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Operas of the fall
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times
2019-09-18

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The fall 2019 opera season is already in full swing. There is plenty to take in from the tiniest of fringe companies to the most lavish spectacles filling the stage of the 3,563-seat Civic Opera House.

Grandest of the grand

As it enters is 65th anniversary season, the Lyric Opera of Chicago remains the Windy City's mothership when it comes to grand opera. But there's a change on the horizon.

It was recently announced that music director Sir Andrew Davis will step down by the end of the 2020-21 season. Italian conductor Enrique Mazzola will succeed Davis.

Lo and behold, audiences can compare and contrast the two right away. Davis is conducting the season opener of Rossini's comedy The Barber of Seville ( Eight performances from Sept. 28 to Oct. 27 ), while Mazzola conducts Verdi's early tragedy Luisa Miller ( Six performances from Oct. 12-31 ).

The Lyric also stages the Chicago professional premiere of the 2000 opera Dead Man Walking featuring a score by Jake Heggie and a libretto by Terrence McNally ( six performances from Nov. 2-22 ). Lesbian soprano Patricia Racette plays Sister Helen Prejean, while Susan Graham ( who originated the role of Sister Helen ) has moved on to play Mrs. De Rocher.

This fall, the Lyric also revives Mozart's Don Giovanni ( Nine performances from Nov. 14 to Dec. 8 ) in an updated 2014 production by Goodman Theatre artistic director Robert Falls. Also, Chicago-area native soprano Sondra Radvanovsky stars in the concert The Three Queens ( Three performances from Dec. 1 to 7 ) featuring selections from Donizetti's Tudor-era operas Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereaux.

Lyric Opera of Chicago performances are at 20 N. Wacker Drive. Info/tickets: LyricOpera.org , 312-827-5600.

The next tier

Chicago Opera Theater opens its season with an intriguing double bill of Windy City premieres. Everest is a 2015 work by composer Joby Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer about a recent historical tale of a mountaineering tragedy. Sergei Rachmaninov's 1892 revenge-filled opera Aleko is based upon Pushkin's poem The Gypsies. Both operas are performed Nov. 16-17 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph St. Info/tickets: ChicagoOperaTheater.org; 312-704-8414

Haymarket Opera Company is fairly new on the scene and specializes in baroque opera. Their fall offering is the 1737 comedy The Dragon of Wantley by John Frederick Lampe, a contemporary of Handel who delighted in taking the piss out of his colleague's more serious operas. There are two performances on Oct. 27 and 29 at the Studebaker Theater, 410 S. Michigan Ave. Info/tickets: HaymarketOpera.org

On the fringes

Opera can be done on a more experimental or intimate scale, as evidenced by the following productions:

The Storefront Project is an operatic performance art collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Prop Thtr, director "Dado" and Chicago-area artists. Their task was to take a piece of public-domain text not intended for theater and to theatricalize it. Eight performances remain through Sept. 22 at either the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave., or Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave. Info/tickets: MCAChicago.org; 312-397-4010

The Falling and the Rising is a world-premiere project staged by Park Ridge-based Petite Opera Productions. Conceived Sgt. Ben Hilgert, the opera is based upon interviews with military patients at Walter Reed Hospital. It features a libretto by playwright Jerre Dye and composer Zach Redler. Eight performances run Nov. 2-24 at Mary Wilson House-Beyer Auditorium, 306 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge. Info/tickets: PetiteOpera.org; 847-553-4442

Georg Buchner's play Woyzeck has already inspired a 20th century operatic masterpiece: Alban Berg's Wozzeck. But there's another version inspired by a concept by Robert Wilson featuring music and lyrics by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan. Chicago Fringe Opera presents four performances from Nov. 14 to 23 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Info/tickets: ChicagoFringeOpera.com; 773-312-3930

New Moon Opera presents a workshop performance of Elizabeth Rudolph's new opera Imogen, which is an adaptation of Shakespeare's romance Cymbeline. The performance is on Nov. 22 at Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church, 600 W. Fullerton Parkway. Info/tickets: NewMoonOpera.org

Thompson Street Opera teams up with the Intuit Center Gallery for performances of Faulty Systems: Hope & Home featuring the opera Apart/ment by Rebekah Driscoll. There are two performances at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6 and 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at the gallery at 756 N. Milwaukee Ave. Info/tickets: ThompsonStreetOpera.org .

College creativity

It's not just the standard repertory for two college productions this fall.

DuPaul Opera Theatre stretches back to the very early days of opera with Cavalli's 1643 mythological tale L'Egisto. There are two performances on Nov. 1 and 3 at Holtschneider Performance Center at Gannon Concert Hall, 2330 N. Halsted St. Info/tickets: Events.DuPaul.edu ; 773-325-5200.

Northwestern University's Bienen School of Music goes post-apocalyptic with performances of the 2012 opera Dog Days. Featuring a score by David T. Little and a libretto by Royce Vavrek, Dog Days imagines a dystopian world where a family living on the fringes encounters a man who looks to have devolved into a dog-like creature. There are four performances from Nov. 21-24 at the Ryan Opera Theater at the Ryan Center, 70 Arts Circle, Evanston. Info/tickets: Music.Northwestern.edu; 847-491-7575.

Other companies to check out

Chamber Opera Chicago will likely stage a revival of Menotti's Ahmal and the Night Visitors for the holiday season ( check chamberoperachicago.org for future dates ). Folks Operetta will likely continue its drive to stage 20th century works by composers who were exiled, oppressed or killed by the Third Reich ( check folksoperetta.org for future projects ).

Other companies to look into include Vox 3 Collective ( vox3.org ), Transgressive Theatre Opera ( Transgressivetheatre-opera.org ) and Chicago Summer Opera ( ChicagoSummerOpera.com ). Of if you just want to go to the movies, check out the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD series ( MetOpera.org/season/in-cinemas ).


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