Continuing my Wednesday morning history!
When I arrived in Chicago in 1999 we had hoped that by 2002 we would have been able to expand the COT season to comprise four productions, thus giving us a greater degree of flexibility to explore important territory of the operatic repertoire. This would have meant that the Chicago opera public would have had twelve titles each year, already a limited diet compared to what was available in New York and even San Francisco.
But it was not to be – adding another production would have meant raising a huge additional chunk of change, and we were stretched enough to achieve our fund-raising requirements as it was. So we concentrated on quality rather than quantity, and so it remained to the end of my time there this year.
Tove Dahlberg (Dorabella) and Ingela Bohlin (Fiordiligi) with Gioacchino Livigni (Ferrando) and Ian Greenlaw (Guglielmo)
The 2001-2002 season saw the first production of our Mozart da Ponte cycle which we began with Cosi fan tuttel in the ideally scaled Athenaeum Theater. The successful Orfeo team of Jane Glover and Diane Paulus, together with designers Scott Pask and Meg Neville, returned and provided us with a huge success. My work with the Bertelsmann Neue Stimmen competition yielded a pair of delightful Swedish sisters in Ingela Bohlin and Tove Dahlberg, both of whom have gone on to successful careers.
We also began our exploration of the smaller scale operas of Benjamin Britten with Michael Halberstam’s production of The Rape of Lucretia. We went on the produce a further four Britten operas and had planned what would have been the first Chicago production of Paul Bunyan for the Britten centenary in 2013. I was very proud of the work we did with the Britten repertoire, particularly in producing Death in Venice, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Owen Wingrave for the first time in Chicago.
Handel was obviously an important composer for us and inclusion of some of his huge collection of operas and music theater pieces was a no-brainer for COT. I was also anxious to provide as many opportunities as possible for the employment of the core of early music specialists in Chicago, led at that time by the energetic Mary Springfels and her Newberry Consort. We had begun that stream of work with the Orfeo in 2000, and I was determined to keep it going. We had the other two Monteverdis to come, and endless possibilities with Handel, and of course eventually also Cavalli and Charpentier.
Natalie Paulin (Semele) Chicago Opera Theater 2002
The logical choice after the Acis and Galatea the previous season was Semele the production of which was entrusted to the ever inventive Christopher Cowell. And it benefited from a wonderful central performance from the Canadian soprano Natalie Paulin who had also been our Galatea the season before.
We were still in the building mode, making a series of changes to our modus operandi to ensure that we arrived safely in the new theatre in Millennium Park in 2004. But the limitations imposed by the Athenaeum remained a great frustration to me so I had to be patient, not necessarily one of my greatest attributes!
We had a little bonus this season with the invitation from Joe Melillo to bring the Orfeo to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the Monteverdi cycle he was mounting there in the Spring of 2002 – the “Full Monte” as it was dubbed! Pierre Audi’s Netherlands Opera produced the Poppea and William Christie’s production (by Adrian Noble) from the Aix en Provence Festival provided stunning performances of Ulisse. We were in distinguished company. It was a good omen and a nice confirmation that we were going in the right direction.
More next week!