. For more information on this piece so wonderfully adapted for stage, visit www.LyricOpera.org. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Monday, 13 April 2015 00:00

"Carousel" Is A Ride to Remember

Roger and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” is always a treat, and that holds true especially with Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current production at the Civic Opera House. A true spectacle of colorful sets, scenic backdrops and larger than life dancing choreography envelope brilliant vocal performances in the fun classic. Of course, the carousel itself is eye candy in itself.

Set in 1873 Maine, the story begins when two young females, Carrie and Julie, visit the carousel where they meet barker, Billy Bigelow. As a “barker”, Billy’s job is to convince crowd members to take a ride on the carousel and does so by shouting out catchy sell phrases and flirting with nearby girls. After Billy puts his arm around Julie for the duration of a ride, Mrs. Mullin, the widowed owner of the carousel ride, lets him go and tells him never to return. Out of work, Billy runs into Julie where a romance blooms and a relationship develops. As sweet and simple as Julie is, Billy’s exterior is tough and carefree. It’s not long after the two are married that Julie surprises Billy with the news that she is pregnant. Billy, already struggling with raising money for he and his wife, is approached by his ex-con, ne'er-do-well whaler friend, Jigger, who presents the idea of robbing Julie’s former boss- and killing him. Billy refuses but has to rethink the idea as he becomes more and more desperate.

There is an overabundance of musical talent in this fifty-plus member cast that provides one beautiful performance after another. In supporting roles, Jenn Gamatese is simply terrific as “Carrie Pepperidge” as is Matthew Hydzik as her love interest “Enoch Snow”. The two are particularly enjoyable when performing together in the numbers “Mr. Snow” and “When the Children Are Asleep”. Charlotte D’Amboise is sensational as “Mrs. Mullin” and gets to really show off her dancing chops in the show’s later afterlife scene – a surreal display put together just dazzlingly by the production team. Also contributing to the show’s beauty and elegance is Denyce Graves whose stunning vocals can be appreciated in “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over”. Laura Osnes plays “Julie Jordan” and delivers several breathtaking singing performances, most notably in her solo number “What’s the Use of Wondrin’”.

Taking the lead is Steven Pasquale as our conflicted, good hearted but troubled “Billy Bigelow”. Pasquale’s performance is just magnificent. From the show’s early duet that has Billy and Julie singing “If I Loved You” to each other, it was apparent this would be one special production. Pasquale leads this gifted cast with his amazing vocal prowess, heartfelt passion and just the right amount of bravado. Pasquale melts the audience with his finessed vocals, “The Highest Judge of All” being the perfect example.

Directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford and conducted by David Chase, Carousel is a classic that should be seen by everyone young, old and in between.

Carousel is being performed at the Civic Opera House through May 3rd. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.lyricopera.org/carousel or call 312-827-5600. 

Published in Theatre Reviews
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