Monday, March 16, 2015

Lyric Opera of Chicago's 2015-2016 Season

     As spring dawns every year, the world of opera and classical music begin to present the following season's fares for the benefit of audience members who wish to plan their entertainment pursuits for the future. This spring is no exception, and Lyric Opera of Chicago recently made its 2015-2016 season announcement. The new season runs from September 26, 2015, to May 22, 2016, but it is only filled with nine productions. If productions are filled with casting gems and exciting works, this is a winning strategy for audiences who may wish to view a different cast in a production or who loved the production design enough to merit a second viewing. It seems very much an approach that favors quality over quantity, and I must say it has its merits.

     The new season begins with Mozart's classic Le Nozze di Figaro, an adored work by audiences everywhere. Though some will object to the length of the opera, and I respectfully count myself among these astute observers, it provides all of the ingredients a company desires in the possibility of a beloved triumph. All that remains for the company is to give it a stellar cast and a decent production. Since it opens the season, Mozart's comedy receives a new production by Barbara Gaines, and it features a cast anchored by Luca Pisaroni as the wary Count. To my knowledge, at least, here is where the recognition ends, for this production also features the Lyric debuts of two European singers with whom I am unfamiliar, who are Adam Plachetka as Figaro and Christiane Karg as Susanna. Amanda Majeski, plays the steadfast Countess, and Rachel Frenkel, also making her debut with Lyric, portrays the page who is smitten with love, Cherubino. Henrik Nanasi takes the podium.

     Next in the season comes Rossini's La Cenerentola, and this is a run of performances I should not want to miss if I was near Chicago between October 4-30 later this year. Mezzo Isabel Leonard has lately been traveling with this fairytale princess to various houses around the world, and I believe she delivers one of the finest all-around performances of this character. She is joined by tenor Lawrence Brownlee in the role of Prince Ramiro, and this is, surprisingly, his Lyric debut. I have had the pleasure of seeing him perform live, and his voice is exquisite in these Rossini gems. Veteran baritone Alessandro Corbelli rounds out the cast as Don Magnifico, and Sir Andrew Davis leads the orchestra. Let us pause a moment to revel in Leonard's glorious talent.


     Progressing forward, we find Alban Berg's Wozzeck scheduled to open November 1, 2015. Wozzeck was once an opera one could rarely have opportunity to see, but it seems audiences have warmed to it a bit. It features an intense story and very layered characters. For this production Lyric brings German soprano Angela Denoke into the cast as Marie, and this has been a rather frequent role in her career, for she has sung it in Paris, Barcelona, London, and New York. Tomasz Konieczsy makes his Lyric Opera debut as the title character, and Gerhard Siegel also debuts as the Captain, but he and Denoke have performed this opera opposite each other in Barcelona in 2006, I believe. For the difficulty of the music, Wozzeck's tale may more than equate a reason to see this new production by Sir David McVicar. Sir Andrew Davis conducts this, as well.

     Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow makes its opening in the 2015-2016 Lyric Opera season on November 14, 2015. Following very mixed reviews from audiences and a very gentle review from The New York Times for the Metropolitan Opera's New Year's Eve gala slot for it, soprano Renee Fleming takes the role of Hanna to Chicago to see if audiences appreciate it any more there. For those who have been visitors to my blog for a decent amount of time or who are acquainted with me through social media, it comes as no surprise that Renee Fleming remains my favorite soprano. Do I wish that she would cease to sing these operetta roles? No, I do not wish as much entirely. I simply wish that she would add some other role in addition to this relatively easy one to her season. Of course, she is on Broadway at the moment, so I suppose I must be content. As I consider it, is there anything she cannot do if she sets her mind to it? I think not. There are things she ought not to attempt again, but that is beside the point. She is one of the most diverse artists in opera, and she never ceases to impress me with new insights and revisiting previous roles I have long adored in her voice. Joining Fleming in this work are baritone Thomas Hampson, a thoroughly erudite and thoughtful artist, tenor Patrick Carfizzi, and soprano Heidi Stober. Soprano Elizabeth Futral replaces Renee later in the run. Sir Andrew Davis conducts here, as well. It shall be interesting to see how this production deals with the challenges of the Met's new one from Susan Stroman and if the performances garner a greater degree of praise from the public and the press.

     Running from December 7, 2015, to January 17th, 2016, is the world premiere of Jimmy Lopez's Bel Canto, which is based on Ann Patchett's novel of the same title. Set in South America, the story begins during a vice president's birthday party. Famed American opera singer Roxanne Cross is performing for the affair, but terrorists seize the vice president's mansion. Roxanne, a Japanese electronics company chairman, and an interpreter are kept hostage since the president is not in attendance of this celebration, and romance blossoms under captivity. Danielle de Niese stars as the heroine, but do any of my readers share my wish that Renee might have given the premiere of this role? It does make sense since author Patchett, who is a close friend of Renee's in actual life, based Roxanne Cross on Fleming herself. Nevertheless, de Niese provides a marvelous draw to what otherwise might be an overlooked work of the modern canon. Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and mezzo-soprano J'nai Bridges help fill this cast with attraction for at least my interest.

     As he should in any opera season, Verdi also graces the Lyric stage with Nabucco, running from January 23 to February 16, 2016. Celebrated Verdi baritone Zeljko Lucic takes the stage as Nabucco. Soprano Tatiana Serjan, a voice with which I am unacquainted, stars as Abigaille, and mezzo soprano Elizabeth DeShong returns to Chicago as Fenena in this new co-production shared between La Scala, the Royal Opera Covent Garden, and the Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona. Carlo Rizzi leads the orchestra for one of Verdi's perhaps lesser known operas.

     For its penultimate production of the 2015-2016 season, Lyric Opera of Chicago has elected to mount Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, another opera some audiences may find rather too lengthy, but this time I am not among them. Oktavian has become the focus of this opera in recent years, and this is made even more apparent in the fact that this company has booked not one, but two star mezzo sopranos to fill this role. Both Sophie Koch and Alice Coote have been assigned to this beloved trouser role, and Amanda Majeski returns as the Marschallin. Bass Matthew Rose, a rather unknown star to me, sings Baron Ochs while tenor Rene Barbera cameos as the Italian Singer. Soprano Christina Landshamer makes her Lyric Opera debut as Sophie. The cast is led by Edward Gardner at the podium, who also makes his debut as maestro of the Lyric Opera Orchestra.

     In a production that is new to Chicago audiences, Bartlett Sher gives us his interpretation of Charles Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, and this may include the best cast of the season in my opinion. Joseph Calleja sings Romeo, the young man in love with soprano Susanna Phillips's Juliette, a young maiden of a rival family. My first impression is that these two shall make a tenderly affectionate and devoted stage couple about whom the world as they know it falls around them as their mutual attraction and feelings for each other become known. Tenor Eric Cutler will later step into the role of Romeo, which will be a most interesting contrast, I believe. Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn sings Friar Laurence, a role sometimes almost carelessly forgotten, and mezzo soprano Marianne Crebassa makes her Lyric Opera debut as Stephano. Emmanuel Villaume leads the orchestra in this tragic tale of forbidden love.

     Presently, no single tickets are being sold, but, if you reside in the Chicago area, subscriptions for the forthcoming season are available. Student discount tickets are also available for a mere twenty dollars, and Lyric also has a rush ticket program, as well. The 2015-2016 season promises to be a pleasant and perhaps even surprising one in Chicago, and I would urge anyone to try to schedule a visit for a weekend of opera in this glorious city. As ever, my gratitude remains for your continued reading, and I pray that all of you may be continually blessed.

--Tyler.
Henrik NánásiHen
Henrik Nánási
Henrik Nánási
Henrik Nánási

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