Tuesday, July 28, 2015 by Hannah Edgar
Riccardo Muti, the celebrated conductor from Naples, Italy, came to Chicago in 2010 when he became the 10th music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Since, Chicagoans have enjoyed many magical moments with the maestro both in Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center and beyond, as the CSO extends its reach with performances in the community. Read some of our favorite Muti moments below, and be sure to tell us yours in the comments!
Muti plays his first “Concert for Chicago”
Before the beginning of Muti’s first season as music director of the Chicago Symphony Oorchestra, he conducted a free “Concert for Chicago” in Millennium Park in September 2010. The people of Chicago responded by turning out in spades. An estimated 25,000 people attended – so many that some had to be turned away!
Muti conducts his first subscription concert as Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Muti’s formal concert debut later the same month raised more than a few eyebrows. The 2010-2011 season opener paired Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique – a repertoire staple – with its less-performed sequel, Lélio. Berlioz himself intended the two to be performed together, but the sprawling and perplexing Lélio has long since fallen out of the repertoire. Berlioz described the work as a “mélologue,” or a musical melodrama-monologue with a narrator, played in the CSO’s performance by actor Gerard Depardieu. Respecting the composer’s wishes, Muti still refuses to perform Symphonie fantastique without its complement to this day.
Muti visits to Illinois Youth Center in Warrenville
Upon being appointed music director of the CSO, Maestro Muti announced his goal to make classical music accessible to as many people as possible. In keeping with that promise, he visited the Illinois Youth Center, an incarceration center for teenage girls, in September 2010. A friendship blossomed between Muti and the girls at the facility, and he has since paid them subsequent visits. Since then, Muti’s visits have expanded to other youth detention centers and prisons in the Chicago area, where he gives interactive recitals alongside soloists and members of the CSO. You can read more about Muti’s visits on the CSO’s Sounds & Stories blog.
Muti pays it forward to Northwestern Hospital
After fainting during rehearsal, Muti was admitted to Northwestern Hospital to receive a pacemaker and treatment for facial fractures. Upon his release in March 2011, the grateful maestro thanked the attentive doctors by putting on chamber concerts in the hospital. CSO musicians played Bach, Haydn, and Mozart for over 500 hospital employees, and the performances were streamed to patients through Northwestern’s closed circuit TV network.
Muti conducts Verdi’s Requiem
Hailed as one of the leading Verdi interpreters, Muti led the CSO in an electrifying rendition of Verdi’s Requiem that was live-streamed to audiences around the world in October 2013. The video is still available on the CSO’s website. Incidentally, the Requiem was the piece at the center of another milestone: it was the first piece Muti recorded with the orchestra in 2009, just after he was appoint music director but before he officially assumed this role in Chicago.
Muti scores big with “Chelsea Dagger”
Muti has showed off his Chicago pride on more than one occasion. When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2013, Muti donned a Blackhawks jersey and led the CSO in a rousing rendition of “Chelsea Dagger,” the Hawks’ goal song. A video of the performance went viral, and a more buttoned-up CSO recently reprised the tune in concert at the end of the 2014/15 season.
Monday, July 27, 2015 by WFMT
Composer Jimmy López proudly displays the completed piano-vocal score of his first opera, “Bel Canto,” on the stage of the Ardis Krainik Theatre in the Civic Opera House, home of Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Composer Jimmy López never could have imagined that uploading some of his music on YouTube would land him his first opera commission, and at Lyric Opera of Chicago, no less.
“I’ve been working towards this my whole career,” he said excitedly as he observed summer technical rehearsals for Bel Canto, his newly composed opera, at the Civic Opera House.
Superstar soprano Renée Fleming was in search of a composer to create a new work for Lyric, where she serves as Creative Consultant. She, Lyric General Director Anthony Freud, and Music Director Sir Andrew Davis all agreed that Ann Patchett’s 2001 novel Bel Canto was ripe for adaptation on the operatic stage.
But they needed a composer to give voice to Bel Canto.
After listening to audio samples from 100 different composers, they found López. But to say that they “discovered” him would be incorrect. When López was commissioned to compose Bel Canto he was 30, and held degrees from Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy and the University of California, Berkeley.
His works have been performed by some of the leading orchestras in the world including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Boston Symphony Orchestra in venues such as Carnegie Hall, the Darmstadt Music Festival, and the Donaueschingen Music Festival.
But he owes his first opera commission to YouTube and to a colleague, the conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya. López recalled, “November 18th, 2010, I was having lunch and I got a call from Miguel. He said, ‘You need to go home and upload your vocal music to YouTube.’”
Harth-Bedoya explained that Renée Fleming was looking for a young composer to write music for a new project—but that was all he knew. López obliged, and the following spring, he received an email. “It was from Renée herself, saying, ‘Are you going to be in New York anytime soon?’ and I said, ‘No, but I can be!’”
Composer Jimmy López watches a summer technical rehearsal for “Bel Canto,” seated among his colleagues. Left López: Duane Schuler (lighting designer). Right of López: Kevin Newbury (stage director), Elise Sandell (assistant stage director), and John Coleman (stage manager).
So began the five-year-long journey that has been Bel Canto. When he was first tapped to compose the opera, López hadn’t read Ann Patchett’s novel inspired by the 1996 hostage crisis in Lima, Peru. Marxist rebels held 72 diplomats, officials, and business executives hostage in the Japanese ambassador’s house for four months.
López, himself a native of Lima, said, “I read the first few pages, and I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ [ . . . ] I lived through all of these events, and Ann Patchett’s novel really captures a lot of the human drama.”
The book has long been a favorite of Fleming, who incidentally was slated to sing at the ambassador’s mansion. Patchett listened to Fleming’s recordings as she wrote the book, and the two women became friends after Bel Canto was published.
Bel Canto is going to be a production of firsts. It is López’s first opera, Fleming’s first commission as Lyric Opera’s creative consultant, and rather surprisingly, the celebrated Sir Andrew Davis’s first time conducting an operatic world-premiere.
It is also Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz’s first libretto. In the opera’s early stages, López was involved in the search for a librettist. He decided to meet with Cruz after he saw his play Two Sisters and a Piano, which is centered around two characters under house arrest.
López’s said when they first began work together, “We were supposed to meet for an hour or so, [but] we just couldn’t let go of each other. I think it was a five-hour conversation. He and I seemed to be in sync right from the start.”
López and Cruz knew they would have to handle their subject carefully, since like John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer, it depicts acts of terror. But López isn’t worried about controversy – at least, not yet. “I don’t think a lot of people here know or remember [the Lima hostage crisis] so clearly, so I don’t think it will stir the pot as much,” he said.
“But I do think that if it were ever staged in Lima, it would definitely cause controversy,” he continued. “On the other hand, I think that we have been very, very sensitive to that, and as a Peruvian, when I took the commission, I thought, ‘This is great, but it’s also a great responsibility.’”
But the opera also tells the stories behind the headlines. López said, “Bel Canto is really a story about love under very unlikely circumstances. It is a story where music triumphs, and serves as the one common language when no other language can be found,” he said. This theme is represented literally by the opera itself: its libretto is written in eight languages, all harmonized into a single text.
Composer Jimmy López on the set of “Bel Canto,” in its world-premiere production at Lyric Opera of Chicago, which commissioned the opera. The set is designed by David Korins.
All of the opera’s action happens inside the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Lima, which was architecturally inspired by Tara from Gone with the Wind. The set’s bright white plantation-style interior has a double staircase, chandelier, and piano, recalling the imagined opulence of the pastoral South.
One of the most striking features of the set, designed by David Korins, is how it transforms. “We had to think of it as a canvas, because we have projections coming from the front and the back,” López said. “It’s designed to transform itself without moving anything—it’s all through lighting and projections.”
Surely enough, when we first sat down with López, the set glowed, openly and invitingly. But, by the end of our conversation, a new lighting cue rendered it dark, dusky, and strangely unrecognizable.
Now that López has completed his score, he is entrusting his work to conductor Sir Andrew Davis and stage director Kevin Newbury. And López could not be more confident that Bel Canto is in good hands.
“It’s new, it’s beautiful, it’s fresh, it’s innovative,” he says of Newbury’s conception. “It’s definitely going to be keeping you at the edge of your seat from beginning to end.”
The interview with Mr. López was conducted by Suzanne Nance. Photos and web content are by Hannah Edgar, with editions and contributions from Stephen Raskauskas.
For more information about Bel Canto, visit Lyric’s website.
Friday, July 24, 2015 by WFMT
Chicago’s Millennium Park is one of the most popular parks in the United States, according to TripAdvisor. Part of the Park’s allure comes, no doubt, from the incredible amount of free music that audiences can enjoy there each summer. The Grant Park Musical Festival, the nation’s only free, outdoor classical music series of its kind, has been providing visitors with exceptional concerts for over 80 years.
Architect Ed Uhlir, design director of the Millennium Park Project and executive director of the not-for-profit Millennium Park, Inc., spoke with WFMT to give you a history of the Park’s various pavilions over time, and to tour of the current Park’s other special features. Uhlir, who has worked with the Chicago Park District since 1970, explains how he worked with approximately twelve different architectural design firms to make Millennium Park the most musical park in America.
The History of Performance Pavilions in Downtown Chicago
The Original Band Shell
“The first pavilion, which was based on the design of the Hollywood Bowl, was a series of concentric planes that went back from a larger concentric circle to a smaller one in the back. If you’ve ever been the Hollywood Bowl, it’s almost identical. In fact, the park district architects at the time went to Los Angeles to study that design and they brought it back. The major difference was the audience area was totally flat, while the Hollywood Bowl has a really nice visual aspect to it for the audience. So it was always intended to be a temporary facility.” (Ed Uhlir)
The Petrillo Bandshell
“The second pavilion was sort of wedge-shaped, trapezoidal-shaped, made of a translucent material called kalwall. It was also intended to be temporary, and the interesting thing about it was that it was constructed to be taken apart, stored somewhere and then re-erected, and this was because there was a prohibition against building permanent structures in Grant Park — although it wasn’t necessary to do that for this one, because bandstands are exempted from this condition of no structures in the park.
But it was made to be demountable, and the park district paid $1.4 million to build it. It was up the first year, 1978. The second year, the park district went out to bid to have it taken down, stored, and re-erected, and the cost to do that was $420,000, which was a lot of money back then. So the park district board decided, “We’re not gonna do it. If someone wants to sue us and take away the home of this orchestra, they can go ahead and do it.” Well, no one sued, and it was still there.” (Ed Uhlir)
The Pritzker Pavilion
“The Pritzker Pavilion was designed by Frank Gehry, who is probably one of the most famous living architects right now. I was assigned to go out to California to meet with Frank Gehry and talk him into doing the project – which wasn’t that easy. He’d taken on a lot of work already, and he wasn’t able to work on a new design for about six months. In the meantime, we were building the park: The garage was under construction.
“If you look down on the plan of the Pritzker Pavilion, you’ll see a crisscrossing of these large pipes that span 300 feet. It’s pretty amazing; it’s a net structure and it really, to me, the experience is like entering a cathedral. You know you’re in a space that’s unique because you look up and you see this sort of vault that reminds me of a Gothic cathedral, actually.”
“So you’re entering this space, and your focus is on the stage, which is pretty unique too. It’s made of Douglas fir plywood, it’s designed to be acoustically perfect in terms of the orchestra hearing themselves — you can’t make great music unless you have an environment that promotes that. We had a specially-designed riser system by Schuler and Shook, a local firm that designs stages, and those risers transmit vibration. So, it’s interesting that even the Chicago Symphony Orchestra players admit that this facility is great to make music in, even better that Orchestra Hall – though I probably shouldn’t say that on the air, I guess. But they’ve made those comments before!”
“The one thing Gehry did that was pretty unique was this device called the trellis, which spans not only the seating area but what we call the Great Lawn. Previous to this, architects had proposed putting columns on the lawn that would hold up speakers. The mayor said, ‘No way are we going to obstruct anyone’s vision,’ so Frank Gehry came up with the trellis.”
“The structure design was done by Skidmore & Merrill. It allows us to locate speakers critically across the lawn so that we provide the optimum distribution of sound for the audience. So it’s an incredible experience because you can hear the music and it seems to be coming from the front of the house, but it’s actually coming overhead.”
“And there’s a secondary system for what we call enhanced sound, which is unique in the world, and that is a system that allows us to create the effect of reverberation. So we’ve basically created a virtual orchestra hall of sound, even though it’s open to the elements.”
“So that’s one thing it has that no one else has in the world. We have tremendous seating capacity: There are 4,000 seats that are fixed seats, and the lawn can hold another 7 or 8,000 people. And we’ve had concerts that go beyond that, depending on who it is, of course. So the music experience is tremendous.”
“There was some hesitation, initially, because this system had never been installed anywhere in the world. And Mayor Daley was nervous about spending all the money on this facility and not having what he called “the greatest sound system in the world.” We tried to reassure him that it was possible, but it had never been done, never been heard, so he was dubious. We had to spend a lot of money to do testing to find out if it indeed was a [good] sound system.”
“So to dispel the mayor’s concerns, we hired sort of the world’s experts to come and listen in a performance before it opened of the Grant Park Symphony. One of the critics who heard the first performance said, ‘Well, you know, the sound system just takes time to learn the system. When you’re used to driving a Ford, which was the system that was considered over the Petrillo shell, and suddenly, you have a Maserati sound system, it takes you a while to figure out how to drive it.'”
“So I think the system is designed to deal with the ambient noise from the city. We have a sound booth which is right in the middle of the seating area and that’s because it’s necessary to have the ability to hear what’s coming directly out of the sound system and to be able to adjust the volume and the other controls to overcome things like sirens and airplanes. The mayor did us one big favor, though: When he closed Meigs Field, he eliminated a lot of the airplane noise.” (Ed Uhlir)
Upgrades to the Pritzker Pavilion
“And now the Pritzkers have been very generous: They provided an endowment. We’re using that endowment to continue to make upgrades on the facility. Endowment can’t be used to do general maintenance that the city would do, but it’s been used to make enhancements. To give you an example, we paid for brand-new speakers; about half the speakers were replaced with a new, better speaker system.”
“This year, we’re also doing some changing-out of some of the sound boards and mixing boards. They’re more state-of-the-art than they were originally. So we split those costs 50-50 with the city, and that money will continue to be used to keep the facility in great shape.”
“We’re always looking for ways to enhance the experience, and we’re gonna be experimenting this fall with new LED lights. If you’ve been to the facility at night, there are color lights that play of the surface of the metal elements, and we’ll be looking to change those to more energy-efficient and controllable LED lights so we can obtain many more colors.”
“But we’re also looking at kinetic options: being able to project different patterns and things on the facility. So those are the kinds of upgrades we’re using that endowment money for as the corpus expands and we use the interest on the principal to make those improvements.” (Ed Uhlir)
Other Special Features of the Park
“The rectilinear pattern of Millennium Park still remains: There’s still that connection to the rest of the park with these formal alleys of trees. So the original designers planned this succession of small rooms to large rooms as you move towards the lake. So the smallest rooms were along Michigan Ave. – and when I talk about ‘rooms,’ these are landscape rooms.”
“That tradition is maintained in Millennium Park, so we have smaller spaces along Michigan Ave., to the grand spaces that are the Great Lawn and the Pritzker Pavilion. And then the big space – Maggie Daley Park – is further to the east. So if you look at a bird’s eye view, it still has that rectilinear pattern, but what we’ve done is insert these unique and contemporary elements within that landscape framework. So the landscape was a frame, and we put these unique elements in them: like the Lurie Garden, like the Cloud Gate sculpture (pictured above), like certainly the Crown Fountain.”
“Now the park’s open it’s been a tremendous boon for Chicago. Cloud Gate is the sixth most popular icon in the United States – the Washington Monument and others are ahead of it, and Central Park is ahead of Millennium Park. But that’s a terrific number for Chicago, who’s trying to increase its viability as a city for tourism.”
“We did an economic study in 2011, and it determined that Millennium Park brings in $1.4 billion a year in tourism dollars. And when you look at the cost of building it versus just the annual cost that it creates for the city’s economy, it’s a no-brainer that we should have done Millennium Park, and it didn’t cost that much considering what it does for the city.” (Ed Uhlir)
“The Crown Fountain was designed by Jaume Plensa, underwritten by the Crown family. It is an interactive piece of art: it has two great 50-foot-tall glass towers, and the faces of 1,000 Chicagoans are on LED screens just behind the front-facing glass block. They’re randomly selected by a computer just underneath the towers, and they included a cross-section of Chicago in terms of age, gender, and ethnic origin.”
“Those faces come on for about 6 minutes, and the last 20 seconds they do their “gargoyle effect,” where they spit a stream of water into the reflecting pool. It’s a great place to watch people; it’s a great place for kids. We had no idea it would become the free water park in Chicago. Kids come in their bathing suits now just to play all day.”
“Last year, we asked Jaume Plensa to do some temporary sculptures to enhance his design of the Crown Fountain. So we have 1,000 portraits on the fountain, and he added four monumental sculptures of heads of young girls. So we have 1,004 Portraits, which is the name of the exhibition.” (Ed Uhlir)
“This used to be a dead zone, and now it’s filled with life, and people come here all day long just to experience the wonderful things that are available in Millennium Park, starting with the Lurie Garden. It’s underwritten with an endowment by Ann Lurie; the foundation maintains it. And it’s uniquely designed by the plant materials: all perennials by Piet Oudolf who’s a plantsman from Hummelo, Netherlands. He also designed the highline plants in New York City. It’s incredible — we don’t use pesticides or herbicides.”
“It’s considered a year-round garden, in that there’s always something happening, even in the winter; the structures of the plants are beautiful in the snow. So you can come to the garden all year. We have lots of free programs and it’s a pretty unique environment. We have two beehives, and we don’t use pesticides or herbicides, as I said, and that really attracts a lot of unique insects and birds. We have sightings of over 80 birds that we’ve identified in the garden. We used to have rabbits, but I think coyotes are taking care of that problem for us.” (Ed Uhlir)
Thursday, July 23, 2015 by WFMT
Paul Freeman, the founder of the Chicago Sinfonetta, is dead at age 79.
The Sinfonetta announced Freeman’s death on its website, saying the conductor had been fighting several ailments in recent years. He retired in 2011.
Sinfonetta director of operations Courtney Perkins says Freeman died late Tuesday in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, with his wife, Cornelia, and son, Douglas, at his side.
Freeman was born in Richmond, Virginia. He founded the Chicago Sinfonetta in 1987 as a mid-sized orchestra dedicated to promoting diversity and innovative programming.
In addition to classics, the orchestra performed music by minority composers. It also featured instruments considered offbeat for orchestras, including bagpipes, steel drums and sitars.
Perkins says Freeman’s family is planning a private ceremony in Victoria and a September public memorial service in Chicago.
-from the Associated Press
Wednesday, July 22, 2015 by WFMT
Shakespeare once said, “If music be the food of love, than put some whipped cream and a cherry on top of it.” Or, something to that effect… Good music and good food harmonize so well together. It’s no surprise that countless composers from Bach to Bernstein have written works about their favorite foods. Check out this list of delicious works of music, and tell us your favorite scrumptious songs in the comments.
“La Bonne Cuisine” (Bernstein)
Bernstein composed La bonne cuisine – a delightful, four-minute-long morsel of a song cycle – in 1947. His text? Four recipes from Emile Dumont’s 1890 cookbook of the same name. Scored for voice and piano, the cycle includes recipes for plum pudding, oxtails, chicken breast with Turkish pudding, and rabbit stew.
Act II, Scene 1 banquet scene from Albert Herring (Britten)
When there’s no girl virtuous enough to be elected May Queen in a small village in East Suffolk, the May Queen committee selects Albert Herring as King instead. At the May Day banquet, the attendees enjoy a sumptuous feast. Three children, Emmy, Cis, and Harry marvel and all of the treats laid before them, which include: jelly, pink blancmange, “seedy cake with icing on,” treacle tart, “sausagey rolls,” chicken and ham, “cheesey straws,” marzipan, and more! The three children are getting hangry for all the food before them, though their teacher, Miss Wordsworth, tells them they can’t feast quite yet.
“Vanilla Ice Cream” from She Loves Me (Joe Masteroff)
One of many adaptations of Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo’s Parfumerie, She Loves Me is centered on bickering coworkers Georg and Amalia, both of whom find solace in their beloved pen pals. What Georg and Amalia don’t know is that they are each other’s pen pals – a fact Georg discovers before Amalia does. As a peace offering, he brings her vanilla ice cream when she is sick, cuing this number – and a new beginning for the couple.
“The Italian Cook and the English Maid” from Casa guidi (Argento)
Composed for Frederica von Stade and the Minnesota Orchestra, Dominick Argento’s Casa guidi is a song cycle set to letters written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning to her sister Henrietta. At the time, Browning and her husband were in the process of moving to Casa guidi, an apartment in Florence. In this song – the second in the five-song cycle – Browning describes the feud between her pretentious (but gifted) cook, Alessandro, and her maid, Wilson.
“From beef-steak pies up to fricassees Alessandro is a master.
And from bread and butter puddings to boiled apple-dumplings,
An artist. Only — he doesn’t like Wilson to interfere.
She declares that he repeats so many times a day:
“I’ve been to Paris — I’ve been to London —
I have been to Germany — I must Know.”
Also he offends her by being of opinion that:
“London is by far the most immoral place in the world.”
(He was there for a month once.)
“He had been to Paris, and been to London” and so on ‘da capo’-
So poor Wilson’s head goes round she declares, and she
Leaves the field of battle from absolute exhaustion.”
“This Was a Real Nice Clambake” from Carousel (Rodgers and Hammerstein)
Years after its 1945 premiere, composer Richard Rodgers admitted that Carousel was his favorite of his 43 musicals. Carousel kicks off when Billy Bigelow, a carousel barker, falls in love with the millworker Julie. Their relationship gets Billy fired, and as the rest of his New England town looks forward to their big June clambake, Billy finds himself worrying about how to support Julie and their future daughter. “This Was a Real Nice Clambake” opens Act II, with the townspeople reminiscing about the clambake they just enjoyed. The song describes the perfect seaside potluck, complete with a recipe for codfish chowder. But, it was actually originally written into Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s first musical, Oklahoma!, as “This Was a Real Nice Hayride.”
“Food, glorious food” from Oliver! (Lionel Bart)
Based on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, Oliver! opens with “Food, glorious food,” and the number sets the stage for one of its most famous scenes. The musical opens in a workhouse which employs orphaned boys. They fantasize about the real food they want to eat instead of the paltry amounts of gruel they’re fed, and when his turn in the dinner line comes, Oliver works up the courage to ask for more.
“Is it worth the waiting for?
If we live for eighty four
All we ever get is gruel!
Every day we say our prayer —
Will they change the bill of fare?
Still we get the same old gruel!
Food, glorious food!
Hot sausage and mustard!
While we’re in the mood —
Cold jelly and custard!
Peas pudding and saveloys
What next is the question?
Rich gentlemen have it, boys —
“Beautiful Candy” from Carnival (Michael Stewart, Bob Merrill)
In Carnival, the orphan Lili stumbles upon a carnival in hopes of landing a job, but instead finds herself in the middle of a love triangle between Marco, a charismatic magician, and Paul, a lonely puppeteer. In the end, Lili is won over by Paul. “Beautiful Candy” is one of a number of duets sung by Lili and Paul’s puppets.
“Now to the banquet we press!” from The Sorcerer (Gilbert & Sullivan)
Relationships may be complicated, but Gilbert and Sullivan’s zany comic opera The Sorceror takes the follies and foibles of romance to a whole new level. Newlyweds Alexis and Aline hire a sorcerer to spike the tea at their wedding feast with a love potion, fulfilling Alexis’ egalitarian hopes that love will unite people of different social classes. The potion succeeds in that respect, but also results in shuffled and absurd pairings. “Now to the banquet we press” is sung at the end of each act: once before the feast, and reprised at the when each character is reunited with their actual partner. “Now to the banquet we press– Now for the eggs and the ham– Now for the mustard and cress– Now for the strawberry jam!”
“Ei! Wie schmeckt der Kaffee suße” from The Coffee Cantata (J.S. Bach)
“Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht,” better known as The Coffee Cantata, is one of a few secular cantatas by Bach. Today it would best be characterized as a miniature comic opera, centering on the conflict between the coffee-addicted maiden Lieschen and her disgruntled father, Schlendrian. Lieschen sings this aria as an ode to her beloved beverage in response to her father, who is begging her to drop her habit. She sings:
“Ah! How coffee tastes delicious
sweeter than a thousand kisses,
milder than Muscat wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
and, if someone wants to impress me,
ah, just give me coffee please!”
Le quatuor de l’omelette from Le Docteur Miracle (Georges Bizet)
Bizet composed Le Docteur Miracle for a competition put on by Jacques Offenbach when he was only 18. A comic operetta in one act, the story follows a young suitor named Silvio who is trying to woo the mayor’s daughter, Laurette, albeit against her parents’ wishes. In order to be closer to Laurette, Silvio invents disguises to sneak into the family’s good graces, one of which is the fantastical “Doctor Miracle.” During the “Omelet Quartet,” the operetta’s most famous excerpt, Silvio is passing himself off as a servant who makes an omelet for Laurette’s family – which, to the family’s dismay, tastes disgusting.
“Sarò zeppo e contornato” from La Cenerentola (Rossini)
It’s no secret that Rossini was a dedicated gourmand. Cooks have dedicated dishes to him, and the chef Antonin Carême counted Rossini among his closest friends. Rossini liked to tell people that he had only cried three times in his life: when his first opera flopped, when he heard Niccolò Paganini play the violin, and when a stuffed turkey fell off the boat on which he was picnicking. He included plenty of food-related songs in his operas, usually using food to comment on class differences between characters. In “Sarò zeppo e contornato” from La Cenerentola, Don Magnifico imagines the sort of bounty he would have if his daughter married the prince:
“I will have lots of
memories and petitions
of hens and sturgeons
of bottles and brocades
of candles and marinades
of buns and cakes
of candied fruits and sweets
of slabs and doubloons
of vanilla and coffee.”
“De la patria del cacao, del chocolate y del café” from La Gallina Ciega (Fernando Caballero)
This infectious tune comes from the 1830s Spanish operetta La Gallina Ciega (The Blind Hen). The work has since fallen into obscurity, despite enormous initial popularity. However, this aria lives on, having been recycled in Pablo de Sarasate’s Habanera from his Spanish Dances, Op. 21. and Édouard Lalo’s Cello Concerto in D minor.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015 by WFMT
There’s no better time than summer to grab a new book you’ve been aching to read, or to dust off an old book that’s been on your nightstand for ages. Looking for recommendations on what to page through as you feel the sand between your toes? We’ve selected some of our favorite beach reads about music, sound, and radio. Check our staff picks of beach reads, and tell us your favorites in the comments below.
Mozart’s Women by Jane Glover
Although technically a musicological book, it’s a real page-turner and offers an interesting portrait of the women in Mozart’s life, as well of the composer himself, in the process. It’s one of the most engrossing music books I’ve read recently!
-Peter Van de Graaff, Chief Announcer & Program Host
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Excited for the world premiere of Bel canto by composer Jimmy López at Lyric Opera of Chicago this season? Gear up by reading Ann Patchett’s gripping novel about terrorists holding a group hostage in South America. Then, you can be one of the people who says, “Well, in the book…” once the opera premieres!
-Kerry Frumkin, Program Host
Lost Luggage by Jordi Puntí
This 2013 English translation of Puntí’s polyphonic novel is the engrossing story of four brothers– Christof, Christophe, Christopher, and Cristòfol — by four different mothers in four different European cities in search of their father, Gabriel Delacruz. The unseen protagonist has the radio on throughout his travels.
-Candice Agree, Program Host
The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
Berendt spent several months in Venice following a suspicious fire which destroyed the historic La Fenice opera house in 1996. He explores the investigation into the cause of the fire, while painting a fascinating portrait of Venice and its colorful residents.
-Lisa Flynn, Program Host & Producer
Musical Memories by Camille Saint-Saëns
I was inspired to choose this particular book by an Exploring Music episode about Saint-Saëns. The composer offers a first-hand account of music and non-musical history spanning from just after Beethoven’s death to the 1920s. Camille Saint-Saëns lived long enough that he knew both Rossini and Stravinsky, experienced Napoleon and World War I, the heyday of Opera and the beginning of movie music!
-Suzanne Nance, Program Host
Jazz by Toni Morrison
The “music” of this book is constantly in the background as Violet and Joe navigate The City: young men blaring trumpets from the rooftops as the tragedy of the story unfolds. Morrison’s prose style can be a challenge, but the reward is a complex and heartbreaking narrative of love, death, and growing old.
-Anna Goldbeck, Continuity Coordinator
How Music Works by David Byrne
From Wagnerian opera to African music, David Byrne’s book covers a broad range of music. Best known for his work with the Talking Heads, Byrne has an authoritative but accessible voice, and explores a variety of topics from instrument construct to how acoustic spaces affect musical composition and performance.
-Dan Goldberg, Producer
Artists in Exile: How Refugees from Twentieth-Century War and Revolution Transformed the American Performing Arts by Joseph Horowitz
Horowitz shares the stories of some of the most prominent immigrant artists of early 20th century America – the ups and downs of finding their way in the New World, all of them ultimately making an important mark on the American cultural landscape. Included are key musical figures like Stokowski and Toscanini but also many from the worlds of dance, cinema, and theatre like Balanchine, Billy Wilder, and Marlene Dietrich.
-Heather McDougall, Radio Network Project Manager
A Power Stronger Than Itself: The A.A.C.M. and American Experimental Music by George Lewis
You can’t call yourself a Chicagoan or a jazz lover unless you’ve got this book on your shelf. George Lewis, composer and member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, gives a fascinating account of one of the most important musical collectives of our day. Since the AACM is now celebrating its 50th anniversary, there’s no better time to get to know the music and musicians of the AACM through Lewis’s book, which won the 2009 American Book Award.
-Stephen Raskauskas, Interactive Content Producer
The Science of Sonic Wonders of the World by Trevor Cox
Cox is a wildly curious professor of sound and acoustics and his latest book opens up all sorts strange and beguiling facts about all the sounds (man-made and natural) around us. It’s a perfect immersion in the world of sound. Maybe read it while lying on a beach listening to the rolling surf, shouting kids, people tapping away on their iPhones and a tormented, wintery Sibelius symphony for a little dramatic contrast.
-Tony Macaluso, Director, Marketing & Network Syndication
Monday, July 20, 2015 by WFMT
Think modern opera is unmelodious or inaccessible? The next generations of opera stars is ready to prove you wrong.
This Wednesday, three members of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center team with the Grant Park Orchestra for an evening of modern and contemporary American works.
The program features Gian Carlo Menotti’s comic opera The Telephone and excerpts from Douglas Cuomo’s opera Doubt, along with Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1 and Jennifer Higdon’s Fanfare Ritmico.
“The Telephone is really catchy, sometimes it’s almost a little too catchy,” said soprano Laura Wilde in a conversation we had recently at the Ryan Opera Center. Wilde performs the role of Lucy in the opera.
“A lot of people are scared of modern opera. But for my friends who have never been to the opera before? This is the first thing I want them to see me in,” she said. “It’s short – it’s only 20 minutes long. It’s in English – so there’s no language barrier. And the story is modern – we can all relate to it.”
Wilde explains that in The Telephone, “Lucy and Ben have been dating for a while. Ben wants to sit down and have a talk with Lucy about something serious. But the telephone keeps ringing, and she’s a bit of a gossip. So, it takes a while for them talk, and when they finally do at the end it’s on the telephone.”
On the surface, Menotti’s opera seems like it’s pure comedy. But, baritone Anthony Clark Evans, who plays Ben, reminded me that, “It’s actually an indictment on the technology that we use and how it takes over our lives.”
The iPhones have replaced the rotary phones that the characters might have used when the opera premiered in 1947, but telecommunication still affects our relationships drastically.
“The problem with communication these days is that people aren’t communicating. People are always talking on the phone or texting, but there isn’t a lot of emotion attached to some of the ways we communicate.”
Evans confessed, rather ironically, that he relies heavily on modern technology to communicate with his loved ones. “My wife lives in Kentucky with my 10-month old baby, and I have to have the majority of my emotional connection to my family on the phone.”
“I love that I can reach out to my family any time of day. But I try to make sure we really communicate and that when I do get to spend time with my daughter, she knows her daddy isn’t just some face that appears on mommy’s phone.”
Douglas Cuomo’s Doubt also dramatizes problems of contemporary life, albeit in a less light-hearted way.
Doubt is based upon John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize winning play and movie of the same name. In the story, a Catholic priest, Father Flynn, renounces the cloth after suspicions arise that he is having an inappropriate relationship with Donald Miller, an altar boy.
Evans, who will perform an excerpt from Doubt titled “Sermon,” said, “I grew up a preacher’s kid. I have a very good understanding about how to get the guilt out of people. When I practice this piece, I feel like, ‘Man, that sounds like me when I was a kid getting in trouble, or my dad as a preacher.’ I understand this character so well that it’s almost not fair.”
Mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen will perform another excerpt from Doubt, “The Boy’s Nature.” She said by email, “I play Mrs. Miller, the mother of the young boy who may have been sexually abused,” she said. “In many ways she’s the emotional center of the piece. She’s onstage only briefly and makes a huge impact with this aria, an impassioned plea to keep her son safe from harm, no matter the cost.”
Though the subject of the opera is controversy, Evans claims, “It’s compelling not because controversy sells tickets. It’s because it’s interesting. We all want to challenge ourselves by thinking about subjects that may be emotionally difficult because we learn about ourselves in the process.”
Hearing The Telephone and excerpts from Doubt on the same program underscore that you can’t stick a single label on all modern opera any more than you can works written in centuries past. Both works deal with the complexities of contemporary relationships, though the music and scenarios are very different.
Yet, the singers embrace these works just as enthusiastically as they do classic works they have come to know and love. While modern repertoire is diverse, the singers all agree that modern works have incredible potential to inspire today’s audiences. In fact, they could speak even more directly to our minds and hearts than works that have been performed for centuries.
Wilde mentioned that, “So often when I performed modern pieces, I hear audience members tell me how they felt. It’s less about the singing or other technical aspects, and more about the story – and that’s kind of the point of all opera.”
When we’re less concerned with comparing how one singer performers a role in comparison to the hundreds of singers who have performed it before her or him, we can focus on the stories and the issues they explore instead.
Wilde, Evans, and Rosen all agree that it’s vital to support new works. “That’s the future of music,” remarked Wilde said, “if we don’t support living composers now, our era won’t be represented in the future.”
And, while not every new opera that premieres today is bound to be a classic, not every opera by Rossini or Verdi or Puccini has become part of the canon, either.
“If you go to modern opera and you love one out of five that you see, that’s probably a similar experience that people had going to the opera centuries ago,” Wilde reminds us.
Evans cleverly remarked, “It’s all modern music, it’s just written at different times of modernity!”
Whether you’re new to modern opera or opera in general, there’s hardly a better way to experience new works than for free! Wednesday’s performance, like all performances of the Grant Park Music Festival, is free of charge for all who attend.
So grab your friends, pack a picnic, and enjoy an exciting evening of modern music under the stars. Maybe The Telephone or Doubt will become your new favorite opera.
To learn more about the concert, visit the Grant Park Music Festival’s website.
Friday, July 17, 2015 by WFMT
Wednesday, July 15, 2015 by WFMT
The following is a list of ten pieces, each received well at the time of composition but fortune has not been so kind to over the years. Of course, there are more than 10 and this selection barely scratches the surface. Perhaps it is not just the pieces, but also the composers who seem to have disappeared from the American musical landscape. That is sad, as our legacy of outstanding composers and works from this country is amazing.
I hope that you will find a few of these works to your liking and that perhaps, hearing them now will encourage you to investigate other pieces by these and other composers. Here then, is a starting point for what could a most interesting journey.
1. Donald Erb
The Seventh Trumpet
2. Jacob Druckman
3. William Schumann
Symphony No. 8
4. Walter Piston
Symphony No. 6
5. Carl Ruggles
6. George Crumb
Echoes of Time and the River
7. Roger Sessions
Symphony No. 2
8. Alan Hovhaness
9. George Rochberg
String Quartet No. 3
10. Morton Gould
Fall River Legend
Monday, July 27, 2015 by WFMT
Schumann: Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood), Op 15
Carnival Jest from Vienna, Op 26
Fantasy in C Major, Op 17
Friday, July 24, 2015 by WFMT
Guest conductor Emmanuel Villaume returns to conduct an evening of European fare. You’ll be transported by Saint-Saëns’ keyboard gem with pianist Andrew von Oeyen, along with music celebrating the cities of Vienna, Paris, and Rome.
Grant Park Orchestra
Emmanuel Villaume, Guest Conductor
Andrew Von Oeyen, Piano
Suppé: Overture to Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna
Mozart: Symphony No. 31, Paris
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 2