Archive for the ‘Music - Classical’ Category
“Hot Time, Summer in the City” is a lyric from an old rock song. Summer means lots of beaches, barbeque, beer. Yet Chicago goes far beyond those three summer staples. In fact, I think Chicago does summer better than almost any other American city. There are festivals nearly every weekend in the neighborhoods and downtown. It began last weekend with the Blues Festival, will continue with the Gospel Festival this weekend. Pitchfork brings indie bands in July with Lollapalooza close on its heels in August . Chicago’s outstanding Jazz Festival caps the season on Labor Day.
Besides the above three Bs, Chicago Summer comes alive for me with Beethoven, Brahms and Berlioz. And the music moves outdoors under the stars at Ravinia and Grant Park.
In this post, I try to help you focus on a few of the summer’s top classical offerings, saving you lots of time and headaches, and hoping you will catch a few. When I’m listening to great music, sitting on the lawn downtown or at Ravinia, I get a “great to be alive” vibe that fills my whole being. Try it. Good music is medicine that feeds your soul.
Begin with this Thursday, June 21st. Chicago will celebrate “Make Music Chicago 2012″ Day. The whole city will become one big music stage. Music of all kinds will be performed in 75 locations throughout the day, ending with a three-hour program at St. James Cathedral from 6 to 9 p.m.
This is the second year Chicago has hosted this event. Its inspiration is the “Fete de la Musique” event that started in Paris 30 years ago and has been adopted by every town throughout France and in 460 cities worldwide.
Last June 21, I had the good fortune to be in France and participated in “Fete” there. Pauline and I were totally captivated by the way in which Vence’s residents of all ages turned out for the music–even heard a French band play “Sweet Home Chicago”–and dancing in the town square. For a schedule of all the day’s free events, including a Chicago Symphony open rehearsal, go to www.makemusicchicago.com.
Ravinia Festival– The Chicago Sympony Orchestra’s residency this year features 21 concerts led by principal conductor, James Conlon, including two operas in concert-style, beginning in July. For my taste, there are three not-to-be-missed CSO performances packing more musical firepower: July 7 when conductor Jaap van Zweden makes his Ravinia debut following several acclaimed Orchestra Hall appearances conducting Mahler; July 21 when pop diva, Patti
LuPone, and opera diva, Patricia Racette, bring the house down and August 7 when brilliant French pianist, Jean Yves Thibaudet, weaves his magic spell with two Ravel concertos.
Classical Ravinia means more than the CSO. The festival boasts top-drawer chamber music programming. Ravinia’s schedule in this genre is more adventurous with lesser-known works and a nice mixture of world-class artists and younger stars-in-the-making. An added bonus: you can enjoy great musicmaking for an amazing $10 seat amid the lawn’s bucolic surroundings amongst a more intimate gathering of music fans.
The enjoyment begins this Friday, June 23, with a 75th Birthday Concert by Philip Glass accompanied by rising star violinist, Timothy
Fain. Make time to catch the superb Emerson String Quartet on July 6. This renowned ensemble has performed together for more than 35 seasons during which they have captured 9 Grammy Awards, 3 Gramophone Awards and the prestigious Avery Fisher prize.
Though Nicola Benedetti and cellist Leonard Elschenbroich will appear with the CSO on July 13, I prefer to hear these two artists, plus pianist Alexei Grynyuk, play a chamber recital the night before. This trio of 20-something European all-stars (Benedetti is the BBC’s Musician of the Year and reportedly plays a $7.5 million Strad) sound like they could generate rave reviews.
A young artist who has moved beyond youthful promise and is now embarked on a solid career is pianist Jonathan Biss. I have enjoyed his intelligent, moving playing in previous appearances and will be in the audience on August 1. He will be performing with his mother, noted violinist Miriam Fried, in a program of violin and piano sonatas.
An innovation this season is a series of more than 30 concerts in Bennett Gordon Hall featuring future stars with tickets priced to fly out of the box office for a ridiculous $10. A perfect date night followed by a post-performance picnic on the grass.
Make plans on August 24 to hear The Lincoln Trio, three impressive artists who released a fine recording of contemporary women composers last year. Then, on August 31, catch 21-year-old sensation, Behzod Abduraimov, winner of the 2009 London International Piano Competition, who is already being hailed as a “young master”. He will perform Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata and Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz”.
There’s a special place in my soul for the cello. Johannes Moser supply a fine evening of expert cello playing on September 4 performing Brahms’ “Cello Sonata No. 1″ and Poulenc’s “Sonata for Cello and Piano” with Orion Weiss.
Grant Park Music Festival–The Grant Park Orchestra, led by conductor Carlos Kalmar, played superbly at last week’s opening concert of the 78th season featuring cello soloist, Alban Gerhardt.
The highlight of America’s oldest free music festival is the 50th Anniversary of the esteemed Grant Park Chorus under Christopher Bell’s direction. Six concerts will feature the chorus, including two world premiere commissions for orchestra and chorus (the first, “An Exaltation of Place” by Michael Gandolfi was performed this past weekend) and the forthcoming release of the chorus’ first ever a cappella recording of works by American composers including Ned Rorem, David Del Tredici, Stacy Garrop and Eric Whitacre on the Cedille Records label.
Once again, the festival sparkles with imaginative programs. Nearly every week contains a rarity, world premiere or a choral masterwork. Let me single out five worth your attention. This Saturday, June 23, the orchestra will begin a week-long collaboration with the visiting Paris Opera Ballet (whose Harris Theater performance of Giselle on June 27th will be simulcast in Millennium Park). To kick-off the festivities on Saturday, Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” is matched with Ravel’s “Bolero”.
On June 29 & 30, an all-choral program features Stravinsky’s “Les Noces” and Carl Orff’s sonic spectacular “Carmina Burana”. The chorus will be featured again on July 13 & 14 for a tribute to Broadway musical legend, Frank Loesser, composer for such classic musicals as “Guys and Dolls”, “The Most Happy Fella” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”.
Rounding off this favorites list are two exciting back-to-back programs. On August 3 & 4, Kalmar leads a program of Latin American and Spanish masterpieces, including “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”, a twist on Vivaldi’s famous work by Astor Piazzolla. Topping off the season is Antonin Dvorak’s “The Spectre’s Bride”, a rarely-performed cantata for orchestra, chorus and vocal soloists. I’m flying blind here but trusting Dvorak’s stirring melodies and Kalmar’s musical taste to end the season on a rousing note. To access a full schedule, go to www.grantparkmusicfestival.com
While those are my picks for your outdoor listening pleasure, I can’t not mention two worthy musical series taking place indoors. Every Tuesday evening through August 28, St. James Cathedral, at Wabash Avenue and Huron St., is presenting a marvelous summer series of “Rush Hour Concerts”. The music starts at 5:45 and lasts 30-45 minutes. All performances are preceded at 5:15 p.m. with a reception in which you can mingle with the artists.
I had the pleasure of hearing “Fifth House Ensemble” last week offer a totally winning concert of contemporary works. The program ended with 42 musicians scattered throughout the church, performing an 8-minute excerpt of Terry Riley’s work “In C”, a fascinating, neo-Cagean tonal explosion. It was a bracing tonic that put me in the right frame of mind for the evening.
St. James is the featured site for this week’s “Make Music Chicago” closing performances to be broadcast on WFMT if you choose to stay home. For the schedule of the summer’s Rush Hour concerts, go to www.rushhour.org.
For die-hard opera fans, there is never an off-season. There’s always an opera somewhere. To satisfy this insatiable craving, The Metropolitan Opera will rebroadcast six of its most successful productions in movie theaters nationwide, part of a Summer Encore series.
If you haven’t yet seen opera up close on the jumbo screen, it is opera as you’ve never seen or heard it on TV or in the house (unless you had $300 seats). You owe it to yourself to catch at least one production between now and July 25.
The series kicked off last week with “Rinaldo” starring Anna Netrebko. This Wednesday, I am expecting vocal fireworks when I attend Rossini’s “Comte Ory” with tenor Juan Diego Florez and Joyce DiDonato.
Other operas are Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”, “Tales of Hoffman”, “Lucia di Lammermoor” and Renee Fleming and Susan Graham in “Der Rosenkavalier”. For full details, go to www.metopera.org/liveinHD.
Here’s wishing you a happy Summer filled with uplifting music to stir your soul and make all seem right with the world.
It is common knowledge that Chicago enjoys a rich and vibrant classical music scene. We can boast of having a world-class symphony orchestra, opera company and classical radio station (WFMT). Ensembles and choral groups covering every period from Early Music and Baroque to contemporary abound. In addition, there is a highly diverse group of top classical presenters ranging from Ravinia, the Harris Theater, the University of Chicago and Northwestern’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, each of which features internationally-known soloists and ensembles.
Yet, for many years, there was no place in Chicago outside the academy where young, unestablished, classical artists and ensembles could hone their talent and make their mark. This was the large musical void that Fredda Hyman set out to fill 20 years ago. Her mission was audacious but her indomitable determination and unerring musical taste enabled her to make a grand success of Music in the Loft (MITL). Unfortunately, Fredda passed away last December.
This Sunday, May 6th, supporters and many of the artists she discovered and helped launch on successful careers will pay tribute to her inspiring vision with a Champagne Reception and Concert at The Standard Club, starting at 3 p.m. “Fredda would want it to be a celebration rather than a memorial,” says Desiree Ruhstrat, violinist with The Lincoln Trio.
Among the artists who will appear are the Ying Quartet, a then-new group who were featured on MITL’s first season in 1992 and have gone on to enjoy wide success, The Lincoln Trio who have appeared on more than a half-dozen programs, Quartet Ventoso, pianist Adam Neiman, guitarist Goran Ivanovic and singers Patrice Michaels, Jonita Lattimore, Jessye Wright and Robert Sims. All artists Fredda championed.
The germinating seed that led to MITL was the move Fredda made in 1990 with her husband, Sidney, a best-selling author and historian. The couple moved from Hyde Park and settled in the West Loop when that area was still pioneer territory. They discovered that their loft apartment had superb acoustics which spurred the brainstorm to convert their living room into an impromptu concert space in 1992. I suspect that first concert was mounted as a lark for friends and that their favorable reaction gave Fredda the idea to turn it into a 5-concert series.
Fredda and Sidney’s presence and involvement at every concert, the intimate setting and informal reception with the artists afterwards gave a very 19th Century atmosphere to 21st Century performances. To hear top-notch talent in a room with perhaps 80 other listeners, the way audiences heard Mozart’s music, is a rare luxury in today’s mega-music world.
Once launched, Fredda, whose love of music was nurtured and deepened as a former dancer with American Ballet Theater, discovered her life’s new purpose. “She was able to identify groups who’d be successful before they became successful,” says Ruhstrat. Her roster of discoveries, made by attending concerts and listening to countless CDs, included The Ying Quartet, violinist Rachel Barton Pine, The Pacifica Quartet and The Amelia Trio, who perform with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road troupe.
Not only did she aid young musical performers but, starting in 1998, she founded an allied composer-in-residence program and gave composers an equally rare showcase for their work at MITL concerts. Among the composers who benefited from the exposure were Stacy Garrop, Lita Grier, Ricardo Lorenz and a then 16-year old wunderkind, Conrad Tao. “Fredda was just about the most wonderful supporter anyone could hope for,” Grier mentioned on a WFMT tribute, aired the day after Fredda’s death. “She was perpetually looking for opportunities for my works to be performed. She’d find these manuscripts and say let’s give a listen….in this way, a piano sonata that I composed when I was 17 got its world premiere performance at Fredda’s concert.” Similar stories by other artists confirm Ruhstrat’s verdict that, “she was the consummate matchmaker.”
Fredda’s modus operandi for discovering new talent was simple yet mysterious. “She actually went out and listened for herself and made her own judgments,” says James Ginsburg, founder and president of Cedille Records. “She was an independent person with a very good ear.” And once she made a discovery, she booked them and was not shy about telling many people how great they were.
She once did so with Ginsburg, comparing her latest find with an artist he favored who played the same instrument. He remembers her telling him, “My artist is better”. When Ginsburg went to hear her artist play, he had to admit she was right. Ginsburg recalls one wag saying, “Fredda was not one to accept received wisdom.” She blazed her own path and made her own judgments.
You can purchase tickets at MITL’s website, www.musicintheloft.org or by calling 312/919-5030. While tickets are priced at $150 (reserved seating) and $100, students can–and should–take advantage of a special $20 price. Do it for Fredda who did so much for music!
Michael Tilson Thomas has always had a special affinity for the music of American composers. The Los Angeles-born music director of the San Francisco Symphony since 1995, he has championed those pioneers who, according to an SFO website, “created a new American musical voice for the 20th Century.” In 2000, Thomas organized the first “American Mavericks” festival devoted to such seminal figures as Aaron Copland, Henry Cowell, John Cage and Charles Ives. This month, he is touring the next iteration of “American Mavericks” in Chicago, Ann Arbor and New York City.
I was in the Orchestra Hall audience ten days ago for several reasons. Foremost was to hear the orchestra in its first Chicago appearance in 10 years. I heard them once before under the leadership of Herbert Blomstedt but wanted to hear their playing under Thomas’ direction. They performed brilliantly, playing with total commitment and keen attack, signs of an improved ensemble relishing the chance to play such challenging fare. Another reason was to hear the works on the program (Cowell, John Adams & Ives). Apart from Adams, the other mavericks are rarely heard inside Symphony Center. Finally, I wanted to see if my musical ears had grown more accustomed to Ives’ spiky, contrapuntal tonal palette. Thomas is widely viewed as the premier interpreter of Ives.
The program opened with a haunting, soaring trumpet solo from Cowell’s “Synchrony.” I hadn’t expected such a lovely melody at the start and found the rhythmic and melodic tonal clusters that followed pleasantly accessible. Cowell also taught and reportedly influenced the work of other mavericks, particularly Cage and Lou Harrison.
Adams’ newest work, “Absolute Jest” followed. It is the fourth commission he has composed for San Francisco beginning with “Harmonium” in 1981. It is hard to believe that Adams was ever a musical maverick. However, he is credited with steering music away from the dry 12-tone exercises of academic modernism and back to a more expressive and humanistic realm. His 1986 opera, “Nixon in China” broke new ground and, ever since his 2002 tribute to the victims of 9/11, “On the Transmigration of Souls”, Adams has become the default composer for orchestra programmers, a contemporary composer audiences will tolerate.
As I listened to the buoyant, yet fractured rhythms, the work had a pastiche quality that, while enjoyable in performance, did not leave a lasting impression. Afterward, reading the program notes, Adams called the piece’s short bursts “quotations”. While my ear caught, what I thought were snippets of Copland, I later learned that he was borrowing freely from Beethoven’s late quartets and even the Ninth Symphony. The inclusion of the St. Lawrence String Quartet was an interesting touch. As stand-ins for Beethoven’s quartets, they played with fierce engagement, often in attacking juxtaposition to the orchestra. It was a novel but not entirely successful experiment.
I still don’t “get” Ives but I realize that he has changed modern music’s vocabulary and earned his “American Maverick” stripes. However, Henry Brant’s rich orchestration of Ives’ “A Concord Symphony” (originally a sonata solely for piano) softened many of the piece’s rough edges and made Ives’ ideas more pronounced and palatable, particularly the sweetly melodic third movement, The Alcotts. His tribute to three other transcendental New England writers–Emerson, Hawthorne and Thoreau–remain a musical puzzle to my ears.
Tilson Thomas has lived with the music of these composers for many years. I left Symphony Center convinced that no other orchestra could interpret these works as convincingly and idiomatically. That opinion was evidently shared by many younger members of the audience who whooped and applauded heartily for each work on the program. The audience skewed much younger than the usual CSO audience. At least 1/3 of the crowd in the lower balcony were high school and college students. While the CSO offered heavily discounted pricing for students on their website and on Groupon, many also came because of Thomas and the orchestra’s reputation for contemporary fare. For a list of concerts in April and May with special $10 seats for students, go to www.cso.org.
Though it was satisfying to hear the SFO at all, I wonder why Chicago audiences were treated to only one program from the festival while Ann Arbor presented three full programs immediately after Chicago and New York’s Carnegie Hall is presenting all four festival programs. Tilson Thomas is a definite draw when he plays with our orchestra and a broad audience exists in Chicago for more adventuresome repertoire beyond the iconic three B’s. Was it not worth the risk of a less than full house to showcase rarely-performed works by such game-changing composers? We missed out on hearing soprano Jesse Norman and Meredith Monk perform John Cage’s “Songbooks”, early Aaron Copland and Mason Bates’ recent commission for the SFO, “Mass Transmission.” Is Chicago still too provincial in its musical tastes? I’d like to think not.
Tilson Thomas was asked when he began his tenure in San Francisco 15 years ago what he hoped people would think about the orchestra in years to come. His response: “America’s most fearless, most dangerous and most generous orchestra.” As it celebrates its 100th Anniversary, I’d say the SFO has fulfilled that mission splendidly!
Don’t know about you but, if I hadn’t received a brochure in the mail last month, I wouldn’t know about an extraordinary musical event starting this week in Evanston. It’s the 9th annual Spring Festival sponsored by Northwestern University and its Bienen School of Music. I’ve seen no ads in the Tribune or The Reader. No E-mail blasts either. Yesterday, I finally heard a commercial on WFMT for a concert by one of the featured artists.
So, for all music lovers who live on Chicago’s north side, the suburbs or even southside outposts, like Hyde Park, let me say it LOUD and clear: GET THEE NORTH. Over the next two weekends, something better than NCAA March Madness is taking place in our town.
I’m referring to “Soundings”, a themed series of seven concerts featuring top-notch classical and renowned world music soloists. The series’ 11 headliners will offer unusually imaginative concerts featuring not just the standard European classical repertoire but works drawn from Indian, South American, Celtic, Zydeco and Jazz traditions.
Richard Van Kleeck, Director of Concert Activities at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, has programmed the Spring Festival since its founding in 2004. His modus operandi is to forgo simply filling open dates with a motley crew of musical artists and arrange the concerts around a central musical theme.
For the inaugural festival eight years ago, Van Kleeck’s theme was the piano. Leon Fleisher and Menahem Pressler were among the participants. For the closing concert, 33 pianists gathered on stage and played 10 Steinway Grands. Another year was devoted to string quartets, titled “Quadromania” and featured The Juilliard Quartet and Turtle Island Quartet. This Spring Festival theme this year, which opens on March 28th and runs through April 7th, is “Soundings: Celebrating Singular Voices in Music.”
The opening artist is two-time Grammy nominee, Anouska Shankar, daughter of famed sitarist, Ravi Shankar, who will play hybrid works that incorporate elements of flamenco, tango and fandango with ancient Indian musical forms. She will be followed by acclaimed pianist, Gabriela Montero, who will play “visionary interpretations” of Chopin and Liszt and devote the second half to improvisations on themes suggested by the audience.
Three noted clarinetists, all members of the Bienen School, will perform a program titled “Clarinetissimo” followed on Saturday, March 31, by famed guitarist, Sharon Isbin, joined by Brazilian percussionist, Thiago de Mello. The festival’s second week begins with violinist Jennifer Koh. For her program, “Bach and Beyond, Part I” Ms. Koh will guide audiences on a historical journey of solo violin masterpieces based on works by Bach.
On Friday, April 6th, the weekend kicks off with what promises to be a sonic showdown featuring master accordionists and bandoneon virtuosos from France, Russia, Chicago and New Orleans titled “The Big Squeeze.” The festival will conclude on April 7th as acclaimed Cuban trumpet star and four-time Grammy winner, Arturo Sandoval, performs with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra. All these “soundings” should rank as among 2012’s musical highpoints.
Van Kleeck deserves an award for such inspired programming. Why are themed programs so rare in the Chicago area? His example deserves to be copied by his peers at Harris Theater, Symphony Center, Grant Park and possibly Ravinia. Instead, we are fed an repetitious diet of one-off star turns, however noteworthy. Why not feature four or five outstanding violinists or other instrumentalists over 3 or 4 concerts around a common theme (like Koh’s “Bach and Beyond” idea) at any one or combination of the above venues? With the right marketing, it could be a crowd-pleaser that draws music regulars and new audiences locally and from out-of-town, like opera’s Ring cycle or the CSO’s Beethoven Festival in 2010. Why is such a concept being championed by a university rather than our downtown music presenters ? Classical and world music programming could stand a good jolt out of its well-worn rut.
An added feature making the festival such an attractive entertainment option is the reasonable pricing for such stellar talent. Tickets range from $14 to 26 (for Shankar and Isbin) with student seats at $10. There’s no better place or better bargain for musical enjoyment over the next 10 days than at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. To see the complete lineup and order tickets, go to www.pickstaiger.org. To buy tickets with a credit card, call 847/467-4000.
In late January, I had the pleasure of attending two operas in the space of five days; one in a movie theater, the other in the house at Lyric Opera. Under the circumstances, a comparison was inevitable and here I made an unexpected discovery. In rating my enjoyment of the new opera versus one of the repertoire’s long-standing, crowd-pleasers, the new opera was the undisputed winner.
The new opera was Jeremy Sams’ pastiche at The Met, “The Enchanted Island” versus perhaps Giuseppe Verdi’s most popular score, “Aida”, at Lyric. I knew nothing about “Island” but assumed that a cast featuring counter-tenor David Daniels, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and soprano Danielle de Niese was not chopped liver and worth hearing. I was not disappointed.
Sams’ winning achievement was to combine two of Shakespeare’s plots, “The Tempest” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with lovely arias plucked from a variety of Baroque operas by Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau and other composers. The blending of story and song was so seamless and charming that the plot played like Shakespeare’s true version and not a newly-made creation.
In Sams’ take on “The Tempest”, Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, lives on a remote island with his daughter Miranda. He is a sorcerer, surrounded by his books and magic potions. While Prospero initially seduced the sorceress, Sycorex, ruler of the island, he left her, stealing her sprite servant, Ariel, and enslaving her son, Caliban. And she wants revenge.
All hell begins breaking loose when Prospero, wanting to insure Miranda’s happiness, commands Ariel to cause a passing ship that contains the King of Naples and Prince Ferdinand to go aground. Caliban overhears the plan and informs his mother who devises a spell of her own that causes Ariel’s spell to go awry. What ensues is a riot of unintended consequences centered around hopelessly mismatched lovers. But all turns out for the best in the end: the rightful lovers find one another, Prospero is pardoned and apologizes to Sycorex.
Not only were the lovers under Ariel’s spell but so was the theater audience. The production sets and costumes looked like a million bucks. And in the pit, conductor William Christie, a renowned Baroque expert, had the Met’s orchestra playing crisply, in true to period style.
Neptune’s (Placido Domingo) grand entrance was a special effects show-stopper, complete with mermaids suspended in mid-air. While all the main characters deserve praise, Danielle de Niese’s prancing performance deserves special mention. She had my full attention throughout and owned whatever scene she appeared in.
(Great news Lyric Opera recently announced that it has engaged de Niese for the lead in its newly-commissioned opera, “Bel Canto”, that will debut December, 2015.)
At the end, the theater audience gave the Met HDLive presentation an ovation, something usually reserved for movie blockbusters. As I walked out, I saw most other patrons smiling and commenting on the triumph we had just witnessed.
Four days later, I went to “Aida” with high expectations. It was the first opera I went to as a teenager at the old Metropolitan Opera home on West 39th Street in New York. Nothing much of the production sticks in my mind except the sight of an elephant and horses arriving on stage during the famous triumphal entrance scene.
“Aida” is the Verdi work that defines the term “Grand Opera”. Verdi spins an epic tale of illicit love between Radames, a newly-returned Egyptian war hero, and an Ethiopian princess (Aida) who is the enslaved attendant to Amneris, the Pharoah’s daughter. When Radames spurns marrying Amneris, she discovers his secret love and plots her deadly revenge.
Lyric trotted out its successful Nicholas Joel production for the fifth time and enlisted top-flight Verdi performers–tenor Marcello Giordani, lyric soprano Sondra Radvanovsky and mezzo Jill Grove. Conductor, Renato Palumbo drew rich,dramatic, Verdi-style playing from the Lyric orchestra.
However, besides the singers and the score, what keeps faithful operagoers and neophytes alike coming back is the spectacle. While Lyric tried hard and packed the stage with at least 125 palace guards, priests, dancers and members of the court, the spectacle, surprisingly, fell flat. Pharoah was carried in on what appeared to be a wooden throne consisting of several stacked chairs rather than a golden one befitting his rank. And the costumes for the large contingent of priests/courtiers were topped by what one critic termed “funky domed hats” that proved distracting and inappropriate.
Coming so soon after seeing “Enchanted Island,” I never engaged with the story. While Giordani and Radvanovsky delivered perfectly-sung, affecting arias—“Celeste Aida” and the ravishing “O Patria Mia” respectively—their onstage chemistry never really clicked. This fatally undercut believability in their portrayal as lovers in the throes of passion, robbing the opera of its power to move listeners.
I must differ from John von Rhein’s comment that “Shakespeare would have been proud to have penned such a libretto.” The Bard, I believe, would have written more plot twists and injected more dramatic tension into the script to keep the action flowing. Instead, the die is cast in the first half-hour. It then takes three hours to reach the inevitable denouement.
Lyric’s production succeeds as a star turn for two fine Verdi interpreters but it just isn’t storytelling that appeals to a 21st Century listener. Perhaps it is time for Lyric to retire this production and find singers and staging that can invest this 140-year-old warhorse with more vigor.
(There are four remaining performance of “Aida” with a second cast, headed by acclaimed Chinese soprano, Hui He, on March 15, 19, 22, 25. For tickets, go to www.lyricopera.org).