Archive for February, 2018

PostHeaderIcon Bees Do It, Fleas Do It, Let’s Fall in Love

Lyric Opera has come to the rescue just in time! In these early days of 2018, when the world has gone mad with multiple school shootings, Syria and Russian spy meddling, Lyric has prescribed a welcome elixir, an enchanting potion of Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte. “Cosi Fan Tutte”, a delicious bon-bon that  kept audiences enthralled since 1790 yet never grows old because its theme is the eternal war waged in the name of love.

The title, in Italian, literally means “Thus do they (women implied) all” but is usually translated in English as “Women are like that”. Although the current bias holds men as being the worst transgressors, women, since Cleopatra and Elizabeth I, have proven equally adept at using their power and wiles to conquer men. In “Cosi”, men are the ultimate dupes in this tale of “fiance swapping” though, as the opera starts, they are the superior schemers. “Cosi” may play as a comedy but it teaches true lessons about certainty and doubt, real and false identities, a topic that is super-timely in these times.

Opening set

Opening set

As the curtain rises, we see a fashionable hotel (rather than Act One’s traditional coffeehouse setting) where a wise and worldly croupier, Don Alfonso is enlightening two soldiers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, in the ways of love. He bets that he can prove that all women are fickle and that their lovers, Fiordiligi and Dorabella are not icons of purity but susceptible to temptation.

The men protest vigorously but take the bet. They exit offstage and Don Alfonso tells the ladies that they have sailed off to battle while they actually have donned disguises as Albanian friends. The plot is now afoot. Don Alfonso and his accomplice, Despina, the sisters’ maid, play their comic roles to the hilt. The rest of the opera keeps us wondering: Will the sisters relent and give in to the Albanian suitors?. I’ll only divulge that one sister wavers while the other stays true. And Despina proves to be an equal master of disguise, appearing near the end as a notary. You have to see and hear the whole story and be ready to laugh.

Marianne Crebessa & Ana Maria Martinez

Marianne Crebessa & Ana Maria Martinez

This is an opera in which the women rule, musically and romantically. So, it is fitting that Lyric assembled two great ladies to fill the roles, soprano Ana Maria Martinez and mezzo-soprano, Marianne Crebassa. They did Mozart proud, delivering sumptuous arias and blending several duets. Of the men, I thought baritone Joshua Hopkins produced slightly stronger sounds than his partner, tenor Andrew Stenson. Both Alessandro Corbelli (Don Alfonso) and Elena Tsallagova (Despina) also shone. Rising conductor, James Gaffigan, coaxed spirited playing that never flagged from Lyric’s excellent musicians. A special call-out goes to scenic designer, Robert Perdziola, who also oversaw the costumes.

At the end, I witnessed something rare in the opera house. The audience rose en masse, with no prompting, even before the curtain calls began. No one was running to catch the train or hail a taxi. If you too need an elixir as I did at last Saturday’s opening, head to the pharmacy at Madison and South Wacker and catch the delightful concoction Lyric is offering.

Five more performances remain, with the next performance on Monday, February 26. For tickets and information, call the box office at 312/827-5600 or go to www.lyricopera.org.

 

PostHeaderIcon History the Way it Was or Was It?

Rob Riley (Ronald Reagan) and William Dick (Mikhail Gorbachev)

Rob Riley (Ronald Reagan) and William Dick (Mikhail Gorbachev)

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met for the first time in 1985. Their Geneva Summit was a high-stakes meeting–two leaders of the only world super-powers at the time–packed with real-world drama. It led to the momentous breakthrough four years later of the Soviet Union’s collapse and the fall of the Berlin Wall. We audience members enter the Goodman Theatre’s production of their new play, “Blind Date” knowing these essential facts.

We take our seats eager to learn more of the behind-the-scenes drama; to go beyond the newspaper headlines of the time and catch any interplay between the two main characters. Playwright Rogelio Martinez likes to plumb news accounts for his plays. “Blind Date” is his latest installment in his treatment of Cold War episodes, the others being the trilogy“Ping Pong”, “Born in East Berlin” and “When Tang Met Laika”.

Martinez is being touted as an aspiring playwright able to craft scenes and characters but the ability to generated real dramatic tension is lacking. And, as a political commentator, he struck me as a dud. Thirty years on, we learn nothing new and the action is plodding throughout the first act. In line with those expectations   we brought prior to the curtain, “Blind Date” might better be billed as “Bland Date”.

The play is a slyly comic but only glancing glimpse of  the leaders. We only meet them for the first time after intermission and 90 minutes into the play. Both men had initially been reluctant to meet. Rather than make them the play’s protagonists, Martinez pens an alternate view of the summit. He seems to suggest that the two senior diplomatic advisers, Secretary of State, George Schultz, and Russian Foreign Minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, and the leaders’ two wives, Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev are the more fascinating figures. Those four characters fuel the play and, only at the end, does Reagan pull a rabbit from his hat and opens a warm relationship with Gorbachev that bears fruit years later.

ary Beth Fisher (Raisa Gorbachev) and Deanna Dunagan (Nancy Reagan)

ary Beth Fisher (Raisa Gorbachev) and Deanna Dunagan (Nancy Reagan)

The entire first act deals with the diplomatic dance between Shultz and Shevardnadze as they plot making the meeting happen. Martinez fails to give either man intelligent, Mamet-like dialogue while Shultz appears as the weaker adversary.  Actor Jim Ortlieb projected little energy in his matter-of-fact delivery of Shultz while Steve Pickering was more combative and forceful. The same dynamic was at play in Mary Beth Fisher’s portrayal of the shrewd Raisa Gorbachev. Deanna Dunagan, a fine Chicago actress, was good but needed to display more of Nancy Reagan’s cunning. Martinez might have made more of her astrological obsession. I wish I had more to say about the acting of actors Rob Riley (Ronald Reagan) and William Dick (Mikhail Gorbachev) but there was too little of it to matter. Both men bore some passing resemblance to their historical counterparts.

As a great admirer of director Robert Falls’ work over several decades, I was truly surprised by how little stagecraft and juice he injected into the script. The action felt under-powered, a trait I don’t associate with Falls’ at all and not how a world summit should be seen. I left the theater knowing no more than when I entered and missing the jolt that genuine political theater generates.

“Blind Date” plays at Goodman Theatre through February 25. For tickets and information, call the box office at 312/443-3800 or go online to GoodmanTheatre.org.

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