Go inside Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park with engaging articles, notes from the general director and mayor, artist bios, and more.
As Mayor, and on behalf of the City of Chicago, I am pleased to extend warmest greetings to all those gathered for tonight's concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, presented by the City of Chicago and Millennium Park.
Since its establishment in 1954, Lyric Opera of Chicago has been a beacon of operatic excellence, music, and culture. Lyric Opera is internationally renowned and has a longstanding commitment to arts, education, and artistic development which places Lyric at the heart of our communities with its initiatives focused on Chicago-area children and teenagers. The great success, cemented by steady patronage year after year, is made evident in the continuation of tonight's popular event at one of Chicago's great treasures - Millennium Park's Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
This free concert allows the entire family to explore historic elements of the world's musical canon. I could not be more excited for this event and commend Lyric Opera of Chicago for providing residents and visitors with unique opportunities to experience some of the best of Chicago's vibrant culture. I would also like to thank all of the organizers and performers for making this concert possible through your tireless efforts and great passion for opera.
I hope that those visiting our great city take time to experience some of the special places in Chicago. Our iconic skyline and incredible lakefront invite you to explore all that Chicago has to offer. I hope you have a chance to sample our distinguished restaurants, tour our great universities, and visit our world-class museums during your stay.
Please accept my heartfelt welcome as you celebrate and enjoy Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel
It’s my pleasure to welcome you to the annual Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park concert. We thank Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cultural Commissioner Mark Kelly for once again making the Pritzker Pavilion available for us to offer this special gift to the City of Chicago.
All of us at Lyric are grateful for the participation of Lyric’s magnificent orchestra and chorus, along with the host of brilliant stars you’ll be hearing this evening. I’m also delighted that the concert marks the first Chicago appearance of our conductor, Domingo Hindoyan, who will be on the podium for Lyric’s opening production of the season, Puccini’s glorious La bohème.
It’s been our custom to feature a number of operas from the upcoming season in our Millennium Park programs. Those highlighted tonight, in addition to La bohème, are Mozart’s deeply moving Idomeneo and two popular Verdi works: the powerfully dramatic Il trovatore and the exquisitely romantic La traviata.
The 2018/19 season at Lyric includes other wonderful works: the third installment of Wagner’s Ring cycle with the exhilarating Siegfried; Strauss’s mesmerizing Elektra; and two long-awaited Lyric premieres – Massenet’s enchanting retelling of the Cinderella story, Cendrillon, and Handel’s musically and vocally breathtaking Ariodante. We’re also thrilled to bring you Leonard Bernstein’s incomparable West Side Story; a riveting new American work, Jack Perla’s An American Dream; a recital by world-renowned Russian soprano Anna Netrebko; and a concert and gala celebrating one of today’s most beloved and celebrated artists, soprano Renée Fleming, commemorating the 25th anniversary of her Lyric debut.
I want to offer Lyric’s deepest thanks to our lead sponsor, closerlook inc., and our cosponsors: an Anonynous Donor, Rhoda and Henry Frank Family Foundation, Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP, Crain-Maling Foundation, Fifth Third Bank, Komarek-Hyde-McQueen Foundation/Patricia Hyde, Allan and Elaine Muchin, 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
Verdi, La forza del destino, Overture
Thanks to the involvement and influence of the great tenor Enrico Tamberlik, Verdi was able to premiere La forza del destino in St. Petersburg in 1862. This work, based on a now-forgotten Spanish drama, is somewhat unwieldy in its dramatic shape but full of stunning music. The magnificently stirring overture incorporates several vital themes from the opera: the agitated “Fate” theme; the soaring melody voiced by the strings and sung by the desperate heroine, Leonora, upon her arrival at the monastery where she hopes to be sheltered from the world forever; the quiet, sorrowful theme of the hero Don Alvaro’s appeal to Leonora’s vengeful brother, Don Carlo; and the joyous allegro brillante theme voiced by the clarinet, later sung by Leonora upon learning that Padre Guardiano, the monastery’s Father Superior, will grant her refuge.
Verdi, Un ballo in maschera, “Alzati! Là tuo figlio…Eri tu”,
Premiered in Rome in 1859, Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball) is loosely based on a play by Eugène Scribe, Gustave III, which chronicles the assassination of the King of Sweden. The plot had previously been utilized by two other opera composers, DanielFrançois Auber and Saverio Mercadante. It was sublimely treated by Verdi, who in Ballo created one of the gems of his “middle period.” The composer’s gifts were in perfect balance, in terms of meeting the needs of a drama and sustaining melodic and harmonic interest throughout a three-act dramatic structure. Every number in Ballo is strikingly characterized, and a great many rank among Verdi’s finest achievements.
One of the most popular of all Verdi baritone arias, “Eri tu” is sung by Renato shortly after the pivotal moment of the opera. The secretary and good friend of King Gustavo, he has been ordered to lead the king’s veiled inamorata back to town after her tryst with Gustavo. The king has ordered Renato not to ask the lady’s identity. When the two are encountered and taunted by the king’s enemies, the woman, in order to avoid bloodshed, lifts her veil. Renato thus discovers that the king’s love interest is his own wife, Amelia! Once the two have returned to their home, he rages at her supposed betrayal and declares that he will kill her. When she begs for one moment to see their son, he grants her request. In his aria, he gazes at a portrait of the king and proclaims that he will have vengeance, while at the same time lamenting his lost happiness.
Verdi, Ernani, “Che mai vegg’io!...Infelice e tuo credevi…Infin che un brando vindice”
The young Giuseppe Verdi was already well into his career at the time of his fifth opera, Ernani. The composer based this work on a well-known play by Victor Hugo. The opera premiered in 1844 at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice. In contrast to the hostile atmosphere in that theater when Verdi’s La traviata premiered there in 1853, the first performance of Ernani was a triumph and did much to enhance Verdi’s growing fame.
The work’s leading lady is Elvira, who is in love with the bandit Ernani and he with her. She is pursued, however, by two other men – Don Carlo, King of Spain; and Elvira’s own aged uncle, the grandee Silva, who is planning to marry her. In his castle, she is visited first by the disguised Don Carlo (she recognizes him), whose advances she vehemently rejects. He is about to abduct her when Ernani appears via a secret door. He and Don Carlo are quarreling violently over Elvira when Silva suddenly appears with his retinue. Shocked at discovering his betrothed with two unknown men, he laments in his nobly beautiful cavatina that in his old age the young woman he considered perfect has turned his heart to ice. He then calls for his sword and, in the stirring cabaletta – robust and rhythmically vigorous in a manner highly typical of early Verdi – he vows revenge
Saint-Saëns, Samson et Dalila, Bacchanale; “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix”
By far the most famous opera of Camille Saint-Saëns is Samson et Dalila, which premiered in 1877. Although somewhat static (many critics consider it as much oratorio as opera), it has several assets that have kept it in the repertoire worldwide for more than a century: the strength of the famous Biblical story that serves as its dramatic source; some mesmerizing dance music; and above all, the vividness with which Saint-Saëns characterized the two leading roles.
The musical highlight of the opera’s final scene is the Bacchanale, long a showpiece for orchestras everywhere. The Israelite hero Samson has been captured, and the Philistines are celebrating in the temple of Dagon. A sinuous and intoxicating oboe solo begins a dance that builds spectacularly in intensity to a peak of wild exuberance.
Dalila, the opera’s heroine (perhaps one should say “anti-heroine”) is a priestess of the pagan god Dagon who invites Samson to her retreat in the valley of Sorek. Anticipating his arrival, she is determined to make Samson succumb to her charms. Once he appears, she works her wiles in the opera’s most famous solo passage. This is the last of her three arias, known to English-speaking audiences in earlier decades as “My heart at thy sweet voice.” In the aria’s repeated voicing of “Réponds à ma tendresse” (“Give an answer to my tenderness”), the singer can exert a spell not only on her tenor, but on her audience as well.
Puccini, Gianni Schicchi, “O mio babbino caro”
The rascal Gianni Schicchi, a character who appears in Dante’s Divine Comedy, is also the title hero of Giacomo Puccini’s only comic opera. A one-act work, Gianni Schicchi premiered as part of a trio of one-acts, Il trittico/The Triptych, at the Metropolitan Opera in 1918. The three pieces are frequently presented together, and each has also found an audience on its own, but Schicchi remains the most popular by far. Much of the public’s affection for it has to do with the aria of young Lauretta, Schicchi’s daughter. “O mio babbino caro” has had a life beyond the opera house, thanks to its prominent use in one of the most memorable films of the 1980s, MerchantIvory’s A Room with a View.
Immediately upon the death of a distinguished Florentine, Buoso Donati, his relatives search his home for his will. It is found by Rinuccio, who hands it over only on the condition that, if he comes off well in the will, he will be given Lauretta’s hand in marriage. None of the relatives are happy with the will as it stands, so Rinuccio suggests that Gianni Schicchi be enlisted to use his wiles in altering the will in their favor. Schicchi, when sent for, refuses to help until Lauretta pleads with him in one of Puccini’s most endearing arias.
Verdi, Il trovatore, “Vedi! Le fosche notturne” (Anvil Chorus)
The early 1850s found Giuseppe Verdi proving his greatness as never before, with three works which have never lost their hold on the collective imagination of operagoers the world over. Rigoletto came first, then Il trovatore, and finally La traviata. Of the three, Il trovatore most specifically defines “grand opera” in the stereotypical sense of the phrase – so much so that the Marx Brothers chose a Trovatore production as the setting for their antics in A Night at the Opera! This work’s emotions are painted in primary colors, and Verdi’s prodigality as a tunesmith results in nonstop melodic glory.
In 14th-century Spain, Manrico is an officer in the army of the Prince of Urgel. He is in love with the noblewoman Leonora. Manrico, who has been raised by the gypsy Azucena and believes her to be his mother, does not know that he and his enemy, Count di Luna – himself in love with Leonora – are actually brothers. Act Two finds Azucena and Manrico in a gypsy camp in the Biscay mountains. As the act opens, dawn has just broken. The men swing their hammers and crash them down on the anvils, to a spirited refrain: “Who makes the gypsy’s life beautiful? The gypsy girl!” The so-called “Anvil Chorus” remains one of opera’s most popular choral numbers, 165 years after it was first introduced at the Rome premiere of Il trovatore.
Mozart, Idomeneo, “Placido è il mar”
Mozart’s operatic maturity began in 1781 in Munich with the premiere of Idomeneo, his tenth completed opera (not bad for a composer who celebrated his 25th birthday only two days before the premiere). Suddenly he was bringing vivid personalities to life, in music conveying a wrenching emotional power. For sheer beauty, this work can stand comparison with any other Mozart stage work. In addition, the private agony of public personalities is communicated as powerfully and sincerely as would be the case with Verdi decades later. Emotions throughout affect the listener profoundly, unlike those of so many works in the era of opera seria, of which Idomeneo is both the summit and the turning point.
More than any other Mozart opera, Idomeneo gives prominence to the chorus, who portray the people of Crete where Idomeneo is king. He is returning home from the Trojan War when a storm endangers his ship. He begs Neptune to allow him a safe landing, but the god agrees only when Idomeneo promises to sacrifice the first person he sees upon his return. This turns out to be his son, Prince Idamante. The king’s minister, Arbace, advises him to send his son away. Idomeneo determines that Idamante will serve as Princess Elettra’s escort for her voyage home to Argos. Elettra is ecstatic at the thought that, once away from the captive Princess Ilia – her rival for Idamante’s affections – she will succeed in making him hers. She joins the people of Crete as they wish for a calm sea and gentle breezes for the couple’s journey.
Verdi, La traviata, “Libiamo, libiamo ne’ lieti calici”
Premiered in 1853 in Venice, La traviata (The Woman Who Has Gone Astray) is certainly the most romantic of Verdi’s operas, and the most beloved by the public. Based on the play La dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas fils, the opera premiered catastrophically in Venice. It very quickly caught on, however, stunning audiences with a contemporary realism very unusual for the time. It also rapidly earned the affection of sopranos everywhere, since Verdi created in the courtesan Violetta Valéry probably the most sympathetic and multifaceted heroine in Italian opera. Every musical number in La traviata has long been a familiar favorite – most of all the “brindisi” (drinking song), which has had a life well beyond the opera house, having become a regular soundtrack item in any number of television commercials.
A party is in progress on an August evening at Violetta’s Paris home. Gastone de Letorières introduces her to Alfredo Germont, his friend from the country, who has loved her from afar. When Gastone encourages Alfredo to lead a drinking song, the young man exhorts everyone to drink to beauty, pleasure, and the joys of love, noting that Violetta’s lovely eyes can pierce men to the heart. She then gives her reply, declaring that she wishes to share her own gaiety among all her friends and exhorting everyone to enjoy love’s fleeting delights.
Puccini, La bohème, “Non sono in vena…Che gelida manina…Mi chiamano Mimì…O soave fanciulla”; Act II (complete)
La bohème (1896), Puccini’s tale of young love in 1830s Paris, is considered by literally millions of operagoers to be the most captivating work in the entire repertoire. That view stems not only from the irresistible central romantic couple, Rodolfo and Mimì, but also their uproarious companions, the glorious painting of the Parisian atmosphere through Puccini’s exquisite orchestration, the superbly characterful setpieces for the protagonists (not to mention their two heavenly duets), and above all, the sheer freshness of Puccini’s melodic inspiration.
Midway in the opera’s first act, the poet Rodolfo has just realized he is not in a writing mood when a knock on the door reveals a lovely young woman, asking if Rodolfo can light her candle. He invites her in, but she is exhausted and faints. Rodolfo revives her and offers wine. Once her candle is lit, she leaves, only to return moments later – she has dropped her key. A draft extinguishes her candle, then Rodolfo’s, and the search is conducted in darkness. Rodolfo finds and pockets the key without informing his visitor. As both continue searching, their hands touch. Rodolfo suggests they stop looking until the moon provides better light. He tells her he is a penniless poet whose dreams make him a millionaire. The girl then reveals to him that her name is Mimì – she is a seamstress who lives a quiet life and looks forward to every spring.
Rodolfo’s friends’ voices rise from the street, urging him to hurry. He shouts down that he will meet them at Café Momus. Rodolfo then gazes ecstatically at Mimì in the moonlight (Duet: “O soave fanciulla”). He kisses her, but she shyly pulls away, reminding him that his friends are waiting. When Rodolfo hesitates to leave her, she suggests they go together.
In Act Two, a holiday crowd attends to last-minute Christmas shopping. When the Bohemians meet at the café, Rodolfo introduces his friends to Mimì and she displays a bonnet he has bought for her. The group orders some supper.
Musetta and her aged “protector,” Alcindoro, arrive. Marcello avoids looking at Musetta, a former flame with whom he had quarreled. She tries to attract his attention by explaining to everyone what a charmer she is. Determined to rid herself of Alcindoro, Musetta pretends to have a painful shoe, and sends the old man off to buy another pair. Her reconciliation with Marcello is interrupted by the arrival of the Bohemians’ bill. Musetta combines it with hers, informing the waiters that Alcindoro will pay both. The six friends join the rest of the crowd following a military procession out of the square. Returning with the shoes, poor Alcindoro is faced with the bill.
Roger Pines, Dramaturg