Lyric Opera of Chicago

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The enduring influence of DON GIOVANNI

Mozart's Don Giovanni, which opens Lyric's 2014-15 season on September 27, has a long history and an even longer legacy. Read on to find out which compositions, films, and authors have been influenced by this masterful opera. 

Mozart's Don Giovanni, which opens Lyric's 2014-15 season on September 27, has a long history and an even longer legacy. Based on the Don Juan legends that date back to the early 1600s, about 150 years before Mozart's opera premiered, the opera has become an enduring cultural touchstone, perhaps because of its intoxicating mix of comedy, tragedy, and the supernatural. And did you know that famous libertine Casanova perhaps even played a small role in the composition of this piece, since he was acquainted with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte?

These tales of a serial womanizer would inspire other great works of art across the centuries, including Molière's comedy Dom Juan ou le Festin de pierre (1665), Lord Bryon's epic poem Don Juan (1821), and the recent film Don Jon (2013), which placed the lover in modern New Jersey. 

Since its premiere to rapturous reviews in Prague in 1787, Don Giovanni remains one of the most widely admired and most influential operas ever written. Playwright George Bernard Shaw deemed it "perfect." Novelist Gustave Flaubert called Don Giovanni one of "the three finest things God ever made." The other two? Hamlet and the sea. In addition to its literary influence, the musical themes woven throughout the work inspired other composers.

Franz Liszt wrote Réminiscences de Don Juan, an opera fantasy for piano, performed here by Lang Lang (who you can see in recital at Lyric on Saturday, May 9, 2015):

 

Frédéric Chopin wrote Variations on "Là ci darem la mano" for Orchestra and Piano, based on the love duet from the opera:

 

And Ludwig van Beethoven was also inspired by this famous duo, writing his own variations: 

 

And here are just a few examples of how music from the opera has been used in some more current adaptations! The composition of the opera is a pivotal moment in the Oscar-winning film by Miloš Forman, Amadeus:

 

 

It also provides the backdrop for an intense scene in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Guy Ritchie's take on the famed detective starring Robert Downey, Jr.

 

The aria that inspired Beethoven and Chopin also pops up on The Muppet Show:

 

And just for fun, here's a famous Don, Luciano Pavarotti, with an unusual Zerlina-singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow.

     

(Lyric Opera of Chicago does not own copyrights to any of the above videos.)

 

60th Anniversary Sneak Peek: Jeanne Gang Concert Shell Taking Shape

The new Jeanne Gang-designed concert shell is taking shape! The shell will debut at Lyric's 60th Anniversary Concert on November 1, and work is now well underway on the logistics of building the structure, including choosing materials.

The new Jeanne Gang-designed concert shell is taking shape! The shell will debut at Lyric's 60th Anniversary Concert on November 1, and work is now well underway on the logistics of building the structure, including choosing materials. Pictured above are different wood species, cuts, and stains that Lyric and Studio Gang have been considering for the finished surface. To test how the shell would take to light on stage, a small section of the ceiling of the shell was built, to show how the area with the tightest curves would look.

The winner? Jeanne Gang selected rift cut white oak with a natural clear-coat stain. Rift cut wood is manufactured by milling perpendicular to the log's growth rings, producing a linear grain pattern with no flecking. Rift sawn lumber is the most dimensionally stable cut of lumber available and has a unique linear appearance; both qualities are important for the project's design and construction. 

Here's a look at what the finished product will look like (on the right) with a view of the Ardis Krainik Theatre on the left.

Learn more about Jeanne Gang and this exciting project  

And don't miss out on this one-night-only event that features Jane Lynch, Renée Fleming, Ramsey Lewis, Christine Goerke, Ana María Martínez, Eric Owens, The Second City, and more. Get your seats before they are gone!

Photo credits:

  • New concert shell in progress (credit Carrie Krol / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
  • A view of Lyric's Ardis Krainik Theatre with a rendering of the concert shell design. (Courtesy of Studio Gang Architects, Original Photography - Jon Miller, Hedrich Blessing)

Matthew Aucoin on SECOND NATURE

Composer and librettist Matthew Aucoin shares his thoughts on Second Nature, the new children's opera coming in 2015 from Lyric Unlimited.

One of Lyric Unlimited's anticipated upcoming projects Second Nature, a new children's opera that will be performed at the Lincoln Park Zoo on August 19 and 20, 2015. Matthew Aucoin is acting as composer and librettist for this commission. The young American composer is also a noted conductor, pianist, and poet. Here are his musings on this work-in-progress: 

On Second Nature

An opera for kids! But is there such a thing as an opera "for adults"? If there is, I don't want to hear it. Opera, by nature, exists in a mythical space—it lives high above and far beneath adult reality. It's sublime and subliminal, it's sacred and obscene, it gives voice and form to the unspeakable and the repressed.

Here's a litmus test for any opera: does it manage to shut down all our rational adult defense mechanisms, so that we innocently submit ourselves to total sensory experience? Are questions of "believability" made irrelevant? Does it speak to us with a voice that cannot possibly be real, yet somehow is?

Opera addresses an ancient innocence in us, and it demands a childlike openness. So to write an opera with kids in mind is just to extend what opera always does. Just like the world of fairy tales, opera is peopled by archetypes-made-flesh, by walking manifestations of our deepest fears and desires. The Queen of the Night. The Grand Inquisitor. The Animal Tamer. The Vixen. Bluebeard and his wives. The androgynous pageboy. The lover in disguise.

One old nightmare of ours seems to be coming true at the moment: Mother Nature is turning on us. Mythology is colliding with reality; it's like all the ancient gods are taking revenge on the human race. Nature, which has always been "the unchangeable," is undergoing a terrible change—at our hands.

Second Nature  is set after the fall of nature. Humankind has found itself in a negative Eden: this time, we're stuck in a virtual "garden" of our own creation. We don't want to deal with big bad Nature anymore. It'll take a couple of kids—born in this bland synthetic world—who have the right blend of innocence, openness and daring to bite the fruit and explore a new world. Actually, those are just the qualities you need to listen to opera...

Photo credit:
  • Matthew Aucoin (credit Social Palates)
 
Subjects:

IL TROVATORE: A Lyric Photo History

Gypsies! Curses! Brothers switched at birth! A love triangle! Tragic deaths! Verdi's Il Trovatore truly has everything. The opera was a huge popular success when it first premiered, and it today remains one of the top 20 operas performed around the world. Learn more about the history of this work at Lyric.

Gypsies! Curses! Brothers switched at birth! A love triangle! Tragic deaths! Verdi's Il Trovatore truly has everything. The opera was a hugely popular success when it premiered, and it today remains one of the 20 most popular operas performed around the world.

Before you come and see Yonghoon Lee, Amber Wagner, Stephanie Blythe, and Quinn Kelsey in Sir David McVicar's production later this season, take a look at some past productions of this great opera throughout Lyric's history.

1955 

Il Trovatore had its company premiere in 1955, the second season of Lyric Theatre of Chicago. This production was conducted by company co-founder Nicola Rescigno and featured an all-star cast that included tenor Jussi Björling. Maria Callas—who had just made her American debut in Chicago in 1954—was making her second of three appearances in the 1955 season as Leonora. Callas had appeared in three productions in Lyric's inaugural season. Her sixth and final opera appearance at Lyric also came in 1955 when she played Cio-Cio San in her only staged performances of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. In the photo below, she is greeting Metropolitan Opera general manager Rudolf Bing after one of her Trovatore performances.

1956 & 1958 

Though there are no pictures of Lyric's 1956 production of Il Trovatore, it was notable in that it was the American debut of Bruno Bartoletti, Lyric's future artistic director and principal conductor. Replacing his mentor, Tullio Serafin, Bartoletti would win rave reviews and the admiration of Carol Fox, who would later appoint him co-artistic director with Pino Donati. 

The 1958 production was conducted by Lee Schaenen and featured Ettore Bastianini and Jussi Björling returning as di Luna and Manrico, with Elinor Ross as Leonora and the great Giulietta Simionato as Azucena.

Pictured below (clockwise from top left): Jussi Björling, Anna-Lisa Björling, and Ettore Bastianini read backstage; Leonora (Ross) and Manrico (Björling); Azucena (Simionato) confronts di Luna (Bastianini) as Leonora (Ross) lies dead.  

1964 

This new-to-Lyric production was imported from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where it had been performed a few years earlier. Lyric's stage director was Christopher West and the set and costumes were created by the design group Motley, whose sketches are below. 

Grace Bumbry portrayed Azucena, with Franco Corelli as Manrico (one of his signature roles), along with Ilva Ligabue (Leonora), and  Mario Zanasi (di Luna) completing the leading quartet. Bruno Bartoletti returned to conduct in his first season as co-artistic director.

Pictured above (clockwise from left): Azucena (Bumbry) and Manrico (Corelli); Manrico (Corelli) and Leonora (Ligabue); and di Luna (Zanasi) and Leonora (Ligabue).

This production is also notable for featuring in Count di Luna's army some supernumeraries from Chicago's Kelvyn Park High School, including a young Mike Gross. He would, of course, later go on to achieve huge success as Steven Keaton in Family Ties.

1987-88 

After more than a 20-year absence from Lyric's stage, ll Trovatore would return in a new production from director Sonja Frisell (designed by Nicola Benois) with Bruno Bartoletti on the podium. Pictured below (clockwise from top left) are Giuliano Ciannella as Manrico and Shirley Verrett as Azucena; a view of the set;  Leo Nucci as Count di Luna; and Anna Tomowa-Sintow as Leonora.

1993-94 

This was a revival of Frisell's production, last seen in 1987-88 (this time with conductor Richard Buckley), but these performances of Il Trovatore were notable for featuring the new Verdi critical edition that had just been released by the University of Chicago Press. Dolora Zajick portrayed Azucena—one of her most acclaimed roles—with Chris Merritt (Manrico), Paolo Gavanelli (di Luna), and Lyubov Kazarnovskaya (Leonora).

Pictured above (clockwise from top left): Manrico (Merritt) and Azucena (Zajick); Azucena (Zajick) confronts di Luna (Gavanelli); Leonora (Kazarnovskaya) and Manrico (Merritt); and Leonora (Kazarnovskaya), Manrico (Merritt), and di Luna (Gavanelli). 

2006-07 

A decade after its last Lyric performance, Sir David McVicar updated the action to Spain in the early 1800s, during the Peninsular Wars. The sets, designed by Charles Edwards, were inspired by the paintings of Goya and are grounded by an impenetrable castle wall. Due to the change in period, the gypsies actually have something to do during the Anvil Chorus—they are making weapons for the revolution!

Dolora Zajick reprised her 1993-94 role as Azucena, with Walter Fraccaro as Manrico, Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora, and Mark Delavan as Count di Luna. This production is also notable because it would be Bruno Bartoletti's second-to-last appearance on Lyric's podium. He would return to open the 2007-08 season with La Traviata, his final Lyric appearance.

Pictured above (clockwise from top left): Azucena (Zajick); the Anvil Chorus scene; Manrico (Fraccaro) and Leonora (Radvanovsky); di Luna (Delavan) and Manrico (Fraccaro) duel in front of Leonora (Radvanovsky).

 Photo credits:

  • 1955 - photo courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago Archives
  • 1958 - Björling/Bastianini backstage photo courtesy Chicago Daily News; production photos credit Nancy Sorensen.
  • 1964 - photos credit David H. Fishman; super photo courtesy Michael Gross
  • 1987-88 - photos credit Tony Romano
  • 1993-94 - photos credit Dan Rest
  • 2006-07 - photos credit Dan Rest, except Anvil Chorus (credit Robert Kusel). 

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