Archive for April, 2018

PostHeaderIcon A Born-Again Opera Company

As I was watching Chicago Opera Theater’s fascinating production of “Elizabeth Cree” in February, I almost had to rub my eyes and make sure I wasn’t dreaming. This co-production with Opera Philadelphia of a suspenseful, ghoulish tale with overtones of Lizzie Borden and Sweeney Todd had a well-crafted libretto, a polished musical score, accomplished singing actors and touches of theatrical flair worthy of Harold Prince. This was not the COT I remember from prior seasons.

Under previous artistic director, Andreas Mitisek, I had come to expect unconventional operatic choices, highly creative stagings that didn’t always hit the mark. Credit must be given to Mitisek for generating major donations to the company, including an $800,000 award from the MacArthur Foundation and erasing  a nearly million dollar debt. I will remember his stagings of “Orpheus and Eurydice” in a swimming pool in 2013, a retelling of the Tristan/Isolde story at the Music Box Theatre and “The Invention of Morel” in 2017. But I will easily forget “Macbeth” and Philip Glass’ Walt Disney opera, “A Perfect American”.

Il Pigmalion & Rita

Il Pigmalion & Rita

This season has been an artistic U-turn. COT’s fine opener, “The Consul”, with a star turn by Patricia Racette gave an early indication of good things to come. “Elizabeth Cree” further strengthened that perception. Now, with its final offering, two one-act operas of Gaetano Donizetti, “Il Pigmalione” (1816)    and “Rita” (1841), it is hoping to end a perfect season on a note of success. I am betting they will succeed.

COT’s creative take on these two lesser-known scores is to update these tales of love and romance into a single, seamless score with a modern heroine who bears a striking resemblance to Audrey Hepburn. Soprano Angela Mortellaro will portray Galathea, the sculpture that Venus brings to life to as well as Rita, a tavern landlady and abusive wife of Pepe, sung by tenor Javier Abreu. Francesco Milioto will conduct and Amy Hutchison will oversee the reworked production.

Doug Clayton

Doug Clayton

COT is celebrating its 45th season since its founding in 1973 by Alan Stone. During its history, it has staged over 125 operas, including 66 Chicago premieres and 36 operas by American composers. It is known for its risk-taking nature of bringing lesser-known and contemporary works to public attention. With the 2017-18 season, under the direction of General Director, Douglas Clayton, the company is entering its sixth or seventh incarnation. Even a cat has only 9 lives.

But this incarnation may be more lasting. Helped by a debt-free balance sheet, Clayton recently announced a new strategic plan to be implemented next season. COT will feature an entire season of three Chicago premieres: Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanta”, “The Scarlet Ibis” by Stefan Weissman and Jake Heggie’s “Moby Dick”. Clayton told ArtsAndAbout the reasoning driving this decision.

In a statement Clayton provided to Arts and About, Clayton spoke of a “golden age of opera in the U.S.” and cited two ways COT will move in the future. “The first is to focus on fully-realized productions…that have never been produced in Chicago. The second place where COT can contribute in a unique and meaningful way is to be the Midwest home for new opera and new opera composers.” To promote the second objective, COT is establishing the Vanguard Initiative that will put its resources into the development of new operas. Its first orchestral workshop production will be “The Life and Death of Alan Turing” in Spring, 2019.

With Lyric’s season on hiatus, you should explore the exciting new developments at COT. But you need to be quick. “Il Pigmalione” and “Rita” will only be around for three performances, starting this Saturday evening. For tickets, go to

Post-Opening Night: Wow! COT has ended its 2017-2018 season with a delightful smash hit! The seamless two-act operas had fine singing, especially by soprano Angela Mortellaro, Donizetti’s equally singing melodies and a story with heartfelt emotion in “Il Pigmalione” and broad humor with comedia dell’ arte touches in “Rita”. Director Amy Hutchinson kept all the elements moving perfectly. The production values could rival those seen at Lyric Opera. And “Rita”‘s set design was spectacular. A perfect date night option for even non-opera lovers but you only have until next weekend to catch the final performances.