From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell – Chicago

by christian.anderson

Thursday morning I flew to Chicago for a weekday matinee of Puccini’s LA BOHEME, starring Anna Netrebko, Joseph Calleja, Elizabeth Futral and Lucas Meachum.

The production was borrowed from the San Francisco Opera (which was also seen in Dallas in 1998) with scenery by Tony Award winning designer Michael Yeargan.  Michael, who was born and brought up in Dallas proudly once told me that he decided to become a designer because as a young boy he had attended a Dallas Opera school matinee. Having seen his first opera, Michael just knew that he wanted to be a theatrical designer when he grew up.

The Chicago production was superbly conducted by French maestro Emmanuel Villaume, but without its original stage director, the production relied almost entirely on him and the experienced singers to create any dramatic tension.

Awkward blocking and lost opportunities that traditionally tug the heartstrings simply failed to move me.

This was a great example of why opera is such a collaborative art form and how everyone involved with a production needs to work together for even a masterpiece to have its full impact.

Last night was a semi-staged concert performance of Andre Previn’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, which was being given to showcase superstar soprano Renee Fleming, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Creative Consultant.

I had not seen the piece since its premiere in San Francisco 15 years ago, and I enjoyed it much more this time around.  Renee has grown tremendously as an artist in the intervening years, and her “Blanche” was deeply touching.

She was surrounded by an excellent cast, including Teddy Tahu Rhodes as the brutish “Stanley” and a radiant Susanna Phillips as “Blanche’s” sister “Stella.”

Teddy has made a startling transformation since he last sang in Dallas (as “Escamillo” in CARMEN) and he is now really a bass, with little trace of his baritone roots.

I really liked director Brad Dalton’s dreamlike approach to the staging (after all, “Blanche” and “Stella’s” lost plantation is called “Belle Reve”, French for “Beautiful Dream.”  I particularly liked the way he used tenor Andrew Bidlack, not only as the young man collecting for the newspaper, but also as the image of “Blanche’s” dead husband.  (Andrew, by the way, made his Dallas Opera debut last season in THE LIGHTHOUSE and returns to Dallas next season in DIE TOTE STADT.)

The entire production was wonderfully conducted by Evan Rogister, who paced the piece carefully and managed to make some of the less inspired parts of the score dramatically compelling.

This morning I am off to San Diego for the rarely produced Pizzetti opera ASSASSINIO NELLA CATEDRALE, based on T. S. Eliot’s MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL.  I have only heard a recording of this opera and am really looking forward to tonight’s performance.

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