Continuing my notes on the thirteen years that I spent in Chicago which came to an end in August this year - we have now reached 2004. This was the first year in the new Music and Dance Theater, named the Harris in recognition of the munificence of Joan and Irving Harris without whose generosity the theater would not have been built.
By 2004 COT had really made it to a higher consistent level and I was thrilled that we were able to embark on a bold first season in the Harris with such confidence. So we went for a new production of L'incoronazione di Poppea, the second instalment of our planned Monteverdi trilogy; a new production of Britten's final masterpiece Death in Venice; and for a lighter course, the first professional production in Chicago of Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims.
Michael Maniaci (Nero) and Danielle de Niese (Poppea) - COT February 2004
Jane Glover and Diane Paulus once again took on the Poppea - a successful team who worked so productively together on seven different pieces during my time in Chicago. The work of Chicago early music specialists had matured and we were able to secure superb playing from the pit. A new star, Danielle de Niese, emerged to sing the title role. I had had my eye on her, waiting for the right opportunity, ever since I first heard her in November 1999 when she was still a teenager. This was the perfect thing. And Michael Maniaci, who had been a young member of the ensemble for Orfeo four years earlier, took on Nero.
Marvellous designs from Robert Brill and an array of marvelous singers in supporting roles including Meredith Arwady, Ingela Bohlin (returning after her debut in Cosi two years before), and Robert Pomakov. The COT policy of casting in depth was never more evident than in this large cast.
We followed this considerable success with the startling first production in Chicago of Death in Venice. There was much that we did in Chicago of which I was immensely proud, but none more so than this moving account of Death in Venice with an extraordinary central performance by Robin Leggate. He supported by David Holloway in multiple roles, and an enormous ensemble, directed by Ken Cazan and with Alexander Platt in command in the pit. It also managed to be the box office hit of the season since so many people came back to see it twice, or three times more.
Robin had showed what a leap he had made after a long distinguuished career as a member of the Royal Opera company (and before than at Glyndebourne) when he took on Quint in The Turn of the Screw in 2003. And now his Aschenbach was a totally convincing assumption of the role and at times quite devastating theatre. Great stuff!
Rachel Durkin (Corinna) and company - Il viaggio a Reims COT May 2004
We had a lot of fun with the Rossini to round off the season. The witty production by Christopher Cowell and an enormous (and expensive!) cast of knockout singers ensured a feast to please the most fastidious connoisseurs of this repertoire. Raymond Leppard conducted, a real Rossinian who had been a member of the music staff at Glyndebourne in the 1950's when the great maestro Vittorio Gui was delivering his famous performances of Cenerentola, Le comte Ory and L'Italiana in Algeri.
I think that we established ourselves very nicely with this trio of productions. We were on track were to look forward to some wonderful things in the ensuing years. So more next week!