Theatre

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
Few creative partnerships in cinema have been as long-lasting or fruitful as the 20+ year collaboration between filmmaker auteur Tim Burton and composer Danny Elfman. Haunting, eerie, at times chaotic and bizarre, ominous, melancholy, yet often soothing and serene: These words can be used to describe both the stark visual content of Burton's films as well as the dark drama of Elfman's music. Both artists have exquisitely distinctive styles that seamlessly breathe life into each other and -- luckily and miraculously -- are ultimately one in the same.
 
Last night, the Ravinia pavilion and lawn in Highland Park were flooded with the sounds and creations of these two artists by virtue of the talents of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lakeside Singers. A screen flashed clips from Burton's films ranging from 1988's Beetlejuice to 2012's Dark Shadows with a whole slew of others in between. Also shown were dozens of Burton's drawings of various characters, often followed by the live action scenes of those very characters, showing how vibrantly his original twisted creative vision is portrayed in the final polished work.
 
 
And of course, there was the cinematic, stunning music. The program consisted of thirteen suites (an intentional and apropos number) from Elfman's vast catalogue of musical scores. With the powerful music booming through the pavilion, even without the aid of the screen I could see the horrific clown dream sequence from Pee-wee's Big Adventure, the Penguin rising from the dank sewers into a foggy Gotham, the colorful confections of Willie Wonka's factory, the deranged headless horseman in pursuit of a petrified Ichabod Crane, the impossibly skinny form of Jack Skellington sprinting excitedly through the bright cheerful lights of Christmastown, and, in my favorite of the Burton + Elfman + Depp collaborations, I could practically feel the snowy chill in the air during the ice dance sequence from Edward Scissorhands
 
All the suites were performed beautifully by the always flawless CSO, conducted by Ted Sperling, with the Lakeside Singers choir complementing the orchestra with background vocals and unearthly soprano "oooh"s. Gorgeous, intricate piano was in the spotlight for "Victor's Piano Solo" from Corpse Bride, frenzied violin for the hair-cutting sequence from Edward Scissorhands, and, by far the most non-traditional instrument of the night, the theremin (an electronic musical instrument played by manipulating the frequencies with one's hand -- without physically touching it at all) created a high-pitched tone so weird and uncanny you almost expected to see UFO saucers descending from the night sky.Yes, the CSO pulled out all the stops, neglecting not even Mars Attacks!, decidedly the most obscure of Burton-Elfman creations.
 
Too sadly, this was a one-night performance, though it could surely draw in crowds for months and even years if an extended run was possible. While you cannot see the show in person anymore, I wish every Burton fan the same experience as I had. 
Here I've compiled a playlist of some of the songs from the concert. Listen and enjoy while scrolling through Burton's artwork for an immersive Burton-Elfman experience. I'm sure you will agree with the sentiment from Johnny Depp's program note that "Tim and Danny are a match made in the stars."
 
For more information on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, look at their event page or visit the box office at 220 S Michigan Ave.
Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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