Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera's 2009-2010 Season

September 26 2009- January 29 2010: Tosca
October 5- November 7 2009: Faust
October 27- November 23 2009: Ernani
November 22- Deceumber 12 2009: Katya Kabanova
December 5 2009- January 16 2010: The Merry Widow
January 23- February 22 2010: L'Elisir d'Amore
February 20- March 17 2010: La Damnation de Faust
February 28- March 27 2010: Le Nozze di Figaro

René Pape and Kyle Ketelsen share the role of Mephistopheles in Faust. Salvatore Licitra sings opposite of Sondra Radvanovsky in Ernani. Karita Mattila will sing the title-role of Katya Kabanova. Susan Graham, Paul Groves and John Relyea star in La Damnation. Le Nozze features Joyce DiDonato and Mariusz Kwiecien.

Tribune Article | Official Site

Lyric Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 27- October 31 2008: Manon
October 6- November 4 2008: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
November 7-30 2008: Lulu
November 18- December 19 2008: Porgy and Bess
December 13 2008- January 29 2009: Madama Butterfly
January 19- February 28 2009: Tristan und Isolde
February 14- March 27 2009: Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci
March 2-28 2009: Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Lyric Opera of Chicago announced their 2008-2009 season this morning. Natalie Dessay will be singing Manon, Nathan Gunn will be Zurga in Les Pêcheurs de Perles, William Burden is Alwa in Lulu, Patricia Racette sings Butterfly, and Dolora Zajick stars in Cavalleria. The Tristan und Isolde production is the Hockney one from Los Angeles, which is being performed this season, and was at San Francisco last season. Deborah Voigt will be singing Isolde with Clifton Forbis as Tristan. Juha Uusitalo is having his Lyric Opera debut as Kurwenal. Francesca Zambello's production Porgy and Bess from Washington National Opera is also coming to San Francisco, and was performed in Los Angeles last year.

Press Release [PDF] | Lyric Opera Site

La Traviata at Lyric Opera

Chicagolatraviata* Notes *
Every performance of La Traviata has been sold-out at Lyric Opera of Chicago this January. I was unconvinced I could finagle a ticket for yesterday's matinée, as
craigslist only had people who wanted tickets and Lyric Opera does not have standing room. Yesterday the Lyric Opera site still had the warning "Individual tickets will not be available for the January performances of La traviata due to subscriber purchases and exchanges," but did say to call about tickets for the day's performance. It turned out I could not buy a ticket on the telephone, as I am not a subscriber, so I did go down to the box office in person and did not have a problem getting a ticket.

Renée Fleming seemed to be the reason for the sold-out performances, as she has not sung in an opera at Lyric for 5 years. Personally, I had found Ms. Fleming rather overrated, her intonation was poor as Rodelinda and she seemed distant as Tatiana. Also, I thought it a bit ambitious for someone to take on such a vast array of roles, it seems unlikely for anyone to be able to sing both Baroque and Romantic music really well, at least, in the same part of her career. In Act I of La Traviata, Fleming had a few wobbles, but sang "Ah, fors' è lui" beautifully until she inverted herself on the couch. I did not like her rendition of "Sempre libera," her arrpegios were unclear.

The second half, however, was nearly perfect. Matthew Polenzani (Alfredo) sang "De' miei bollenti spiriti" with great tenderness. There were a few times the orchestra overwhelmed him, but on the whole he gave a good performance. Thomas Hampson acted and sang the role of Giorgio Germont quite convincingly, the body-language in his refusal to embrace Violetta was particularly good. His aria "Di Provenza il mar" was one of the best of the performance.

Back to Ms. Fleming, she seemed much more engaged in this role than the others I had heard her in, her voice was laden with emotion, but still was perfectly in tune. Her acting was also fine, going from flirty minx to dying martyr in three acts without missing a beat.

The chorus was good save for a few seconds when the men were just slightly off from the orchestra in Act II Scene 2. The tambourine playing by some female choral members, in the same scene, was not confident. I am not sure why singers are made to do percussion, one would never make percussionists sing.

Desmond Heeley's set and costumes were traditional through and through. Fleming looked prettier in the light green dress of Act II Scene 2 than in the red velvet in Act I. The scene change in Act II took people by surprise, and an usher had to yell into the crowd that it was not an intermission. Also, I believe something went awry in the lighting of Act II Scene 1, when Germont is singing about how Violetta is still young and beautiful. A light in the garden background turned off and on a few times.

* Tattling *
The first balcony is preferable to the ground floor, the sound is better and the way the seats are arranged is such that one's view remains unobstructed by others. I noticed the dress of the audience was as relaxed as in San Francisco, I saw evening gowns and heels, but jeans and sneakers too. A woman in front of me clipped and filed one of her nails before the performance, which I have never seen before.

Audience members were noiser toward the beginning, a woman behind me pointed out the dancers to someone else rather loudly. For the most part, people only whispered, though some female adolescents did make a good deal of noise getting out their gum during the music. Apparently one of these girls knew the couple of older Russian ladies next to her, and was offered some chocolates during the second intermission. In order to eat the chocolates, she took out her gum, placed it on her finger to save it, ate the chocolate, and then put the gum back into her mouth. It was strangely endearing and horrifying at the same time.

Doctor Atomic at Lyric Opera

Dratomicchicago* Notes *
Doctor Atomic had its last performance this season at Lyric Opera of Chicago yesterday. The first half of the opera seemed much like what audiences saw in San Francisco two years ago, besides a few minor changes in the libretto and a soprano as Kitty Oppenheimer, instead of a mezzo. I had been warned that Act II was rather different, but looking at the synopsis, it certainly did not look like it would be a change in plot. Indeed, it was not, though the roles of Kitty and Pasqualita were expanded, there was more furniture, the crib was not under the bomb, and some of the choreography was changed. Even with the revisions, Act I was stronger than Act II, especially since the aria at the end of the first act, "Batter my heart, three person'd God," is particularly good. In Act II, the chorus singing "At the sight of this, your Shape stupendous" made an impression, though I find the use of the text from the Bhagavad Gita a bit boggling.

For the first half, the singing was somewhat hard for me to hear unless the singers were downstage, but I believe this was mostly due to my location in the house, off to the right and on the ground floor. When I moved toward the center after intermission, the sound improved. Richard Paul Fink was recovering from a cold, but sang Teller quite audibly and acted well. I especially love his line "The only saviors are the ham sandwiches and hot coffee," which Fink delivered with a certain archness. Jessica Rivera was convincing as Kitty Oppenheimer, though I found her voice more pleasant in her lower range. Meredith Arwady sang Pasqualita beautifully, the contralto sounded perfectly in control. Gerald Finley remained very much in the character of Oppenheimer.

The choreography annoyed me much more this time around. It was often too literal and inelegant. Oppenheimer practically mimed John Donne's words in "Batter my heart, three person'd God."

The sound coming out of the speakers at the back of the ground level was deafening, I wish I had known it would be so loud, for I would have chosen different seats or brought ear plugs. When I left the opera house I felt that strange sensation of not being able to hear exactly normally, feeling like a membrane has grown over one's ear canal.

* Tattling *
Civic Opera House is the coldest one I have been to, at least as far as the ground floor lobby is concerned. However, the colorful style is quite charming.

The pre-opera lecture was by the librettist himself, the flamboyant Peter Sellars. He discussed the Greek origins of opera, the texts used in Doctor Atomic, the history of the characters, and a rundown of what would happen during the performance. He warned the audience that "Act II is something you will really hate. It is incomprehensible and too long. Opera is the last thing in America that is too long and you can't do anything about it."

The person sitting next to me arrived only a little before the curtain rose. Somehow he placed his coat on half of my backrest, and seemed utterly bewildered that a person was sitting in his coat's seat when he saw me on it at the end of Act I. The person in front of me had his elbow almost on my knee, and when he finally moved it, it was to draw his companion to him so that their heads completely blocked my view of the stage. Said companion had bathed in perfume, and I was apparently allergic to it, as I had to suppress sniffles and coughs until I could get fresh air during intermission. Thankfully the people on my other side left after intermission, so I was able to escape both coat and perfume.

The couple behind me had never been to the opera before and had been expecting something "more like Les Mis." The young man expressed disappointment in opera as a form, he thought there would be "songs" instead of "sing-talking." I was overcome with glee at this, and wanted to tell him that Doctor Atomic is not a paragon exemplar of opera, but was able to control myself. Perhaps they thought since the opera was in English that somehow it would be "opera-lite."

Idle Soprano Gossip

BirdAs you might remember, Angela Gheorghiu (Magda in La Rondine) was fired by  Lyric this season. A little bird told me that Ms. Gheorghiu is very nice and not a diva at all. I heard from someone else that she might have been a little testy about her lodging. It was also suggested that she is like her name, angelic.

More entertainingly, I heard that Georgina Lukács (Lady Macbeth in Macbeth), is as disagreeable as her voice. Slaps and spitting were mentioned. I'll certainly think of this when I listen to her tonight.

Opening of Manon Lescaut

Manon* Notes *
Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of Manon Lescaut opened with a matinee performance yesterday. The production, designed by Frank Philipp Schlössmann, was completely traditional, rather unlike the 2004 Der Fliegende Holländer, which was the last Lyric production to come here.

This production, taken as a whole, has been my favorite thus far this season, and I cannot say it is because of Puccini's music, which I do not find particularly lyrical. Puccini's third opera is chock-full of different musical ideas, features a bizarrely disjointed plot, but somehow it came together beautifully. Donald Runnicles conducted well and with great sensitivity, he will be sorely missed when his tenure ends in 2009. Karita Mattila's voice was ravishing in the title role, so sweet and girlish at the beginning and filled with desperation at the end. Tenor Misha Didyk also sang well as Des Grieux, passionately and with enough volume and control. However, his diction was not always clear. John Hancock (Lescaut) and Eric Halfvarson (Geronte) both seemed competent, both vocally and dramatically.

The most obvious flaw in the production was the minuet, the music was there, but the dance seemed to consist of Mattila making curtsies as everyone else sits in a circle around her. Mattila looked awkward in the whole of Act II, she holds her head a bit too forward and her movements seemed somewhat erratic. Manon is supposed to be bored, but the fidgeting was excessive.

* Tattling *
Stanford professor Giancarlo Aquilanti gave a somewhat maniacal talk before the performance, declaring that Puccini was politically incorrect and that Des Grieux was a loser. Definitely worth hearing, Aquilanti certainly wasn't dull. He talked over most of his musical examples and seemed entirely smitten with Puccini.

The opera house looked completely full, and there were no latecomers of note, people were much more well-behaved than usual. The only annoyance of the performance were a couple who got up in-between Acts III and IV to stretch their legs, even though there was no intermission at this point. This should have been clear from the program and from the fact that Runnicles was still in the pit, baton aloft. Unfortunately, they didn't return to their seats before the music began again, and the ushers did not allow them to sit. Thus, we in standing room were left to hear them complain aloud during the music.