Go inside Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park with engaging articles, notes from the general director, artist bios, and more.
Verdi, Luisa Miller, Overture
Luisa Miller (1849), the 14th of Verdi’s 26 operas, is a transitional work, pointing the way to the glories of the composer’s “middle period” while retaining the irresistible vitality of his earlier operas. In Luisa Miller he was becoming a more searching composer, entering more fully into his characters’ psychology and becoming a more vivid musical dramatist. The heart of the opera’s exciting overture is a buoyant theme that would have fit comfortably into the style of Verdi’s predecessor, the bel canto master Gaetano Donizetti.
Verdi, Falstaff, “È sogno o realtà?”
Adapted from plays by his hero Shakespeare (The Merry Wives of Windsor and portions of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2), Falstaff was Giuseppe Verdi’s only successful comedy and the crowning glory of his long career. With the skill of its character delineation and its consistently astounding musical imagination, it holds an exalted place in the Verdi canon. Every character is irresistible, and Verdi handled each one with amazing liveliness and imagination. The opera seems so youthful, it’s hard to believe Verdi was nearly 80 at the time! He composed it for his own pleasure, collaborating with the brilliant librettist Arrigo Boito. Falstaff received tumultuous acclaim in its premiere at Milan’s La Scala in 1893.
The opera’s central character, Sir John Falstaff, writes identical love letters to Alice Ford and Meg Page. Alice’s husband hears about the letters and is furious. Disguising himself as “Master Brook,” he visits Falstaff and is horrified to hear that the old knight will be visiting Alice that day between two and three. While Falstaff is off changing into his best clothes, Ford sings a magnificent monologue combining intense bitterness with a consuming desire for revenge.
Donizetti, La favorite, “La maîtresse du roi!… Ange si pur”
Among all major opera composers, Gaetano Donizetti is the most prolific. Of his more than 60 operas, many were written during the final years of his career. Premiered in Paris, La favorite (1840) was composed for some of the most remarkable singers of Donizetti’s day, and the drama remains a vehicle for passionate but elegant bel canto vocalism.
In 14th-century Spain, Fernand, a novice in a Castilian monastery, falls in love with an unknown lady, Léonor, the favorite of King Alphonse XI. After much intrigue, the king willingly bestows titles of nobility and military honors on Fernand, and all is set for his wedding to Léonor. Their happiness is interrupted by Balthazar, the monastery’s father superior, who believes Fernand is dishonoring himself by marrying the king’s mistress. Fernand confronts Alphonse and rejects his favor. Bitterly unhappy, he returns to the monastery and, in the touching “Ange si pur,” he laments having been betrayed by Léonor.
Puccini, Madama Butterfly, “Un bel dì”; Humming Chorus
Along with La bohème and Tosca, Madama Butterfly has been most crucial in sustaining Giacomo Puccini’s worldwide popularity. Surprisingly enough, Butterfly was unsuccessful at its 1904 premiere at Milan’s La Scala. It took significant revisions in the Brescia production three months later for audiences to recognize the work’s true greatness. It’s based on David Belasco’s play of the same name, which in turn had its source in a short story by John Luther Long.
While in Nagasaki, Japan, Lt. B.F. Pinkerton of the U.S. Navy has a traditional Japanese marriage ceremony. His bride is a geisha, Cio-Cio-San (a.k.a. Madame Butterfly). Pinkerton soon leaves for America, promising to return when the robins are nesting. Three years go by, with Cio-Cio-San giving birth to his child and never losing hope. Early in Act Two she sings her moving aria,“Un bel dì,” telling her maid Suzuki that Pinkerton will return “one beautiful day.” The opera’s exquisitely atmospheric “Humming Chorus” (usually sung from offstage) ends the first half of Act Two.
Mozart, Don Giovanni, “Là ci darem la mano”
Premiered in Prague in 1787, Don Giovanni has been universally acclaimed as the perfect opera, with its eight characters all coming vividly to life in one unforgettable scene after another. At the center of the piece is a man whose seduction and abandonment of countless women is looked upon in today’s times as something appalling, and completely deserving the comeuppance he receives in the opera’s finale -- his descent into hell.
In the opera’s first act Giovanni meets a peasant couple, Zerlina and Masetto, who are about to be married. After managing to get Masetto out of the way, Don Giovanni proceeds to seduce the hesitant Zerlina in the most famous of all Mozart duets.
Rachmaninoff, Aleko, “Ves tabor spit”
The one-act opera Aleko (1892) was written while Sergei Rachmaninoff was still a conservatory student. With a Pushkin poem entitled The Gypsies as its dramatic source, Aleko is perhaps the finest of the three operas the composer completed (there are portions of three others – all are one-act works). It was also the work that set Rachmaninoff on his path as a professional.
Although the entire work is seldom produced by opera companies outside Russia, bass-baritones everywhere cherish the title character’s powerful monologue. Aleko has married Zemfira, a gypsy, who tires of him and is attracted to a younger member of the gypsy band. Recalling that he had abandoned his old existence for the freedom of gypsy life and for Zemfira, Aleko (like Don José in Bizet’s Carmen) despairs at the thought of her now extinguished passion.
Tchaikovsky, The Queen of Spades, “Vy tak pechalny…Ya vas lyublyu”
After triumphing with Eugene Onegin in 1879, 11 years later Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky turned again to a work of Alexander Pushkin when he adapted the riveting story The Queen of Spades. Tchaikovsky’s opera of that name is loaded with memorable music, from grand choruses to heartfelt arias and two passionate duets for the hero and heroine.
The most celebrated musical episode from this opera belongs to a supporting role for baritone, Prince Yeletsky. This character is engaged to Lisa, who has no interest in him once she falls in love with Gherman, an officer obsessed with the secret of winning at cards. All three are at a ball where Yeletsky is able to snatch a moment alone with Lisa. He senses that she’s troubled, and in his touchingly heartfelt aria, he begs her to confide in him.
Bizet, Carmen, “La cloche a sonné…Dans l’air nous suivons des yeux”; “Quand je vous aimerai?... L’amour est un oiseau rebelle”
Based on the famous novella of the same name by Prosper Mérimée (1845), Carmen premiered at Paris’s Opéra Comique in 1875. The failure of its premiere deeply saddened Georges Bizet, who didn’t live to see the work skyrocket to international popularity. His masterpiece, Carmen remains one of the most popular of all operas, mesmerizing in its depiction of Spain and the plot’s two emotionally volatile protagonists.
In Act One, the men of Seville anticipate the appearance of the young women working in Seville’s cigarette factory, who are on a break. They sing about the intoxicating smoke. When Carmen appears, she’s surrounded by her fellow cigarette girls but also by the men of Seville, all of whom are interested in her. She waves them off, but pauses and, in her captivating “Habanera,” describes love as a bird that no one can tame.
Rossini, The Barber of Seville, Overture and excerpts from Act One
Italian comic opera was slowly dying, for lack of originality, before Gioachino Rossini came along. Thanks to an extraordinary ability to bring humor to both orchestral and vocal lines, he was able to invigorate operatic comedy singlehandedly. His most famous comedy, The Barber of Seville (1816), based on the play of the same name by Pierre-Auguste Caron de Beaumarchais, is musically and dramatically uproarious from start to finish.
Count Almaviva is in love with Dr. Bartolo’s ward, Rosina, and decides to serenade her at dawn (“Ecco ridente in cielo”). Once Figaro, resourceful barber of the city of Seville, conveniently appears (“Largo al factotum”), the count enlists his help in arranging a meeting with Rosina. Bartolo tells a servant not to admit anyone to the house but Don Basilio, Rosina’s music teacher. Before the day is over, Bartolo hopes to marry Rosina himself. Figaro and the count plan to bring the count into Bartolo’s house in disguise.
Rosina, who believes her serenader’s name is “Lindoro,” swears that he will be hers (“Una voce poco fa”). Bartolo is worried that this young man could actually be Count Almaviva. Don Basilio suggests that spreading a few rumors could cool Rosina’s feelings for her admirer (“La calunnia”). Figaro reveals to Rosina that Lindoro is head-over-heels in love with her. Rosina produces a note she has written to Lindoro, and Figaro leaves to deliver it.
Almaviva barges into Bartolo’s house, impersonating a drunken soldier. He manages to slip a note to Rosina. When the police appear -- summoned by Bartolo -- the disorderly soldier is arrested. After managing to reveal his true identity to the sergeant in command, he’s immediately released, to everyone’s astonishment.
— Roger Pines
Dramaturg, Lyric Opera of Chicago
Welcome to the 2019 Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park concert! We thank Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cultural Commissioner Mark Kelly for again making the Pritzker Pavilion available for us to share this special experience with the City of Chicago.
I’m thrilled that our world-renowned music director, Sir Andrew Davis, is on the podium tonight. He’ll be leading Lyric’s magniﬁ cent orchestra and chorus, along with a host of world-renowned stars who will ﬁgure prominently in the 2019/20 Lyric season.
It’s our custom to highlight the upcoming season in our Millennium Park concerts, and I know you’ll be as excited as I am about the season when you hear tonight’s varied program. We’re featuring the opera that opens the season, Rossini’s effervescent comic masterpiece, The Barber of Seville, along with four other great works that are back at Lyric this season – Verdi’s Luisa Miller, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Puccini’s Madama Butterﬂy, and Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades.
The season will also include “The Three Queens” – a special program featuring the ﬁnales of Donizetti’s three “Tudor Queen” operas. I’m very excited about two American works: the Lyric premiere of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, an extraordinarily moving work based on the groundbreaking novel by Sister Helen Prejean; and, at The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare, Lyric Unlimited’s production of a brand-new work, intensely relevant to our own time and our own city – Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.
The climax of the operatic portion of the season will be the greatest challenge any opera company can take on: Richard Wagner’s monumental Ring cycle, in its ﬁrst full presentation in Chicago in 15 years.
One of the most exhilarating American musicals, 42nd Street, will arrive at Lyric in the spring, and special events at the opera house will include a recital by a longtime company favorite, world-renowned Welsh bass-baritone Sir Bryn Terfel.
I want to offer Lyric’s deepest thanks to our lead sponsor, closerlook, inc., and our cosponsors: Walter E. Heller Foundation, An Anonymous Donor, Rhoda and Henry Frank Family Foundation, Baker Tilly Virchow Krause LLP, CNA, Crain-Maling Foundation, the Komarek-Hyde-McQueen Foundation/Patricia Hyde, Sipi Metals Corp., the Music Performance Trust Fund, and the Film Funds Trust Funds.
Have a wonderful evening at Millennium Park. I hope to see you again throughout the season!
General Director, President & CEO
The Women’s Board Endowed Chair