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Andrew Patner on Arts and Culture

The View from Here: Chicago Opera Theater’s 2010 season — Heggie, Rossini, and Cavalli — Von Stade, Moses, and Medea

Here's my Thursday March 26 Chicago Sun-Times preview piece on Chicago Opera Theater's 2010 Spring Festival Season. COT kicks off its 2009 array of three operas on April 18 with Mozart's La clemenza di Tito, conducted by Jane Glover and stage by Christopher Alden.

Von stade heggie
Chicago Opera Theater takes it to the limit for 2010

Lineup includes 'Three Decembers,' Rossini rarity, and 'Giasone'

BY ANDREW PATNER

A farewell visit by a beloved American diva, a biblical outbreak of Rossini fever, and everybody's favorite mother from Greek mythology, Medea, are in store next year at Chicago Opera Theater. It's a season unusually eclectic even for the unusually eclectic company.

While Lyric Opera of Chicago has a number of tried and true works slated for 2009-10, the riskier COT is pushing to the edge of the envelope and beyond with a series of little-known but greatly intriguing works: the local première of Jake Heggie's Three Decembers (2008), Francesco Cavalli's Giasone (1649) in its first-ever professional production here, and Gioachino Rossini's Moses in Egypt (1818), presented in Chicago for the first time in 150 years.

New American work

In announcing the 2010 season, COT general director Brian Dickie also confirmed that beloved American mezzo Frederica von Stade (above) will make a rare theatrical appearance in the lead role in Heggie's Three Decembers.

Best known for his songs and his operatic adaptation of the Death Row justice tale Dead Man Walking, Heggie wrote the chamber opera for von Stade, with librettist Gene Scheer, after a play by Terrence McNally (Master Class). The opera will be conducted from the piano by COT's Stephen Hargreaves and staged by Broadway's Leonard Foglia, who also directed the work's world première (as Last Acts) in Houston in 2008.

Heggie also will accompany von Stade in what is billed as her Chicago farewell recital on May 10, 2010. It's an exclusive appearance for COT subscribers. And Heggie will also be a pianist in all performances of Three Decembers.

'People's Opera'

The season will open April 17, 2010, at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance with Moses in Egypt (Mosè in Egitto), the winner of the "People's Opera" contest, a COT fund-raising scheme last year that netted more than $40,000 in "votes" for the Rossini.

Moses in Egypt has been seen in Chicago only once: at the downtown McVicker's Theatre in 1863, during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. This rare revival of a work written two years after Rossini's signature The Barber of Seville will mark the COT debut of Italian conductor Leonardo Vordoni who is married to American star mezzo Joyce DiDonato. Italian baritone Andrea Concetti, a Rossini devotee, will take on the role of Moses leading the Hebrews out of captivity. COT's Andrew Eggert will direct the work, sung in Italian with English supertitles.

Medea cycle

A three-year cycle of Baroque works based on the charismatic but murderous character of the vengeful Greek queen Medea will kick off with Francesco Cavalli's Giasone, led by Scottish early music specialist Christian Curnyn. Founder of Great Britain's Early Opera Company in 1994 and a favorite at the English National Opera, Curnyn will lead all three works, including operas by Charpentier and Handel in coming seasons.

Australia's Justin Way, who staged COT's masterful production of Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio in 2006, will direct. American mezzo Sasha Cooke, who played Kitty Oppenheimer in the Metropolitan Opera's new production of John Adams's Doctor Atomic, will be COT's Medea.

Repertoire choices and scheduling mean that two of COT's stalwarts, Alexander Platt and Jane Glover, are off the podium roster for 2010.

Three-opera season subscriptions range from $90 to $345. Half-off student subscriptions are available in most sections. For details, call (312) 704-8414 or go to chicagooperatheater.org.