A triumph of creative minimalism - Médée at COT 2011
By the time we had to finalize the planning of the 2011 Chicago Opera Theater season the world was in a deep long tunnel of financial darkness with so sign of light in the future. This would have been around the autumn of 2009, the last moment really to make adjustments to a season which would be announced in February 2010 to go on sale later that spring. We were faced with profound disagreements at board level with doves and hawks squabbling as rarely seen before. The whole purpose of the company appeared to be discussion - bad stuff indeed! It was, maybe, a micro version of the "fiscal cliff" discussions now being battled out in Washington.
We were committed to a programme which fulfilled our pledges to the Mellon Foundation - the source of a $500k grant for the years 2010-12. These included the continuation of our trilogy of operas featuring Medea - Charpentier's Médée was due up second. And we had been committed partners of Tod Machover and MIT in the creation of Tod's Death and the Powers which had been due for production in September 2009 in Monte Carlo but which, in the event had been postponed to 2010, just six months before it was scheduled for Chicago. But it was a central plank of our plans which had received such endorsement from Mellon.
A chief casualty of all this financial hassle was the creative team for Médée, Justin Way and his magnificent design team of Andy Hays and Kimm Kovac. They had served us magnificently with productions in 2006 and 2008 and had kicked off the Medea trilogy with Giasone in 2010. But there it was - the need to save a massive 20% on our production costs - and for many even that was not enough.
But we did it and during the process discovered, or maybe even created, a new talented director/ designer team - James Darrah and François-Pierre Couture. With Christian Curnyn once again in charge in the pit, and another classic COT cast we had a fantastic and surprising success on our hands. It was a revelation indeed for the Chicago opera public, on a level with their discovery of Orfeo in 2000.
Colin Ainsworth (Jason) and Anna Stéphany (Médée)
Death and the Powers had received its first performances in September 2010 in the lovely Garnier opera house in Monte-Carlo. It was an odd setting for such a piece - but it was a great opportunity to develop Tod's remarkable opera for its eventual performances in Boston and Chicago. And I think that COT benefited hugely from both those performances and the series that was done in Boston just weeks before Chicago under the auspices of A,R,T. which by this time was being led artistically by our old friend Diane Paulus.
James Maddalena in the title role of Death and the Powers COT 2011
The audience responded with genuine enthusiasm to the magical mix of technology and music and it is only a matter of regret that this piece has not been seen again since our performances in 2011. But I understand that the Dallas Opera will mount it in 2014. Worth the trip!
Sara Heaton (Miranda) and Hal Cazalet (Nicholas) Death and the Powers Chicago 2011
So that was just two operas - and we made up the subscription package with a reduced price show - semi-staged performances of two song cycles - Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben, and Janáĉek's Diary of One Who Disappeared.
Joseph Kaiser was magnificent in the Janáĉek, and Jennifer Johnson Cano fulfilled the promise of her previous appearance with COT, in Owen Wingrave, with gorgeous sound and great intelligence and sensitivity in the Schumann. And they could not have had a finer partner than Craig Terry.
So it was a season of a mixture of great pleasures - and really no disappointments although losing the third opera was a blow. But Schumann and Janáĉek were a bonus........
Next week I will complete this little chronicle. I hope to publish on Wednesday - but I may be a few hours later!