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Tour is a tour is a tour? Not for CSO and Muti, bettering Paris-Vienna best at Carnegie Hall

Tour is a tour is a tour? Not for CSO and Muti, bettering Paris-Vienna best at Carnegie Hall

January 31, 2015 – 11:20 am | No Comment | 142 views

Review: Perhaps it’s simply a matter of time zones and surroundings, but the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, playing the same music it had performed in its recent visit to Paris and Vienna, delivered a knockout performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall on Jan. 30 that outshone its best in those European capitals. With music director Riccardo Muti again on the podium as he had been in Europe, the CSO absolutely let the dogs out to a virtually sold-out audience. The concert began well with an assured, colorfully evocative turn through Mendelssohn’s overture “Becalmed Sea and Prosperous Voyage,” and only got better.

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‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ at Goodman: Two women pause at crossroads, ponder life, toss a beanbag

January 30, 2015 – 11:33 pm | No Comment | 67 views

Catherine (Jennifer Coombs) and Don (Mark L.. Montgomery) are still dancing around the old flame in 'Rapture, Blister, Burn.' (Liz Lauren)Review: “Rapture, Blister, Burn” by Gina Gionfriddo, at Goodman Theatre through Feb. 22. ★★★

By Lawrence B. Johnson

The wisdom and the charm of Gina Gionfriddo’s play “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” at the Goodman Theatre, resounds in the collision of two fortysomething women, old friends from college, one a mom and the other a scholar in women’s studies, who now look at each other’s lives and question their own choices. Yet in the end, the dramatic sum feels somehow less than this coalescence of clever parts.  Read the full story »

As Chicago Symphony unveils 2015-16 season, Muti pushes live streaming, concerts in Cuba

January 28, 2015 – 8:48 pm | No Comment | 269 views
As Chicago Symphony unveils 2015-16 season, Muti pushes live streaming, concerts in Cuba

Report: At a Symphony Center press conference, where details of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2015-16 season were released, music director Riccardo Muti expressed a three-fold desire to increase connections with Chicago’s many ethnic communities through neighborhood events, press forward with cutting-edge multimedia recordings and live-from-Chicago events that can reach a worldwide internet audience, and widen the CSO’s touring horizons beyond the U.S. and Europe to include newly open Cuba and “all the East, which is the future.”

‘The Humans’ at American Theater Company: Family as vortex of love and the unspeakable

January 21, 2015 – 11:30 am | No Comment | 293 views
‘The Humans’ at American Theater Company:  Family as vortex of love and the unspeakable

Review: As a slice of life play, Stephen Karam’s “The Humans,” taps deep into the real and complicated meaning of family values, and it leaves a stunning impression. In American Theater Company’s close-knit ensemble production, it is so casually articulate, genuinely empathic, starkly true. ★★★

Theater 2014-15: In Act II, Broadway in Chicago unveils two shows bound for that other B’way

January 19, 2015 – 5:18 pm | No Comment | 141 views
Theater 2014-15: In Act II, Broadway in Chicago unveils two shows bound for that other B’way

Preview: When the curtain rises for the supercharged percussion show “Stomp” on Jan. 20 at the Bank of America Theatre, the winter-spring portion of Broadway in Chicago’s 2014-15 season will surge ahead at full throttle. The dozen touring productions opening in Chicago from now through June include two pre-Broadway musical premieres, “First Wives Club” and “On Your Feet,” plus reprises of mega-hits “The Book of Mormon” and “Jersey Boys.”

‘Airline Highway’ at Steppenwolf: Characters outshine drama in Lisa D’Amour’s new play

January 18, 2015 – 12:38 pm | No Comment | 190 views
‘Airline Highway’ at Steppenwolf: Characters outshine drama in Lisa D’Amour’s new play

Review: Lisa D’Amour’s latest play, “Airline Highway,” now in its world premiere run at Steppenwolf Theatre, pulls together an intriguing mélange of characters from what might euphemistically be called a subculture of contemporary New Orleans. They are a collection of losers. But memorable. Indeed, D’Amour’s sharply drawn prostitutes, addicts and schemers leave a more vivid impression than her troubled drama. ★★★

Bronfman, Muti and CSO sketch chamber music on vast canvas of Brahms’ 2nd Piano Concerto

January 16, 2015 – 6:42 pm | No Comment | 232 views
Bronfman, Muti and CSO sketch chamber music on vast canvas of Brahms’ 2nd Piano Concerto

Review: In broad, round terms, the figure of pianist Yefim Bronfman taking his seat at the keyboard to play Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conductor Riccardo Muti on Jan. 15 immediately brought to mind images of the composer in exactly that posture. When Bronfman’s serene – really beyond sublime – performance had ended, that evocative association only felt confirmed.

American music is lodestar of 2015 Grant Park concert constellation; price is heavenly – free

January 8, 2015 – 7:33 pm | No Comment | 468 views
American music is lodestar of 2015 Grant Park concert constellation; price is heavenly – free

Preview: It is one of the glories of Chicago’s summer and a thrilling populist tradition, the Grant Park Music Festival at Millennium Park, where the one-size-fits-all lawn price – free! – means that if you’ve got a blanket, your place under the stars is guaranteed. Artistic director Carlos Kalmar reflects on the 2015 season, just announced, which celebrates American greats alongside an appealing mix of symphonic classics. The stage of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion is framed by the signature billowing stainless steel forms of architect Frank Gehry.

At heart of Beethoven’s grandiose ‘Emperor,’ pianist Paul Lewis detects an image of grace

January 7, 2015 – 1:53 pm | No Comment | 412 views
At heart of Beethoven’s grandiose ‘Emperor,’  pianist Paul Lewis detects an image of grace

Interview: At the core of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto, says British virtuoso Paul Lewis, dwells a tenderness that belies the work’s outwardly heroic trappings. That lyrical middle chapter, he says, bespeaks the concerto’s true heart. “Liszt called the slow movement of the ‘Emperor’ an angel between two demons,” says Lewis, who plays Beethoven’s last and most exuberant piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conductor Vasily Petrenko in performances Jan. 8-10 at Orchestra Hall.

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 | 957 views
Cue cameras: Metropolitan Opera Live in HD,  come of age, is playing at a cinema near you

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.

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

December 15, 2014 – 7:01 pm | No Comment | 496 views
‘Shining City’ at Irish Theatre: Shattering drama for one, encumbered by three extra characters

Review: 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. ★★★

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

December 12, 2014 – 3:40 pm | No Comment | 358 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 | 392 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 | 583 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 | 1,881 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 | 1,348 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 | 1,322 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 | 2,164 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 | 1,130 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 | 781 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 | 767 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 | 794 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. ★★★★★