Tuesday, December 27, 2016


A Giant White Whale was spotted near the Wharf on November 18.   

No ordinary one was it, but the fabulous fabled Moby Dick arriving at Arena Stage!   

Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company’s had sailed with the classic nineteenth century Melville novel of New England whalers with their harpoons and ships, into this twenty-first century theater at the Southwest waterfront.

Moby Dick  is not just another fish story.  That very long Great American novel which many people find unreadable has now taken its legs to the stage. 

  Lookingglass Theatre Company’s exuberant production  while true to Melville’s words and spirit magically interjects both humor and silence into a script that waves between lyrical and dramatic.     

Rather than overload the scenery with authentic looking antiques from that era of New England whalers, this staging employs a unifying symbol. A whale’s rib cage defines the ship’s hull, an image which  interconnects with whale bones used for women’s hoop skirts.  

The choice of bones is apt for the fates of Captain Ahab and the crew of the Pequod is sealed on their whaling ship just as whale oil and products of remaining bones provided for the fortunes of the society dependent on whaling. 

Moby Dick has its memorable quotes  (“My name is Ishmael” for its opening line)  but this production is further filled with unforgettable images.  

A woman in a blue-and-black silk dress enters the theater toward  the stage, her huge shimmery skirt billows like the vast ocean, covering everything beneath.      

Three women like the three Greek fates chant in procession while holding large black ribbed umbrellas to simulate a pod of spouting whales.  

Actors acrobatically dancing in air, struggle to keep from drowning in aerial space now transformed to be below the sea, transformed in a flash, like that fragile line between life and death for this crew.  

While the necessity for whale oil for light and fuel is as dated as cumbersome hoop skirts, Captain Ahab’s obsessive battle against the forces that be is a theme as old as mankind.   

Ahab's refusal to help any human being who would delay his destiny to find that great white whale who haunts him is heartless while the slow gasping death of yet another whale dying at the hands of the harpoonists—portrayed by  a woman mime whose silk skirt is stripped  like whale meat from the bone,  bit by bit revealing the bare skeleton of white whale ribs —heartbreaking. 

Alas!  Is Captain Ahab a mad man?  Is Moby Dick really the monster?  

At last!  Moby Dick makes his appearance in a surprising way and settles the score with these mere mortals!  

Moby Dick was seen leaving Arena after its closing performance Christmas Eve (the day before the Peguod first sailed off in the novel) and heading west after what was another victory for the epic beast, and for this superb ensemble Chicago company.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

 L’Amour de Loin
The Met’s opera sets sail upon A Sea of Love

Do you remember that oldie “Sea of Love”?…  Come with me …To the sea …The sea of love - I wanna tell you -How much-I love you.”  

How simple that song made love  and the sea - both eternal -seem to be.  But for all its beauty and allure,  the sea —like love— is vast and deep and dangerous.    

In  L’Amour de Loin-the Met’s Live in HD broadcast— the sea is the fourth and very complex character in this tale of medieval love.

The title of the opera comes from the poetry of troubadour Jaufre Rudel who developed  the concept of “love from afar.”  In the time of the Second Crusade in the 12th century, the poet fell in love with a Countess in Tripoli, a beautiful woman whom he had never seen but had dreamed of  in his works.  

It is the sea which  separates the lovers and it is across the sea, that the poet will take his fateful journey to finally meet his idolized love. 

Kaija Saariaho’s opera has been described as dazzling even as critics rave that she the first woman composer to have an opera at the Met in over a hundred years (let alone the second opera composed by a woman to be presented by the company.)  Conductor Susanna Malkkiis  has been hailed as brilliant as well as only the fourth woman to take the podium in the company’s history.  

Soprano Susanna Phillips  who sings the title role is stellar as the beautiful Countess.  Bass-baritone Eric Owens is earthy, as the vulnerable troubadour Jaufré, in what has been described as a “weary sadness.”  Mezzo-soprano Tamara Mum is excellent as the pilgrim who facilitates the events which unites the lovers.

The sea, recreated through  the wonders of theatrical technology, and sung by the fabulous Met chorus  looms large as one powerful presence compared to these mere mortals. 

 We can not ignore it any more than we can the contradictions and complexities of love which librettist Amin Maalouf has put into a sea of  words that stoke our mind simultaneously as the music evokes our sensual and our spiritual natures.

L’Amour de Loin is a gem of an opera, one that has garnered wide critical praise for its music and words in each of its productions to date. 

What is most appealing to me is that rather than try to modernize an opera set in olden times, what this modern opera has going for it is that it has a fresh and universal look while remaining true to the essence of this tangled true story from the middle ages.    

And like the oldies but goodies, it works so well because it is authentic in its emotional content—after all, all Jaufre was trying to do was tell the Countess “how much I love you.”

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Five things you need to know about the Met’s Live in HD of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. on December 3, 2016.

1.  The Magic Flute was the first broadcast that launched the Met’s award winning series Live in HD  to movie theaters in 2006.   A hundred operas since then, Live in HD has proven to be a resounding success.  And it all started with that magic moment when The Magic Flute kicked it off ten years ago.

2.  This production is filled with opera legendaries.  Director Julie Taymour,  Maestro James Levine, and an ensemble cast –  Nathan Gunn, Ying Huang, Matthew Polenzani, Erika Miklosa, and René Pape—all  together create a magical stage event.

3.  Tenor Matthew Polenzani might be the prince hero of the opera but guess who takes the honors as being one of the sexiest men alive;  Papageno, his sidekick unwilling bird catcher.   

People magazine labeled baritone Nathan Gunn that in 2008.  Gunn is a real  barihunk or hunkitone —so his lines about wishing for a girlfriend  as Papageno seem even sillier now.

4.   Soprano Ying Huang is a beautiful Pamino but YouTube, which also started around 10 or so years ago,  assures  that Erika Miklosa continues to really be Queen of the Night.

5.  In the same year  as this Met version, Rene Pape was Sarastro  in Kenneth Kenneth Branagh’s movie which sets the opera in WWI.  Wow! He owns that role (as he does so many others).

Now that the facts have checked, enjoy the magic when a 200 year old opera is experienced thorough 20th century technology in a  place — where the silly meets the sublime—the ever now The Magic Flute by Mozart.