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.

April Showers, No…Snow

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aprilshowers.jpgLast Sunday evening, in what was supposedly spring in Chicago, as I miserably waited for the train to arrive on the Brown Line platform, pelted by freezing rain and snow, standing in slush, I wondered what kind of perfect past life (maybe filled with warm, tropical breezes, constant sunlight, and boys in thongs?) did I have that I should be paying for it in this life.  The weather for the rest of the month may continue to be unseasonably cold, but the city’s performing arts scene is continuing to warm up and sizzle, with tons of major theater and music events to go to.  As my monthly public service announcement to my avid blog readers, I’m giving a preview of the noteworthy performances and events I’m planning to go to in the month of April.

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Sprinting to the end of Spring

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The long Memorial Day weekend is coming up, and many theater companies are sprinting towards the finish line of their respective seasons, so there are a lot of plays currently running on Chicago’s stages.  I thought I’d be able to publish, on a semi-regular basis, the list of upcoming performances I was planning to go to, but it just hasn’t happened, since I had to first keep up with actually being able to go to the theatre with the numerous selections on view (plus my day-and-night consulting job got really busy over the past couple of weeks).  For my dear blog readers clamoring for guidance on what to see next, here are some options to consider (and I’d love to hear what folks think after I post on them): Read the rest of this entry »

Rock Me Amadeus…and Bill too!

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don-giovanni-cot.jpgChicago’s top tier arts companies are continuing with their mostly successful efforts to reinvent and reinvigorate classic works in theater and opera (and maybe draw in younger, broader, non-traditional audiences, but more on that later) by framing them within distinctive, imaginative, unexpected “high-concepts”.  For me, the pinnacle of this trend so far this year has been the Court Theater’s Titus Andronicus, which I raved about here, where the Shakespearian tragedy was performed as part of the initiation rite for an elite, Skulls and Bones-type, secret society for young men.  Over the past week, I went to see productions re-conceptualized in a similar manner:  the Chicago Opera Theater‘s version of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, set in an, ahem, S and M club; and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater‘s play-within-a-play production of The Comedy of Errors, in which a British film company in the 1940s is filming well, The Comedy of Errors, while London is being bombed by the Nazis.  Both productions, although still not surpassing the Titus Andronicus benchmark for how successfully a re-conceptualization of a classic piece can provide fresh, relevant, multi-layered insights, are spectacular, and particularly in the case of Don Giovanni, quite the cocktail party conversation starter.

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