Nabucco – Lyric Opera REVIEW

Nabucco-Lyric

Nabucco

By Giuseppe Verdi

Lyric Opera of Chicago

By Lori Dana

In many ways, Verdi’s Nabucco defines “Grand Opera”. Sweeping in musical scope, as well as in visual scale and creative concept; Nabucco was Verdi’s first “big hit”. The young composer had the libretto virtually thrust upon him by a promoter at La Scala who believed in Verdi’s theretofore unrealized potential (and not incidentally, was looking to recoup his investment in Verdi’s two previous, unsuccessful La Scala productions.) The decision to pursue Nabucco turned out to be a game changer for Guiseppe Verdi. The success of this single opera elevated his reputation in the music world of his time, allowing him to build a career and a body of work that has now spanned more than two centuries.

The story of the invasion of Jerusalem and enslavement of the Hebrews by a Babylonian king (in English, Nebuchadnezzar), Nabucco‘s perceived religious theme may make some more politically correct audience members squirm a bit at first. It is important to remember that Verdi used the story to represent a universal concept. Verdi was a man whose work was never far removed from the politics of his day and themes of freedom vs. slavery, tyranny vs. democracy, and freedom through personal identity run strong throughout his work. Lyric’s interpretation of Nabucco has great relevance for contemporary audiences who are once again witnessing the rending of the Middle East over religious differences, a diaspora of the persecuted (to Europe) and the destruction (by ISIS) of monuments created by the same Babylonians portrayed in this Lyric production.

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All of these considerations form a context for Lyric’s massive and magnificent staging of Nabucco. The musical foundation of the piece is, as always, the impeccable Lyric Opera Orchestra (here directed by Italian maestro Carlo Rizzi) and Chorus (directed by Michael Black.) In Nabucco, the chorus also has the distinction of being the star of the show. With 82 members occupying two thirds of Verdi’s score (and with the most costume changes of any characters in the Lyric production) the chorus is the entity that, with one voice, conveys and comments on the universal themes of the opera. Conversely, the smaller scenes featuring principal characters tie in a secondary tragic love story and move the plot forward. Both groups give memorable, magnificent performances. Nabucco‘s romantic sub-plot involves the king’s younger daughter Fenena (Elizabeth DeShong), who is being held hostage by the Hebrews in hopes of deterring her father from burning the temple of Solomon and the rest of Jerusalem to the ground. Fenena’s lover is Ismaele (Sergei Skorokodov), the Judean envoy to Babylon to whom she has been entrusted in her captivity by the Hebrew prophet Zaccaria (Dmitry Belosselskiy). Their love was forged during Ismaele’s previous captivity in Babylon, at a time when both of Nabucco’s daughters were vying for the handsome Hebrew’s affections.

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Fenena was able to free Ismaele and returned to Jerusalem with him, leaving the spurned sister Abigaille (Tatiana Serjan), to harden her jealousy into murderous rage against Ismaele and his people. It is Abigaille, not Nabucco, who finally leads the Babylonian troops into the temple, destroying (she hopes) both her political and romantic rivals. The individual singers in this production give performances that are for the most part, beyond reproach. The cast’s trio of Russian artists (bass Belosselskiy, soprano Serjan, and tenor Skorokodov) is excellent. Nabucco represents the Lyric debuts of both men, and the triumphant return of Ms. Serjan, whose fiery interpretation of the ambitious Abigaille burns up the Lyric stage with emotional intensity and vocal perfection in much the same way that her Tosca did during her 2014-15 season debut. These are voices that move beyond technical prowess to being sensitive emotional instruments, giving genuine dramatic voice to their characters without sacrificing the glory of Verdi’s composition. There seems to be a dearth of strong bass voices in opera right now, so the stellar singing of Belosselskiy and American Stefan Szkafarowsky (as the high priest of the Babylonian god Baal) are particularly welcome. Ryan Opera Center members Laura Wilde (soprano) as Anna and Jesse Donner (tenor) as Abdallo add strong performances in the supporting roles. The one hiccup in this cast is Nabucco himself. Serbian baritone Želko Lučićs performance, though beautiful in tone, seems unnecessarily restrained, even for a character whose waning days encroach upon his kingship. Lučić does ramp up the intensity of his singing in the second half of the opera, but not to a level that fits his character’s circumstance. Surely a fading monarch whose throne has been usurped by an unqualified interloper (no spoilers here!) would respond with greater outrage and less resignation.

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As has gratefully become its custom, Lyric Opera employs production values for Nabucco that are second to none. Set designer Michael Yeargan’s stripped down aesthetic will appeal to modern audiences; his set’s simple soaring pillars and sweeping staircase creating strong visual contrast using primary colors, plus black and white (a color scheme also reflected in the clean lines of Jane Greenwood’s costumes). The only ornamentations are calligraphic panels (Hebrew for Jerusalem and Cuneiform for Babylon) and a few simple, though dramatically scaled props that effectively create an environment of grandeur without diminishing the impact of Verdi’s music. Lighting designer Chris Maravich showcases his considerable skills in the creation of fluid panels, a combination of projections and lighting that effortlessly transition the audience from one scene to the next. Lyric’s Nabucco is a flight of the spirit, from the grandeur of its design to a perfectly moving performance of the iconic “Va, pensiero” chorus, it is stunning in every detail. This is a grand way to begin a new year and to celebrate a new era of Grand Opera in Chicago.

4 STARS

(“Nabucco,” presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago, runs through February 12 at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive. 312-827-5600)

LYRIC OPERA OF CHICAGO – Nabucco

Nabucco production photos by Cory Weaver and Andrew Cioffi. 

The Merry Widow – Lyric Opera REVIEW

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The Merry Widow

By Franz Lehár

Lyric Opera of Chicago

By Lori Dana

Most of us love a holiday tradition. The movies have White Christmas, the dance world has The Nutcracker Suite, and for those of us who love opera, the holiday season wouldn’t be complete without The Merry Widow. This time around, Lyric Opera of Chicago has gifted us with the equivalent of a shiny new sports car wrapped in shimmering ribbon: a production of Franz Lehár’s beloved operetta that is at once familiar and spectacularly new, as lush and delectable in its presentation as a box of fine Viennese chocolates.

The Merry Widow has all the fairy tale elements we long for at this dark time of year; a rags to riches story, a hilarious sub-plot involving mistaken identity (along with some grown-up romantic dalliances to add a little spice), lost love regained, and that rarest of treats in opera, a happy ending when our unconventional heroine saves the day! Wealthy widow Hanna Glawari (Reneé Fleming) could save Pontevedro by marrying a citizen and committing her fortune to her tiny homeland, if only she weren’t having so much fun on the Paris social scene. Baron Mirko Zeta (Patrick Carfizzi), Pontevedro’s ambassador in Paris, and his wife Valencienne (Heidi Stober) make it their mission to set Hanna up with playboy attaché Danilo Danilovich (Thomas Hampson), unaware that Hanna and Danilo (now a committed bachelor) were once romantically involved. Romance has not escaped Valencienne, however. Unbeknownst to the baron, she is being wooed by a young Frenchman, Camille de Rosillon (Michael Spyres). And so the pursuits begin!

He, the dapper chocolate soldier and she, the sparkling spun sugar bride atop the wedding cake, Fleming and Hampson are a wonderful pair as Hanna and Danilo. Both mature singers with the ability to imbue even the most familiar aria with real emotion (and obviously enjoying them selves and the audience), these two seasoned veterans are a joy to see and hear. Fleming’s performance of Vilja is particularly sentimental and beautiful. Throughout the production, her singing was round and emotionally full, the low end of her range buttery and rich, and the high notes clearly spectacular.  Also well matched were Stober and Spyres, whose romantic duet in Act Two (I Know A Place Where We Can Go) was a performance highlight.

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The beauty of The Merry Widow’s music and the charm of its drawing room comedy are taken to a whole new level in this production by over-the-top visuals and exciting choreography. Despite the Parisian setting, Julian Crouch’s multi-layered set retains an Eastern European feeling, with a deep blue sky (outside the window of the embassy in the ballroom scenes, and behind the moonlit folk celebration at Hanna’s villa) giving the environment the feeling of a Russian folk painting. With each set change, an overlapping backdrop is raised, physically bringing the audience deeper into the set as the story progresses. In the opulent opening ballroom scene, we are practically inside the set itself, with characters and dancers very close to the edge of the stage. Large windows reveal a moonlit hillside neighborhood with lighted windows and stars twinkling, a visual preview of our trip to Hanna’s country estate in Scene Two. It is in the second scene that the work of costume designer William Ivey Long and choreographer/director Susan Stroman really come to the fore. Lush colors, layered textures of tapestry and fur and elaborate trimmings make Long’s aristocratic “peasants” come into vibrant focus, while Stroman’s acrobatic folk dancers create a rustic and festive aura that is spot on for the scene. Stroman and Long really take us over the top in Scene Three, as they bring the beautifully overwrought interior of Maxim’s to life, complete with elaborate Art Nouveau scrollwork and a chorus line of saucy grisettes , their red, black and white crinolines frequently tossed to give a glimpse of black lace-trimmed knickers. The visual richness of every scene is enhanced by the unexpectedly colorful lighting design of Chris Maravich.

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It is always a joy to experience the timeless music and clever wit of The Merry Widow.  Lyric has perfected that experience with premiere casting, world class orchestral performance, spectacular dancing and the creation of a beautiful world we all want to inhabit, if only for a few fleeting hours.

4 STARS

(“The Merry Widow,” presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago, runs through December 13 at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive. 312-827-5600)

LYRIC OPERA OF CHICAGO – The Merry Widow

The Merry Widow production photos by Todd Rosenberg.

Wozzeck – Lyric Opera REVIEW

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Wozzeck
by Alban Berg
Lyric Opera of Chicago

By Lori Dana

A common soldier, denigrated by his commander and cuckolded by the mother of his child eventually surrenders to despair, madness and ultimately, murder. Wozzeck, Viennese composer Alban Berg’s dark tale of struggle and survival in the years between the world wars is relatively contemporary by Grand Opera standards, and 21st century audiences are certainly not unfamiliar with its themes of scapegoating the ignorant and impoverished. Based on Georg Buchner’s play, Woyzeck (which premiered just one month before the political assassination that sparked World War I), Berg’s opera follows the sorry life of Wozzeck, his mistress Marie, and their young son.

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This moving story, interpreted by an extraordinary cast of singing actors is really more similar in format to musical theater than bel canto opera. Drama is central to Wozzeck, rather than being just a vehicle for serving up arias and choruses. The result of that focus makes Berg’s lyrical atonality, and the magnificent performance of it by Sir Andrew Davis and the Lyric Opera Orchestra, the musical stars of the piece.

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There are also marvelous vocal performances to be heard, of course. But for the cast of Wozzeck, singing and acting must be equally compelling. Lyric’s cast is more than equipped to master the challenges. As Wozzeck, Polish bass-baritone Tomasz Konieczny is at once a pathetic doormat and the dogged provider for his tiny family. The butt of crude and cruel jokes in his job as servant to the Captain (Gerhard Siegel) and treated like a laboratory specimen by the doctor (Brindley Sherrat) who pays him to be the subject of questionable medical experiments, Wozzeck’s life holds little hope or happiness.

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In contrast, Marie (German soprano Angela Denoke) is practical and pragmatic. She has no time for pondering her fate. She is too busy making ends meet and running the small household she has created with Wozzeck. Marie’s practical nature eventually leads to her demise, however. Dazzled by the Drum Major (Stefan Vinke) with his brass buttoned bravado and large salary, Marie allows herself to be seduced, unaware that Wozzeck is nearby, watching. With his life’s focus slipping away, and already on the edge of insanity, Wozzeck invites Marie to walk with him by a pond. There he succumbs to his own terrifying visions, killing her. A universal story of devotion and betrayal, Wozzeck is set against the complex backdrop of a corrupt and crumbling empire.

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Director Sir David McVicar peels back each layer of Vickie Mortimer’s ingenious split-level set, revealing a war-ravaged landscape inhabited by a steampunk circus sideshow of fantastical machines. In the same manner, he peels away the civilized facades of the cultured elite to reveal a gallery of human grotesques who torture and taunt Wozzeck, eventually robbing him of his hope and humanity.

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Subtly designed to impress upon the audience the physical and psychological desolation that foments both rebellion and surrender, Lyric Opera’s Wozzeck is a revelation. Visually powerful and musically stunning, this production could be the sleeper hit of a season that has already promised many “don’t miss” moments.

 

4 STARS

 

(“Wozzeck,” presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago, runs through November 21 at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive. 312-827-5600)

LYRIC OPERA OF CHICAGO – WOZZECK

Wozzeck production images by Cory Weaver 

The Fairy Tale Lives of Russian Girls – REVIEW

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By Venus Zarris

Once upon a time, there lived a vibrantly ambitious theater company that specialized in the wild, wonderful and out-of-the-ordinary. They created fantastical unrealities where eccentric characters detailed both common and peculiar aspects of the human condition with idiosyncratic interactions. Innovative artistry, uncanny wit, heartrending poignancy and brilliant humor fueled the fires of their spellbinding storytelling… Fortunately for you, that time is now and that company is Trap Door Theatre.

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In their latest adventure of the imagination, Trap Door Theatre presents playwright Meg Miroshnik’s wickedly enthralling The Fairy Tale Lives of Russian Girls. The twists and turns of this bleakly charming adventure take place in the metaphorically dark forest of post-Soviet Russia, where we are warned that everything bad is found off of the path while simultaneously seduced with the notion that everything good can also be found there.

Annie is sent back to Russia from America to enroll in Russian language-for-business classes, but instead of a formal education she is thrust into an intoxicating exploit filled with sexual intrigue, beguiling folklore and political bureaucracy… “What can I say? Even fairytales involve bribes.”

Director Nicole Wiesner leads an enchanting ensemble of incomparable storytellers to deliver a triumphant theatrical treasure. Stories, both literal and allegorical, are woven together by a company of sassy vixens with razor sharp intellect and scandalously sensual potency. Each actor owns her characters with mesmerizing intensity and captivating presence. This production is a remarkable example of hypnotic ensemble acting. As a cast, they are a physically fluid body of animated interaction. Choreographed movements create stylized punctuations of emotion in this explosively bizarre escapade.

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Each actor delivers memorably engaging performances. Emily Nichelson is endearing as Annie, blending the perfect balance of impudence and deer-caught-in-the-headlights. Halie Ecker is sultry, smart and striking as Katya, The Mistress. Maghan Lewis is childishly naïve as the Other Katya and worldly wise as The Whore. Ann Sonnevile is wonderfully funny as Olga, playfully authoritative as the Passport officer and Professor and then incredibly threatening as Valentina. Simina Contras is absolutely marvelous as Masha, The Girlfriend. Contras can play insanely outrageous with matter-of-fact intelligence and uncanny restraint.

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While this is one of the most powerfully effective ensembles you will see on stage, there is one performance that manages to steal the show without detracting from the narrative or eclipsing the other performances. Marzena Bukowska is hypnotically hysterical, heartwarmingly endearing and horrifyingly evil in her multiple roles. As Bubushka, she is the humble-to-a-fault and overly accommodating old woman that you want as your eccentric grandmother. Every audience member leaves the theater feeling like she has pinched our cheeks and slipped a piece of candy in our pocket. As Auntie Yaroslava, she is the obliging martyr and quite peculiar. As Baba Yaga, she IS the quintessential witch of Slavic folklore ~ manipulative, unrelenting and deadly. Bukowska’s command and delivery of each character lulls us in and we love it. She splendidly fires on all cylinders and is, in and of herself, worth the price of admission.

Rachel M. Sypniewski’s Costume Design and Zsófia Ötvös’s Makeup Design perfectly adorn the characters in all of their curious splendors. Aaron O’Neill’s Set Design transports us into the supernatural forest of fantastical fantasies before the play even begins.

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Director Nicole Wiesner takes a deceptively complex script, full of odd characters and bizarre circumstances, and creates a haunted house of hilarious horrors and super hotties. Perfect for this ‘season of the witch,’ The Fairy Tale Lives of Russian Girls is a dark and delightful extravaganza where “witches is crazy bitches.” “In Russian skazka (fairytales) there is no happily ever after.” … Or is there?

 

4 STARS

 

(“The Fairy Tale Lives of Russian Girls” runs through November 21, 2015, @ TRAP DOOR THEATRE, 1655 West Cortland Ave. 773-384-0494)

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The Fairy Tale Lives of Russian Girls production images by Michal Janicki.

Scream, Queen, SCREAM! – Now Playing @ Mary’s Attic

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Scream, Queen, SCREAM! by David Cerda

Join the twisted ensemble at Hell in a Handbag Productions in a twisted trio of tales featuring ravenous monsters, Ed Jones as Maggie and Agnes Marlowe, identical but deadly twins in a Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte/Strait Jacket mashup, and an evil bitch from hell known simply as ‘Betty’ in an even campier tribute to the already campy The Crate from the classic ’80s film, Creepshow.

Presented by Hell in a Handbag Productions

Thru – Oct 31, 2015

@ Mary’s Attic above Hamburger Mary’s 

5400 N Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60640

TICKETS: Scream, Queen, SCREAM! – Brown Paper Tickets

Scream, Queen, SCREAM! – Hell in a Handbag Productions

ALL GIRL DRACULA – Now Playing @ Zoo Studios

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ALL GIRL DRACULA

Mina Murray is caught between a Carnivorous Ancient Evil and an Uncompromising Sadistic Zealot. Both Dracula and Van Helsing yearn for violence, even if their appetites are spurned by opposing goals. How will Mina Murray survive? As she tries to protect the people she loves, will she be forced to decide which of these powerful villains is the lesser of two evils?

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Presented by Chicago Mammals

Thru – Nov 14, 2015

@ Zoo Studios

4001 N. Ravenswood Ave Suite B3(On the corner of Ravenswood and Irving Park)
Chicago

Show Type: Drama/Horror

TICKETS: ALL GIRL DRACULA – Brown Paper Tickets

ALL GIRL DRACULA – Chicago Mammals

The Marriage of Figaro – Lyric Opera REVIEW

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The Marriage of Figaro

By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Lyric Opera of Chicago

By Lori Dana

Figaro wants to marry Susanna. Marcellina wants to marry Figaro. Figaro’s boss, Count Almaviva is not sure he still wants to be married to the Countess, but he’s insanely jealous at the idea that she might be seeing someone else. Meanwhile, he is dallying with the gardener’s daughter Barbarina, and angling to have his way with Susanna before her wedding. The Countess’ godson Cherubino is lusting after anyone in a skirt, while dodging the Count’s attempts to draft him into the army to get him out of town. Yes, the gang from The Barber of Seville is back, with that wily barber (now personal valet) Figaro scheming to teach the Count a lesson and send him back into the arms of his wife once and for all!

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Part soap opera, part situation comedy and all Mozart, Lyric Opera’s new production of The Marriage of Figaro kicked off the 2015/16 season with a bang on Saturday evening. A brilliantly updated production, adapted and directed by Barbara Gaines of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, delights the eyes and ears, as well as tickles the funny bone. Gone are the stiff and stilted dialog and costumes that, while historically correct, often fail to speak to a contemporary audience in the same way that Mozart’s joyous music does. The first time we read a supertitle that characterizes Almaviva’s conniving sidekick Don Basilio as a “sleazebag”, we know that this is not going to be the same old Figaro! Every production detail seems fresh. The neutral wood tones of James Noone’s sleek, gilt trimmed backdrops provide a perfect contrast to the riotous colors of opulent costumes and props that help bring the world of Count Almaviva’s castle to life. Designer Susan Mickey’s palette of lush scarlets and blues, warm greens, golds, purples and eye-popping turquoise, combined with a jumble of graphic patterns that reflect the crazy confusion and light-hearted humor of the plot while subtly expressing the social ranks of the time.

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The only thing that is not re-envisioned through a modern lens is the glorious music of Mozart, whose appeal remains timeless. Led by young Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási (General Music Director of the Komische Oper Berlin and a master of opera buffa), delivered by an ensemble of fabulous singer-actors, and accompanied by Lyric Opera’s world-class orchestra and chorus, the music here is pure beauty and joy. The terrific cast, led by Czech baritone Adam Plachetka as Figaro, also features German soprano Christiane Karg, in her Lyric Opera debut, as a saucy and confident Susanna, Ryan Opera Center alum and international sensation Amanda Majeski as her mistress and confidant Countess Almaviva, and Italian star Luca Pisaroni as the Count. The level of singing brought to the production by this group would be pretty hard to match in any other international opera venue, and the onstage chemistry between these performers is quite contagious. The audience is immediately drawn into Figaro’s circle of friends and lovers, and we become part of his crowd; party to the hilarity of the inside jokes and invested in the outcome of the plotting and scheming.

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The excellent casting in Lyric’s Figaro extends to the supporting cast as well. Keith Jameson’s pot-stirring Don Basilio, Rachel Frenkel’s awkward and charming Cherubino and Katherine Goeldner’s wacky Marcellina, along with her solicitor/lover Don Bartolo (BrindleySherratt) each deliver distinctly delightful performances, and second year Ryan Opera Center soprano Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi is an especially giggly treat as Barbarina.

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Opening night at the opera is always a dazzling experience. It is the best night of the year for people watching, with a red carpet scene that definitely rivals the Oscars and Emmys for sheer glamour and excitement. On the best opening nights however, the evening’s musical entertainment is even more dazzling with the sheer transformative power of great music and genuinely moving dramatic performances eclipsing even the most breathtaking audience trappings. Lyric Opera’s new production of The Marriage of Figaro is such an experience: funny, outrageous, heartfelt, with supertitles that will crack you up and singing that’ll knock your socks off. Not even Mozart could have asked for more than that.

4 STARS

(“The Marriage of Figaro,” presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago, runs through October 24th at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive. 312-827-5600)

Lyric Opera of Chicago ~ The Marriage of Figaro

The Marriage of Figaro production photos by Todd Rosenberg and Michael Brosilow. 

Luftwerk | solarise: a sea of all colors @ Garfield Park Conservatory ~ New Light meets Classic Landscapes

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Luftwerk | solarise: a sea of all colors

Photo Essay by Venus Zarris

Art is storytelling and Luftwerk, the collaborative creations of Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero, takes the architecturally organic story created in the early twentieth century by Jens Jenson that is the Garfield Park Conservatory and illuminates it with their own twenty-first century high tech vision.

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“I was attracted by the immensity of the sea, and in its place came the Great Plains of America… A sea of flowers in all colors of the rainbow.” – Jens Jensen

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With breathtaking installations of structural design interacting with projected light and color, Luftwerk takes Jensen’s visionary masterpiece and creates new environmentally visceral stories for Garfield Park Conservatory visitors.

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As with Luftwerk‘s previous installations (“Luminous Field” by Luftwerk intersects the Cloud Gate – Chicago Stage Review) photographing solarise: a sea of all colors exposes intricate and dynamic aspects of the work that might be missed with the naked eye alone but to be sure, there is plenty to engage and delight naked the eye.

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Even the exterior of the Garfield Park Conservatory is transformed by this magnificent creation of color.

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Luftwerk | solarise: a sea of all colors @ Garfield Park Conservatory is on display through September 22, 2016. Visit often as you will experience something new with each viewing and be sure to visit on Wednesdays when the Garfield Park Conservatory extends their hours from 9am – 5pm to 9am – 8pm so that you can take in the installations after nightfall.

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Luftwerk|solarise: a sea of all colors @ Garfield Park Conservatory

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Luftwerk | solarise: a sea of all colors” images by Venus Zarris.

 

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2015 – CONCERT REVIEW

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Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park

Pritzker Pavilion

September 11, 2015

By Lori Dana

Any concert at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion relies in no small part on the weather when it comes to drawing a substantial audience. One of the few exceptions to that rule is Lyric Opera of Chicago’s annual season kick-off, “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park“, an annual season preview extravaganza that draws record crowds to the pavilion and Great Lawn, rain or shine. On a Friday evening when rain seemed almost a certainty, the capacity crowd of more than 11,000 found their faithfulness rewarded as the evening turned clear and cool while Lyric’s dazzling program provided the heat. Performed by an outstanding company of opera stars and rising Ryan Center alumnae, selections from Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella), Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro provided a seductive glimpse of the coming season, which commences with a 5 p.m. performance on Saturday, September 26 at the Civic Opera House. Supported by the full Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus, our hometown opera company confirmed yet again that they have earned their place among the world’s great opera houses.

From the light-hearted strains of Rossini’s overture to the last notes from Mozart’s rollicking Figaro, the program was unbridled in its joy and impressive in its vocal and theatrical directness.

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As Cinderella and her Prince, Elizabeth DeShong and Lawrence Brownlee held the giant crowd in thrall with their perfectly matched tone and effortless delivery. Their charming repartee was easy to interpret, even without the blinding supertitles projected out onto the lawn from a mega-screen high above the orchestra. Hopefully the advent of translations texted directly to our mobile devices will eventually enable Lyric to do away with the screen, which surely must have caused the distinguished donors in the front rows to wish they had brought their Foster Grants.

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Mr. Brownlee’s performance was particularly breathtaking. A tenor in the classic bel canto tradition, his singing alluded to the best Italian tenors of the past: clear, unwavering, powerful and beautifully lyrical. Referred to in the evening’s program as “celebrated internationally”, we hope that Mr. Brownlee’s Lyric Opera debut this fall will lead to many more opportunities to experience his outstanding artistry in other U.S. opera houses. Although she has sung the title role of Cinderella several times abroad, Ryan Opera Center alumni Elizabeth DeShong will be lending her gorgeous mezzo to the role of Fenena in Lyric’s Nabucco this season, while Isabel Leonard will perform opposite Brownlee. The first half of the evening’s program was rounded out with two showcases for the marvelous Lyric Opera chorus: “Scenda amor, scenda Imeneo” from Mozart’s rarely performed Idomeneo and Gounod’s glittering “ L’heure s’envole” from Act One of Romeo and Juliet, as well as a selection from last season’s La Traviata, performed by Ryan Opera Center members tenor Jonathan Johnson and South African soprano Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi.

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After a brief intermission, the audience was treated to the most tantalizing offering of the evening, an extensive excerpt from Lyric’s shiny new production of Mozart’s wildly popular opera buffa starring the rakish barber, Figaro.  Jam-packed with brilliant vocalists, The Marriage of Figaro, which opens the 2015-16 Lyric Opera season, features Ryan Opera Center alum (and Illinois native) Amanda Majeski as Countess Almaviva, German soprano Christiane Karg as Susanna, Lucca Pisaroni as Count Almaviva and Czech bass-baritone Adam Plachetka as Figaro. As impressive as the singing is among this group, the dramatic energy is even more captivating. Gone are the stylized deliveries and exaggerated characterizations of past productions that threatened to turn Mozart’s most famous comic work into a hollow caricature. Replaced with conversational dialog and facile comedic delivery, this old favorite is given fresh humor and relevance. We cannot wait to see how those qualities are reflected in the sets, costumes and other design aspects of Lyric’s new production. In short, the “Stars of Lyric Opera” provided us with just enough Figaro to whet our appetites, and to send us running for the box office before tickets to this one are sold out.

4 STARS

Lyric Opera of Chicago

Stars of Lyric Opera images by Todd Rosenberg Photography 

KURIOS ~ Cabinet of Curiosities – CIRQUE DU SOLEIL – REVIEW

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By Venus Zarris

In 1893 Chicago was host to an attraction of artistic, industrial, cultural and creative curiosities the likes of which the world had never seen brought together in one place. The White City and its surrounding halls, tents and fairgrounds created an exposition of the wonders of the world and astonished the mind-boggled fairgoers.

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Not since the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 has Chicago seen such a mesmerizing fusion of freak show, spectacle and style as it sees with Cirque du Soleil’s incomparable KURIOS ~ Cabinet of Curiosities. With a hallucinogenic 19th century atmosphere, this full on phantasm of fun delivers a spellbinding evening of artistic and acrobatic marvels that entice the imagination, startle the senses and exceed reasonable expectations while transporting the audience into a fully realized Steampunk dreamscape.

KURIOS ~ Cabinet of Curiosities dares the audience to submerge into a wild world of mechanical and anthropomorphic characters that bounce along a whimsical musical pulse as they defy gravity and reality with acts that fly through the air, tickle the funny bone and induce more gasps than any 4th of July fireworks display. I actually lost count of how many times I audibly caught myself saying, “NO WAY!”

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Under the artistic guidance of Guy Laliberté and Jean-François Bouchard , Writer/Director Michel Laprise creates the perfect production ~ as a ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ defines Cirque du Soleil’s artistic, theatrical and acrobatic aesthetic. Director of Creation Chantal Tremblay, Set/Props Designer Stéphane Roy, Costume Designer Philippe Guillotel, Composer/Musical Director Raphaël Beau lead a team of flawless designers who together manifest an alternative dimension where reality is replaced with splendid surprises, impossible exploits and heart pounding excitement.

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As each act unfolds, you are drawn in to their delicate details and explosive energies. From juggling to contortion to handbalancing high above the stage to clowning to all manner of startling aerobatics, the impeccable performers manifest the seemingly impossible right before your eyes. The costumes are works of art in and of themselves. The music, performed by spectacular musicians, is both haunting and toe-tapping. Even acts that may seem familiar at first are re-imagined into unexpectedly fabulous feats.

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KURIOS ~ Cabinet of Curiosities marks Cirque du Soleil’s 35th production and it is as fresh and fantastical as any of its predecessors, proving once again that there is no end to the creativity and commitment to excellence that this international institution of entertainment has established. Often imitated but NEVER duplicated, Cirque du Soleil is the platinum standard for world-class theatrical wonders.

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In a world where mediocrity is routinely marketed as marvelous and garbage is pawned off as glamour, Cirque du Soleil continues to shine through the fog of talentless fraud to beautifully give the world genuine and uncompromised brilliance. DO NOT MISS this mysterious marvel under the big top! KURIOS ~ Cabinet of Curiosities is the closest you’ll come to time traveling back to the White City and the most delightful show you’ll see this summer.

4 STARS

(“KURIOS ~ Cabinet of Curiosities” runs through September 20 under the Big Top in the United Center’s parking Lot K, 1901 W. Madison Street, Chicago. 877-924-7783)

KURIOS ~ Cabinet of Curiosities – CIRQUE DU SOLEIL

KURIOS production photos by Martin Girard.

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