Enough has been said about the various dramas that hit the world during the last twelve months, and have been written about more eloquently and authoritatively elsewhere. So I will not go there - apart from to say how proud I am to be a Chicagoan, albeit only a resident alien one, during this year when Barack Obama was elected to the highest office.
Chicago Opera Theater's season is the subject of this retrospective. And we were pretty proud too of what we achieved. We completed the splendid cycle of Mozart da Ponte operas conducted by Jane Glover and directed by Diane Paulus. It had begun with Cosi in 2002, continued with Figaro in 2005, and was rounded out with a controversial production of Don Giovanni.
This divided our audience between those experienced opera goers who found it the most fascinating and well sung performance they had ever seen, and those more conservative brethren who were shocked by the uncompromising depiction of Don Giovanni as a vicious sexual predator (which he is) rather than a glamorous charming man about town (which he isn't). I must admit that the violence of the objections by some vocal critics amongst our subscribers took me by surprise. But there we are - this is theater and good theater has from time to time to live dangerously. Anyway we also had some glorious singing, notably from a remarkable young mezzo who is going to the very top - Isabel Leonard (Zerlina), and from the gloriously voiced Iain Paterson in the title role.
Next up was John Adams' ravishing Flowering Tree which had been given its first performances in Vienna in November of 2006 and came to Chicago in our new production, beautifully directed by Nicola Raab and choreographed by Renato Zanella - with distinguished designs from George Souglides. John Adams conducted the first two performances and what a joy and inspiration it was to have the composer with us for this production. And I think we did him proud - a splendid chorus and orchestra, immaculately prepared, and a delectable pair of lovers in Natasha Jouhl and Noah Stewart, anchored by the benign and moving performance of the Storyteller by Sanford Sylvan, together with a splendid troupe of dancers, made for a fine evening of music making and lyric theater.
And the season ended with one Handel's greatest hits - Orlando. My old friend Raymond Leppard conducted, and my much younger friend Justin Way, directed. And a wonderful partnership they made. This marvelous piece gave great pleasure to the many Handel starved opera lovers of Chicago. And gave an opportunity to Lyric opera aficionados to see one of the very best young members of the Lyric's Ryan Center, Andriana Chuchman, take on a leading role. And she was indeed stunning as Dorinda.(seen above with Tim Mead in the title role)
We ended our year with a tiny surplus but, as always, short of cash. And we face the future with apprehension in this changing world but with confidence that what we have planned for 2009 will once again prove to be distinctive and distinguished, adding luster to the Chicago opera scene. And now we are in the midst of final budgeting for a 2010 season to be announced in March. There is no denying the challenges ahead - but we will hold firm to the values that we have developed over the last ten years. We will continue to be extraordinarily economical in the way we operate - our expenditure budget is no higher now than when we moved into the Harris Theater in 2004. Now THAT is an achievement!
It was good to have this achievement acknowledged in the Sun-Times 2008 year end review of Chicago's musical organizations. Scroll down to #4.
And completely off topic but something to enjoy on this New Year's Eve, and throughout the year if you like cheese and those things that best accompany it - go to this delightful website.
Happy New Year everyone - and hold on tight!