Chicago Sun-Times and suntimes.com, Friday May 17, 2013
Nmon Ford sings the title role of Ernest Bloch's Macbeth, which Chicago Opera Theater will stage as part of its 2014 season. | Photo: Long Beach Opera
Chicago Opera Theater to launch 2014 season with an Ellington rarity
Orff, Ullmann, and a rare 'Macbeth' (by Bloch)
BY ANDREW PATNER
Eclectic. Theatrical. Unusual. 20th century.
In announcing its 2014 season, Chicago Opera Theater continues to move in different directions from its recent past while building on its strong bond with its general director’s Southern California company.
At the company’s annual gala Thursday night, Andreas Mitisek, who also heads the Long Beach (Calif.) Opera, announced the second COT season under his watch and the first planned fully by him.
As he did this year with a Piazzolla tango work, Mitisek stretches the definition of opera with the Chicago première of Duke Ellington’s Queenie Pie, which will launch the season February 15 to 23. For 12 years until his death in 1974, Ellington worked on, but never completed, this musical setting of the life of the first Black self-made millionaire, the hair-products pioneer Madam C. J. Walker.
COT will perform a 2009 version created for the University of Texas at Austin by the composer’s longtime collaborator, Betty McGettigan (who also wrote the work’s libretto). Ellington called this light piece, intended for public television, an opéra comique, and others have compared it to ’20s-era orchestral jazz. COT will collaborate with Jeff Lindberg’s Chicago Jazz Orchestra on the production, which will later travel to Long Beach.
Spring brings a contrasting double bill of one-act German works from 1943: Carl Orff’s Die Kluge (“The Clever One”) and Viktor Ullmann’s Der Kaiser von Atlantis (“The Emperor of Atlantis”). The Bavarian Orff (1895-1982), best known for his 1937 profane cantata Carmina Burana, prospered during and after the Nazi period; his innocently satirical fairy tale opera, adapted from the Brothers Grimm, received productions in 21 theaters under the Nazis.
Ullmann, an assimilated Czech Jew, wrote his biting send-up of the Nazis in the Theresienstadt “model” concentration camp. In 1944, he was mudered at Auschwitz and never saw his opera produced. In 1998, COT presented the Chicago première of the Ullmann work for the company’s 25th anniversary season. This spring bill will be staged May 31 to June 8, 2014, at the Merle Reskin Theatre of DePaul University, 60 East Balbo Drive, instead of the COT’s usual base at the Harris Theater.
Fall brings another work with a complicated history, Swiss-American refugee Ernest Bloch’s 1904-06 Macbeth in its Chicago première, September 13 to 21, 2014, at the Harris. Bloch (1880-1959) remains largely known for such Jewish-influenced works as the 1915 Schelomo, written for 'cello and orchestra. His only completed opera ran up against hard political times in Europe after its première in 1910, and the English-language libretto the composer preferred was not presented on the Continent until 2003 in Vienna. COT promises “a new production based on” the version that will go up at Long Beach next month.
COT’s current season continues with Verdi’s rarely performed Joan of Arc, September 21 to 29 at the Harris.
Mitisek will conduct Macbeth and the spring double-bill. Casts and production teams will be announced later. Full 2014 season subscriptions starting at $95 go on sale July 1, with individual tickets on January 6, 2014.