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At The Opera

A review of “The Magic Flute” at the Lyric

Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” live, produced by one of the world’s foremost opera companies1 It doesn’t get much better than that even though it’s a bone-chilling 4 degrees above zero outside the toasty Civic Opera House. Having seen this opera so many times, its characters are like old friends to me, so I expected that the Lyric singers would at least do justice to their roles. I wasn’t disappointed. There are a number of things to say about the “Flute’s” many singers, but before we get into that I would just like to once again voice my supreme admiration for ...

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A review of the Lyric’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”

  It has been said about theatrical reviewing that if the reporter writes about the directing, sets and whatnot, then the dramatic performances were probably not all that great. But I will say that the Chicago Lyric Opera 2016-17 staging of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” is one of the very best directed and designed productions I have ever seen. At the same time, however, the performance on Tuesday evening, Nov. 1, was sung magnificently, thanks in great part to the Lyric’s wonderful Lucia, soprano Albina Shagimuratova. Solid conducting, choral and instrumental work all combined to make this performance most memorable. ...

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Carmen: The first Verismo opera

  “Carmen” has been in the very first circle of popular operas for over a century. Anyone with any level of interest in the Grand Art should develop some kind of familiarity with it. As it is with all other very beloved operas, first and foremost “Carmen” is loaded from beginning to end with beautiful and memorable music — solo arias, ensembles, choruses — and even a number of purely instrumental passages that are unforgettable. The music is the creation of composer Georges Bizet, who unfortunately died young (at 36), and before he knew what a triumph “Carmen” had become. ...

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The story behind Bellini’s “Norma”

  On one occasion when Maria Callas was asked which was her favorite operatic role, she said she had two — Violetta, from Verdi’s “La traviata” and the title role from Bellini’s “Norma.” When you think about it, it is hard to imagine two more dramatically and psychologically different characters — the emotionally vulnerable and sickly Violetta, forced to be what she is by the callous “man’s world” that is Paris, and Norma, the super-powerful Druid priestess, who can decide peace or war for her people, and life or death for her subordinate priestesses. It is indicative of the soprano’s ...

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The story behind “Lucia di Lammermoor”

  Ever since its première at the Teatro San Carlo on Sept. 26, 1835, “Lucia di Lammermoor” has held a firm position in the standard opera repertoire. For one thing, it’s Gaetano Donizetti’s greatest musical masterpiece, chock full of brilliant pieces from beginning to end, all brightly colored by the composer’s creative orchestration. For another, the text was very cleverly adapted by Salvatore Cammarano, whom Verdi declared to be the best librettist in Italy, from the 1819 novel, “The Bride of Lammermoor” by Sir Walter Scott, himself no slouch when it came to spinning a tale or turning a phrase. ...

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Chorus shines in Lyric’s “Nabucco”

The real star of “Nabucco” is the chorus, and conductor Carlo Rizzi clearly understands this, as he gave the celebrated body their head. And under the direction of Chorus Master Michael Black, they sang more exuberantly than ever, thrilling the jam-packed Civic Opera house audience that braved single-digit temperatures to see the opera that launched Verdi’s career as the King of Italian Opera. Again and again, the chorus, if Hebrews, Babylonians or whatever, made the very most of each choral number. And they were consistently excellent whether singing distinctly as a chorus, like the famous Act III, scene ii “Va, ...

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How “Nabucco” changed Verdi’s life

  Giuseppe Verdi’s “Nabucco” is one of the most significant works of art ever created. Not only is its impact historic in launching Verdi’s successful career as an opera composer and so decidedly affecting the direction of Romantic opera, but it clearly had a historic impact on Italy and European politics. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine what Europe might look like even today if “Nabucco” had not been staged at La Scala in March 1842. Perhaps the greatest miracle of “Nabucco” was that it was the work of a very troubled young composer — certainly a talented man, but ...

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Lyric delivers rousing rendition of “Cinderella”

  Going back many years, it is hard to remember a Lyric Opera production that fired on all cylinders so marvelously as on the October 23rd performance of “Cinderella.” (No doubt for marketing purposes Lyric calls Rossini’s comic opera “Cinderella” instead of its original, commonly known title, “La cenerentola.”) During the time I have been reporting on the many productions of operas at Lyric, I have never shied away from pointing out (and occasionally discussing “ad nauseum”) various weaknesses in the musical or dramatic presentations, but in this “Cinderella” I was extremely pleased to find only hearty strengths in every ...

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Lyric delivers stellar “Figaro”

  In nearly 30 years of reviewing opera for this and other columns, never have I been so carried away by the euphoria of experiencing this great art being professionally performed. But the other night, Aass I listened to Mozart’s brilliant overture, played by a group of first-class musicians, I was struck by how lucky we are to have the Chicago Lyric Opera to go to for performances of opera at the highest artistic level. Oh, sure, there’s room for criticism — mainly that Mozart scored the roles of Figaro and the Count for basses, and the Lyric used baritones, ...

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“La Cenerentola” at the Lyric

  “From rags to riches” has been an extremely common literary theme since literacy began. One of its most popular variations is the “Cinderella” story, which itself has spawned oodles of variations. I myself created one such variation, a one-act musical play for my mostly African-American high school students with a pro football twist back in the ’70s. By far the best-known Cinderella tale is that of the Brothers Grimm, with the mean stepmother, two nasty stepsisters and a Fairy Godmother. In Rossini’s opera of 1817 (libretto by Jacopo Feretti) the stepmother is replaced by Don Magnifico, a stepfather, and ...

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