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Cue cameras: Metropolitan Opera Live in HD,  come of age, is playing at a cinema near you

Cue cameras: Metropolitan Opera Live in HD, come of age, is playing at a cinema near you

December 16, 2014 – 12:06 pm | No Comment | 505 views

Feature review: The Metropolitan Opera is the most international of houses, but there is something quintessentially American about the Saturday afternoon HD cinema broadcasts that are now part of its marketing arsenal. After attending a performance of “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” at the Met, I caught the same production, broadcast live to cinemas on Dec. 13, starring German baritone Michael Volle as Hans Sachs, the master shoemaker, cobbler of poems and mender of hearts.

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‘Shining City’ at Irish Theatre: Shattering drama for one, encumbered by three extra characters

December 15, 2014 – 7:01 pm | No Comment | 111 views

John (Brad Armacost), alarmed and burdened, seeks help from a therapist in 'Shining City.' (Emily Schwartz)“Shining City” by Conor McPherson, presented by Irish Theatre of Chicago at The Den Theatre, through Jan. 4. ★★★

By Lawrence B. Johnson

For every line Brad Armacost speaks as a grief- and guilt-ridden widower consulting a therapist in Conor McPherson’s “Shining City,” but especially for the prodigious and emotionally wrenching monologue that occupies the center of this 90-minute drama, the production by Irish Theatre of Chicago is greatly to be recommended. For the rest, neither McPherson’s patch-up of a play nor this realization directed by Jeff Christian holds much charm.  Read the full story »

New York Aisle: A tale of two cellists, to say nothing of two thirtysomething conductors

December 12, 2014 – 3:40 pm | No Comment | 171 views
New York Aisle: A tale of two cellists, to say nothing of two thirtysomething conductors

Review: It felt like an affirmation of classical music’s near-term future, the double-header of concerts I heard Dec. 5 at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. The experience was redolent of virtuosity, passion and optimism. There were two brilliant cellists: New York native Alisa Weilerstein, playing the Dvořák Concerto with the New York Philharmonic, and Jean-Guihen Queyras, a Frenchman playing Haydn’s effervescent C major Cello Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Yet no less remarkable were the young conductors.

Hypocrites’ new ‘Pinafore’ adds third dimension to mash-up model of a modern major musical

December 2, 2014 – 4:20 pm | No Comment | 209 views
Hypocrites’ new ‘Pinafore’ adds third dimension  to mash-up model of a modern major musical

Preview: Of all the improbable theatrical cross-cuttings, the inspiration for The Hypocrites’ singers-with-instruments spin on the Gilbert & Sullivan canon may take the prize. The model for artistic director Sean Graney’s rethinking of all that lighter-than-air G&S wackiness was a Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s dark, dark (albeit very funny) musical “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” – where there’s nary a modern major general in sight. On Dec. 5, Graney’s plucky company opens “H.M.S. Pinafore,” then – in repertory – swiftly revives recent Hypocrites productions of “The Mikado” and “The Pirates of Penzance.”

It’s a ‘Shining’ hour for Irish Theatre of Chicago as rechristened troupe debuts with McPherson

November 26, 2014 – 11:10 pm | No Comment | 376 views
It’s a ‘Shining’ hour for Irish Theatre of Chicago as rechristened troupe debuts with McPherson

Preview: When Michael Grant and a group of fellow Chicago actors formed Seanachai Theatre Company back in 1995, the name seemed inspired, exactly apt, a no-brainer. The word seanachai means story-teller in Irish Gaelic, and that’s what this troupe meant to do – stage the rich legacy of stories in the tradition of Irish theater. But after building its own legacy through two decades under the Seanachai banner, the company finally acknowledged that what had seemed obvious was anything but. Behold the renamed Irish Theatre of Chicago, which has its second birth Nov. 28 when the rechristened company makes its season debut with Conor McPherson’s “Shining City.”

New York Aisle: Met’s balanced ‘Klinghoffer’ revealed depth of Adams’ controversial opera

November 22, 2014 – 10:19 am | No Comment | 1,656 views
New York Aisle: Met’s balanced ‘Klinghoffer’  revealed depth of Adams’ controversial opera

Analysis: To sit in the audience at the Metropolitan Opera, where a richly inflected production of John Adams’ 1991 opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” unfolded this fall, was to experience the opera itself coming into focus. “The Death of Klinghoffer” is already a different experience than it was at its Brussels premiere 23 years ago.

‘Porgy and Bess’ at the Lyric Opera: From plenty of nuttin’, a masterpiece rises on Catfish Row

November 19, 2014 – 4:50 pm | No Comment | 895 views
‘Porgy and Bess’ at the Lyric Opera: From plenty  of nuttin’, a masterpiece rises on Catfish Row

Review: The Lyric Opera’s revival of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” is a thing of beauty not to be missed. More than that, it’s a ringing affirmation of this iconic American stage work as a great opera. Bass-baritone Eric Owens empowers Porgy with a voice larger than life yet scales this poor, crippled, yearning character to the credible proportions of a man. His woman, in a fragile union forged from convenience and necessity, is soprano Adina Aaron’s lithe and sexy Bess, vulnerable and gorgeously voiced. ★★★★★

Vienna Aisle: Comedic Muti leaves ’em laughing, and impressed by Chicago Symphony’s finesse

November 6, 2014 – 3:51 pm | No Comment | 921 views
Vienna Aisle: Comedic Muti leaves ’em laughing, and impressed by Chicago Symphony’s finesse

Interview: Habitués of Chicago’s Orchestra Hall have something in common with audiences in Vienna who heard the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s final European tour concerts last week at the Musikverein. They know the droll, often outrageously funny side of the CSO’s artistically exacting music director, Riccardo Muti. But the conductor was all seriousness when he declared the orchestra’s latest European tour a big success.

Vienna Aisle: Happily in tune with CSO, Muti nixes idea of position at Vienna State Opera

November 3, 2014 – 3:43 pm | One Comment | 1,878 views
Vienna Aisle: Happily in tune with CSO, Muti nixes idea of position at Vienna State Opera

Report: When Riccardo Muti says that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is one of the greatest orchestras in the world – as he did before 300 adoring guests in an intimate recital space at the famed Musikverein – the Viennese simply take it in stride. Out of politeness and affection alone they would give him that. Muti has been a favorite in the Austrian musical capital for decades. Curiosity about Muti’s Chicago orchestra was high during the CSO’s weeklong visit capping a five-country European tour. So was speculation whether he might be interested in the biggest music directorship in Vienna, suddenly open. But Muti says Chicago’s enough for him.

Vienna Aisle: Inside reeling mind of Tannhäuser via a bold psychological thriller at the Staatsoper

October 31, 2014 – 4:20 pm | One Comment | 820 views
Vienna Aisle: Inside reeling mind of Tannhäuser via a bold psychological thriller at the Staatsoper

Review: Serendipity delivered me to the Vienna State Opera on Oct. 30 to take in director Claus Guth’s surprising, indeed completely out of the box and captivating production of Wagner’s “Tannhäuser.” It wasn’t just that the Wiener Staatsoper was in play on a night when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra – the object of my week in Vienna – wasn’t performing one of its four concerts at the Musikverein: The opera at hand was “Tannhäuser,” which the Lyric Opera of Chicago will be mounting later this season and which I had not seen in some time. ★★★★

Paris Aisle: Mid-tour, CSO and Riccardo Muti raise a roof with Tchaikovsky and Schumann

October 28, 2014 – 5:10 pm | One Comment | 605 views
Paris Aisle: Mid-tour, CSO and Riccardo Muti raise a roof with Tchaikovsky and Schumann

Report: If the Chicago Symphony Orchestra needed an energy infusion halfway into its current European tour, surely that jolt came with its two concerts at Paris’ Salle Pleyel, where music director Riccardo Muti and company enjoyed ripping ovations from capacity audiences. After single-concert stops in Warsaw, Luxembourg and Geneva, the orchestra settled into Paris for two nights, and the Parisians snapped up every ticket to catch the Chicagoans and their celebrated maestro live. Still ahead is a full week of concerts in Vienna to cap the tour.

New York Aisle: In Kimberly Senior’s Broadway view of ‘Disgraced,’ a man’s long fall is crushing

October 26, 2014 – 4:10 am | No Comment | 553 views
New York Aisle: In Kimberly Senior’s Broadway view of ‘Disgraced,’ a man’s long fall is crushing

Review: Before hitting Broadway, Ayad Akhtar’s “Disgraced” bounded from its starting point at American Theater Company in Chicago to a run at Lincoln Center in New York. All three stagings have been the work of Chicago-based director Kimberly Senior, and the sequence has displayed a steady sharpening of her perspective, an ever firmer grasp on the conflict and torment that push the play and pull its anti-heroic protagonist toward inexorable ruin. The latest incarnation, at New York’s Lyceum Theatre, is nothing short of devastating. ★★★★★

‘Sweeney Todd’ at Porchlight: Indulge yourself with the best meat pie in Chicago; it’s deep dish

October 22, 2014 – 9:25 pm | No Comment | 610 views
‘Sweeney Todd’ at Porchlight: Indulge yourself with the best meat pie in Chicago; it’s deep dish

Review: The demon barber of Fleet Street is a bad one, that’s for sure; and Porchlight Music Theatre has a good one in David Girolmo. But the crucial ingredient of Stephen Sondheim’s macabre musical is that demonic purveyor of meat pies, Mrs. Lovett – and in Rebecca Finnegan, Porchlight boasts a beaut. ★★★★★

New musical ‘Amazing Grace’ recounts the story of perfect storm that redeemed a slave trader

October 19, 2014 – 12:23 am | No Comment | 538 views
New musical ‘Amazing Grace’ recounts the story of perfect storm that redeemed a slave trader

Preview:The acute historical irony is that the hymn “Amazing Grace” — which is the subject of the Broadway-bound musical that opens Oct. 19 at Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre — was written by an English sailor, John Newton, who had prayed in terror during a storm at sea while engaged in the evil of the triangle slave trade.

‘The Cryptogram’ at Profiles: Waiting up for Dad and absorbing a harsh message about life, lies

October 18, 2014 – 8:00 am | No Comment | 701 views
‘The Cryptogram’ at Profiles: Waiting up for Dad and absorbing a harsh message about life, lies

Review: David Mamet’s eerie play “The Cryptogram” is the kind of stage experience that follows you home. Certainly in the wake of a hyper-intense account at Profiles Theatre directed Joe Jahraus, it continues to work on you, this brief, emotionally fraught and fractured tale of a little boy who’s so excited about a promised camping trip with his dad that he can’t sleep. For that matter, neither can his mother, or an old friend of the family who drops in. ★★★

Lyric’s ‘Capriccio’ embraces ensemble flair, patrician milieu of Strauss’ high-minded lark

October 17, 2014 – 7:46 am | Comments Off | 763 views
Lyric’s ‘Capriccio’ embraces ensemble flair, patrician milieu of Strauss’ high-minded lark

Review: To watch Lyric Opera’s “Capriccio” is to put one’s mind inside a blissful dream of wealth and privilege, where the toughest choices facing a glamorous Parisian countess — played by Renée Fleming — concerned which adoring, handsome and talented young man to endow with her philanthropy, and her bed. ★★★★

With fine, broad brush, French troupe paints absurd and logic-challenged world of Ionesco

October 16, 2014 – 4:45 pm | No Comment | 697 views
With fine, broad brush, French troupe paints absurd and logic-challenged world of Ionesco

Review: It was an aha moment, in French. The final madcap flourish of “Ionesco Suite,” the Paris ensemble Théâtre de la Ville’s nonstop 80-minute pastiche drawn from Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist plays, now in a brief run at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, sent my mind reeling back through the decades to my college days. ★★★★

‘The Night Alive’ at Steppenwolf: It’s three guys, girl and thug looking for answers in life’s rubble

October 14, 2014 – 10:26 pm | No Comment | 532 views
‘The Night Alive’ at Steppenwolf: It’s three guys,  girl and thug looking for answers in life’s rubble

Review: At the center of “The Night Alive,” Conor McPherson’s wry and compassionate spin on the human comedy, are three men grappling with life near its baseline. And in Steppenwolf Theatre’s unglossed, touching perspective on the play, these ordinary guys find in each other the redemptive qualities of connection, meaning and purpose. ★★★★

‘Smokefall’ at Goodman: Revisiting a family frayed at seams, blessed with magical hope

October 11, 2014 – 8:28 am | No Comment | 474 views
‘Smokefall’ at Goodman: Revisiting a family frayed at seams, blessed with magical hope

Review: Mike Nussbaum, irrepressible at age 90, is like great Bordeaux wine. Need I amplify that? Chicago’s prince of perdurable actors is the single best reason – among many good ones – to catch Goodman Theatre’s almost-instant revival of “Smokefall,” Noah Haidle’s fine-stitched play about family, its profound fractures and its potential for healing. ★★★★★

‘Lear’ at Chicago Shakespeare: A worthy king rules over concept that Frankly doesn’t sing

October 4, 2014 – 9:33 am | No Comment | 576 views
‘Lear’ at Chicago Shakespeare: A worthy king rules over concept that Frankly doesn’t sing

Review: Were it not for Larry Yando’s crushing turn in the title role, Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s “King Lear” would amount to little more than an ill-advised concept played out by a cast that largely misses both the pulse and the pressure of Shakespeare’s language. Setting aside for the moment this production’s manifold curiosities, at its core reigns the regal figure of Yando, whose portrait of Lear – as imperious fool stripped to his humiliated soul – is an experience not to be missed. ★★★

Dark, funny, musically vibrant ‘Don Giovanni’ raises the curtain on new Lyric Opera season

September 29, 2014 – 5:06 pm | No Comment | 1,178 views
Dark, funny, musically vibrant ‘Don Giovanni’  raises the curtain on new Lyric Opera season

Review: A more appealing cast could hardly have been assembled for Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” than the vocally resplendent, good-looking singers who inhabit the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production and season opener. And for the most part, Mozart’s opera – dramatically dark and musically brilliant — is well served by director Robert Falls’ heated and funny approach to this tale of the world’s most infamous sex addict, whose recklessness and hubris finally bring him all the way down and then some. ★★★★

Muti summons bravura of Tchaikovsky Fourth and elegance of Debussy’s ‘La Mer’ with CSO

September 26, 2014 – 5:24 pm | No Comment | 538 views
Muti summons bravura of Tchaikovsky Fourth  and elegance of Debussy’s ‘La Mer’ with CSO

Review:The crowd went freaking wild at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s whooping finish to Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony under music director Riccardo Muti on Sept. 25 at Orchestra Hall. And understandably so. What a blazer of a performance. But the greater experience was an utterly magical account of Debussy’s “La Mer.”