From left: The scene at the Lyric Opera’s opening night on Friday; Vince Vaughn and his mother, Sharon Vaughn, arrive at the CSO’s performance on Saturday. For more photos, check out the galleries in the related items below.
It was a big weekend for floor-length sparkly gowns and penguin suits—some accessorized with swooping capes, torn from the racks of Phantoms ‘R’ Us. On Friday, the Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its season with Verdi’s Macbeth, and on Saturday, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra honored its first official year with Maestro Riccardo Muti at the helm with a one-night only performance and ball. But the weekend wasn’t without its little hiccups, with or without a glass of Champagne. A tip of the top hat goes to Chicago Shakespeare Theater Artistic Director Barbara Gaines (in her Lyric directorial debut) and the rock-star violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter (pulling double duty as soloist and conductor after Muti fell ill unexpectedly) for being the champions of the celebrations.
Gaines and her team, including set designer James Noone and costume whiz Virgil Johnson, managed to make one of Verdi’s less memorable operas appear out of this world. Simply put, hearing Macbeth sung in Italian is weird, so why bother making the stage look like Scotland? As Gaines explained to me in a recent interview, the story of Macbeth is timeless, so the look—to a certain extent—has few boundaries. The steel castle, which intentionally resembles the Pritzker Pavilion, imprisons the madness. Lady Macbeth, played by soprano Nadja Michael, slinks around in clingy dresses with plunging necklines. (I couldn’t stop thinking of J. Lo and this ensemble.) But the men couldn’t escape the Braveheart mullets. Two out of three ain’t bad.
At the CSO on Saturday, we were biting our nails. At 7:30, thirty minutes after the scheduled start time, the stage was empty. What was causing the delay? The audience let out a collective gasp when it heard the news: Muti had a serious tummy ache and wouldn’t be able to conduct. Concertmaster Robert Chen and Mutter gracefully stepped in to provide some guidance, but the podium was removed. Chen didn’t have as much of a challenge with the evening’s first piece, a well-rehearsed Mozart symphony, but Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D with Mutter was riskier. Stern-browed Mutter, looking like Linda Hamilton circa Terminator 2 (but in a black ball gown dusted with poppies), attacked the fast movements like a chef whisking eggs whites. Even at its softest, her sound cuts through to the back of the auditorium; at its loudest, it, well, terminates you. The performance wasn’t flawless (I only noticed the flub ups when a musician pointed them out to me), but it was, without a doubt, energetic and exciting. Muti, the new brain of the operation, was missed, but the CSO proved that it’s a fully functioning organism—with a fiercely beating heart.