Tony Schmony

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The Tony Awards were announced today, and unlike last year, when Steppenwolf‘s August:  Osage County nominations and the Best Regional Theatre award for Chicago Shakespeare Theatre made them look like Chicago’s own Jeff Awards, there aren’t going to be any honors coming our way this year.  The Goodman Theatre‘s divisive Desire Under the Elms got zero nominations.  It seemed like everyone in the theater blogosphere was touting a nomination for Carla Gugino for Best Lead Actress in a Play (and I really thought she made that play soar, despite the boulders, the incongruous Bob Dylan song, the fake pig slaughter, and the flying house, design elements I wasn’t particularly enamored of), but she failed to score a nomination.  In fairness to her, this year’s Best Lead Actress in a Play category is probably the most competitive I’ve seen in my Tony-watching years, with Jane Fonda triumphantly returning to Broadway after 46 years in Moises Kaufmann’s 33 Variations, fellow Academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harden and her co-star Hope Davis shining in the new Yasmin Reza play God of Carnage, and Harriet Walter and Janet McTeer memorably recreating their award-winning London performances in the revival of Mary Stuart.  Yep, Carla didn’t stand a chance.  In case any one cares, the musical version of Billy Elliot led the nominations pack with 15.  Here is the complete list of Tony nominees this year:  http://www.playbill.com/news/article/128922.html

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Tune Up

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cot-tito.jpgWhew, it has been one of those weeks – the ones when I’m helplessly entangled in ear-numbing back-to-back conference calls and when my work email box is a scarlet cesspool of unopened messages.  So on hump day, what better way to clear the mind, refresh the soul, and acquire that second wind to finish the week off with an accomplished bang, then say, go to the opera?  On Wednesday, I attended a performance of Chicago Opera Theatre’s (COT) season opener, a production of Mozart’s rarely-performed (well, at least in Chicago) final opera, La Clemenza di Tito.  I’m a big, big champion of COT, and regardless of what either purists or opera newbies may say, one thing you will never be at a COT opera is bored.  Under Jane Glover’s sterling baton, Mozart’s music, sometimes unfamiliar, mostly resonant, just soared.  The singing was gorgeous, with a powerful musical and dramatic performance from Renata Pokupic, as Sesto, the male would-be assassin and almost-too-close-friend of the Emperor Tito (this role is traditionally played by females).  She absolutely nailed Sesto’s intense, androgynous look, as well as played very delicately the character’s ambisexual notes (Pokupic was appropriately smoldering whether clinging to Vitellia’s leg or draped over the Emperor’s lap).   And her singing was impeccable.   The production was directed by the acclaimed opera director Christopher Alden, who, unfortunately, had been banished from the Lyric Opera after scandalizing the blue hairs with a risqué, modern-day adaptation of Rigoletto in the early 2000s (I can’t seem to find a review of that production, however, Google-friendly my fingers are).  And his Tito production was genius at times, and the equivalent of opera lardon at others.  I loved the way he directed Vitellia, the Lady Macbeth-like nemesis of the Emperor, like a B-movie silent film actress from the 1920s, emphasizing her mercurial theatricality and her delusional image of herself being more powerful than she really was (and Amanda Majeski sang the role beautifully- both tragic and infuriating at the same time).  But Vitellia’s mad-scene at the end of the opera was hammier and schlockier than a Paula Dean pork dish (I was expecting Vitellia to roll around in a bed of collard greens).  The design aesthetic was jaw dropping:  marble walls, hexagonal chandeliers, a red carpet, a velvet rope line, drapy costumes ala 1970s Halston, the whole look was an exciting, sexy Gloria Gaynor-meets-Spartacus‘-subliminal-gay chic take on the Roman empire.  But I didn’t really understand how the design illuminated, complemented, or deepened Tito’s themes of merciful exercise of power and the true nature of leadership.  I thought the design was fun to look at…but how relevant was it?  And I certainly didn’t understand the costuming of the chorus, who were in vaguely campy ‘70s outfits (including tacky-looking purses!), white masks, and on some of them, bandanas.  I thought I was watching a Pasolini movie set in an Italian Wal-mart.  Again, visually intriguing, but what was the point?  I thought Dominic Armstrong as Tito sang really well, but was dramatically weak, although I wondered whether it was mostly because of how he was directed – his Tito looked like a bundle of shattered nerves, shuffling tentatively and aimlessly through his citizens, whenever he wasn’t singing (then, he became powerful and authoritative).   La Clemenza di Tito was an interesting show, so I wished all its elements had come together better.  It’s still very much worth seeing though (and I’ll take a night at COT anytime over a night at the other opera company in the city).  Tonight is the last performance of La Clemenza di Tito at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Drive.

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