2010 Chicago Opera Guide
High Notes: With February comes the height of opera season. To help you navigate the city’s expanding scene, we charted eight companies by ticket price and risk factor
1. CHAMBER OPERA CHICAGO
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of $30 must be in want of anything starring Mr. Darcy. At least that’s what the artistic director, Barbara Landis, is counting on for the Chicago premiere of Pride and Prejudice: The New Musical. Landis, who took over the 25-year-old company five years ago, has cast Nick Sandys as Fitzwilliam Darcy, a smart choice considering the local Brit has experience playing proud but charming men: In 2005, he starred as Darcy in Northlight Theatre’s play adaptation of Austen’s novel, and last year, he enchanted audiences as Henry Higgins in Light Opera Works’ My Fair Lady.
GO: Pride and Prejudice runs Feb. 27th and Mar. 6th-7th at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave.; chamberoperachicago.org
2. CHICAGO FOLKS OPERETTA
Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow is one of the world’s most widely performed operettas, but until 2006, most of his other work collected dust in a London publishing house. That’s when the husband-and-wife team Gerald Frantzen and Alison Kelly launched CFO and made it their mission to revive treasures from the golden age of Viennese operetta by translating them into English. Last July’s performance of Lehár’s Cloclo was the company’s largest ($25,000) and most successful adult production to date. This summer marks the American premiere of Emmerich Kálmán’s final operetta, Arizona Lady.
GO: This May, for children, CFO presents an 1888 version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by the Chicago composer George F. Root. See chicagofolksoperetta.org for dates.
3. SOUTH SHORE OPERA COMPANY
When the Chicago native Marvin Lynn witnessed a lack of opera in his South Side community, he set out to remove the number one barrier: cost. The year-old company provides a stage for local African American talent, such as the Northwestern graduate Joelle Lamarre, whose voice Lynn describes as a “young Leontyne Price.” This month’s free performance spotlights songs and arias from African American composers such as William Grant Still, James Weldon Johnson, and Scott Joplin.
GO: Feb. 27th at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Dr.; southshoreopera.org
4. DA CORNETO OPERA
The general manager, Kelli Finn, and her husband, Álvaro Ramírez, the artistic director, founded this group for the development of singers’ voices. It’s strictly concert opera, but with an impressive 50-piece orchestra at its bigger shows. Next up is Gounod’s Faust in July (assuming financing doesn’t hold up the production again). In the meantime, you can hear the singers every third Friday of the month at Via Veneto Ristorante Italiano.
GO: Feb. 19th at Via Veneto Ristorante Italiano, 6340 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-267-0888, dacorneto.org. Free at Via Veneto; $25 for performances.
5. LYRIC OPERA OF CHICAGO
Only an 800-pound gorilla with a $54 million annual budget could carry out Wagner’s 16-hour Ring cycle, and Lyric’s monumental undertaking in 2005 ranks high. This month’s anticipated new production of Berlioz’s rarely staged The Damnation of Faust promises another epic journey—but in fewer than three hours. Last year, the Metropolitan Opera mounted its own lavish multimedia production to rave reviews; here, the technological pressure falls upon the Chicago-based projections designer John Boesche. Can he outdo the Met? In any case, the casting soars: Luscious mezzo-soprano Susan Graham stars as Marguerite, a role she nailed in New York.
GO: The Damnation of Faust runs Feb. 20th-Mar. 17th at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker. Also this month: The Elixir of Love thru Feb. 22nd. lyricopera.org
6. CHICAGO OPERA THEATER
Since joining COT in 1999, the general director, Brian Dickie, has snatched a score of high-profile Chicago premieres (Britten’s Death in Venice, Adams’s Nixon in China)—no small feat for a company operating on $2.8 million a year. The staging is economical, which directs the audience’s attention to the young singers Dickie plucks from the cusp of international stardom. This season’s bright new voice: the mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, a graduate of the Met’s young artist development program, who stars as Medea in Giasone this April. But Dickie can rope in the big names, too. The legendary mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade stars in May in Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers, a part the composer wrote for her.
GO: The next shows, Mosè in Egitto and Giasone, are in April. See chicagooperatheater.org for dates and ticket prices.
7. CHICAGO OPERA VANGUARD
In 2008, the artistic director, Eric Reda, began trumpeting COV as Chicago’s “newest, hippest opera company.” Since then, he’s hosted four new operas, including the Chicago premiere of Greek, a modern retelling of Oedipus the King by the CSO composer-in-residence Mark-Anthony Turnage. In February, Reda produces the first U.S. staging of Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise.
GO: Winterreise runs March 5th-21st at the Menomonee Club, 1535 N. Dayton St.; chicagovanguard.org
8. OPERA CABAL
The artistic director, Majel Connery, and the music director, Nicholas DeMaison, aspire to bulldoze opera’s definition—think four minutes of prerecorded singing in a 40-minute chamber piece. The spunky four-year-old troupe recently commissioned USW, an auditory and visual smorgasbord composed by the Oberlin professor Lewis Nielson and loosely based on the life of the Polish-German socialist Rosa Luxemburg. Habib Azar, whose first feature film debuted last month at Sundance, directs this genre-bending spectacle that features silent actors and fragmentary videos (World War I scenes, vintage porn) that are projected onto three large screens.
GO: USW runs Feb. 19th-20th at Curtiss Hall, 410 S. Michigan Ave.; operacabal.blogspot.com
Photography: (from top) Chase Agnello-Dean/5th Floor Photography, Donald Hampton, Peter Bell, Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera, Kristen Loken/Courtesy of San Francisco Opera, Laura Kastner