Critic’s Choice for the 2017-18 season

Mon Aug 28, 2017 at 11:10 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Sir John Eliot Gardiner will conduct performances of all three Claudio Monteverdi operas October 11-15 at the Harris Theater. Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke
John Eliot Gardiner will conduct performances of all three Claudio Monteverdi operas October 12-15 at the Harris Theater. Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke

Music of the Baroque: Mendelssohn’s Elijah. September 16 and 17 at the Harris Theater and North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.

Purists will quibble that Felix Mendelssohn’s epic Elijah is about a century out of Music of the Baroque’s mandate. But with the sterling soloists Jane Glover has corralled for this rarely heard 1846 oratorio–Eric Owens, Susanna Phillips, Elizabeth DeShong and William Burden–it’s tough to complain about genre mission creep.

Monteverdi 450 opera cycle. John Eliot Gardiner with the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists. October 12-15 at the Harris Theater.

The biggest operatic event of the 2017-18 season isn’t taking place at the Civic Opera House but several blocks east at the Harris Theater in October. Marking the 450th birthday anniversary of Claudio Monteverdi, John Eliot Gardiner will lead solo singers, the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir in performances of all three surviving Monteverdi operas: Orfeo, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and L’incoronazione di Poppea (October 12, 13 and 15). The Harris Theater has won a remarkable coup as one of only two U.S stops on Gardiner’s Monteverdi 450 tour, and this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for early-opera enthusiasts.

UC Presents: György Ligeti festival–Arditti Quartet. October 20 at Mandel Hall.

Amy Iwano, executive director of the University of Chicago Presents series, gets the season’s audacious programming award for launching a festival devoted to György Ligeti’s music. The Hungarian composer burst onto the pop-culture scene in 1968 with Stanley Kubrick’s use of his trippy music in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but Ligeti’s ample oeuvre of works—intelligent, witty and sometimes outrageous–remains among the most singular and compelling of the 20th century.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Third Coast Percussion, the Imani Winds and eighth blackbird will all be featured in the season-long series. The festival kicks off October 20 with the celebrated Arditti Quartet performing Ligeti’s String Quartets Nos. 1 (“Métamorphoses noctrunes”) and 2, flanked by Bartok’s Third and Fourth Quartets.

Chicago Opera Theater. Menotti’s The Consul. November 4-12 at the Studebaker Theater.

Give Chicago Opera Theater credit for opening this transitional season with Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul. Patricia Racette stars as Magda Sorel who is trying to flee an unnamed authoritarian government, and runs up against malign state bureaucracy when she is unable to meet with the title official to get visas for her family. Premiered on Broadway in 1950, Menotti’s bleak, cold-war tale of faceless state oppression seems more timely than ever.

Manfred Honeck and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. January 25-30, 2018.

Few CSO podium guests kick up more consistent excitement than Manfred Honeck. The Austrian conductor invariably figures on any short list of potential Riccardo Muti successors, and Honeck’s first Mahler outing with one of the world’s finest Mahler bands–leading the epic Symphony No. 5–holds interest beyond this season.

Albina Shagimuratova stars in Bellini's "I Puritani" February x-9 at Lyric Opera.
Albina Shagimuratova stars in Bellini’s “I Puritani” February 4-28 at Lyric Opera.

UC Presents. Alexander Melnikov performing Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugues, Op. 87. January 28 at Mandel Hall.

Dmitri Shostakovich is best known for his symphonies, concertos and string quartets. Yet in 1951, the Russian composer completed a vast set of 24 Preludes and Fugues for piano, written in every key of the chromatic scale. The Bach inspiration is manifest throughout yet this remarkable music also contains some of Shostakovich’s most varied, interior and beautiful music. Alexander Melnikov, who made an impressive Mandel Hall debut with violinist Isabelle Faust last season, will tackle the complete Op. 87 in a marathon afternoon at Mandel Hall.

Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. World premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto for Low Brass. February 1-3 at Symphony Center.

Riccardo Muti’s most intriguing CSO program this season takes place in February, and is one that they will take on the road to Florida. The main event is the world premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Low Brass Concerto, commissioned by the CSO and written for the storied members at the low end of the orchestra’s brass section. Clémentine Margaine, who made a sterling Lyric Opera debut last season in Massenet’s Don Quichotte, will be the soloist in Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer. Stravinsky’s Scherzo fantastique and Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes fill out the program.

Bellini’s I Puritani at Lyric Opera. February 4-28 at the Civic Opera House.

After an ambitious Lyric Opera lineup last season that included the launch of a new Ring cycle and the company premiere of Berlioz’s Les Troyens, it’s largely back to Opera’s Greatest Hits in 2017-18. Albina Shagimuratova’s star turn in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor was among last year’s opera highlights, and in February the Russian soprano returns for another bel canto heroine, singing the role of Elvira in Bellini’s I Puritani. With Lawrence Brownlee as Arturo and conductor Enrique Mazzola–who made a sensational house debut in that Lucia–again in the pit, I Puritani looks like the best season bet for opera on North Wacker Drive.

Music of the Baroque. Handel’s Esther. February 25 and 27 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie and the Harris Theater.

Rare Handel is, well, rare in Chicago. Handel’s Esther is Music of the Baroque’s second Old Testament oratorio this season after Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and also offers a fine cast of soloists (Heidi Stober, Nicholas Phan, Colin Ainsworth and Christòpheren Nomura), which makes this MOB premiere one to mark on your calendar.

Evgeny Kissin. April 15 (with Emerson Quartet) and May 13 at Symphony Center.

Back-to-back spring appearances in Chicago offer a feast for Evgeny Kissin’s army of local fans. First up, the Russian pianist will make a rare Chicago chamber-music appearance in April, teaming up with the Emerson Quartet in works of Mozart, Fauré and Dvořák. Kissin returns in May for a recital program coupling Rachmaninoff Preludes with Beethoven’s epic “Hammerklavier” sonata.

Music of Gyorgy Ligeti will be featured in a season-long festival by University of Chicago Presents.
Music of György Ligeti will be featured in a season-long festival by University of Chicago Presents.


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