Finally I got a little vacation time and after spending a few days in Wyoming I flew back to Chicago and spent what turned out to be a very introspective several days there. This has been a difficult fall. The presidential election has been a horrendous experience, and not just for me. The level of hate and violence and racism and homophobia and anti-Semitism that have been unleashed by one particular candidate has been, well, I can’t even come up with a word for it: Disgusting – unbelievable – reprehensible – these come to mind. And then the final result of the election and all that has transpired since have made it difficult for me to function. It is not having lost that bothers me. It is what has won that is so horrible. And then at the same time there is the military assault taking place in North Dakota against Native Americans. Genocide in Syria, that no one seems to care about. What is wrong with this country? This world? Have we lost of sense of the principals of freedom and justice and due process upon which this country was built. And what about compassion? Have we no shame or compassion? And what is wrong with those folks who would assault other because they are different? I am simply appalled.
So, Chicago… First up – Les Troyans by Hector Berlioz. I had seen it before in HD from the Met and a couple productions online. But live, in the house was a unique experience. It was a terrific performance and I loved the production. This was a production of 1st's - the first time LOC used its new rotating turntable stage, the first time LOC ever performed this work and the first time Christine Goerke sang Cassandra. Vocally and musically it was a wonderful performance. The chorus and the orchestra were wonderful but I loved the cast. CG was powerful as Cassandra (who is my favorite character BTW) Susan Graham was, as expected, wonderful and Brandon Jovanovitch was announced as sick but singing and I really only noticed a little struggle in one brief spot otherwise he has a beautiful voice. The supporting cast were all excellent - especially Christian van Horn as Narbal and the young apprentice tenor who sang Iopas - Gorgeous! I liked the production quite a lot. The turntable and the projections were wonderful. A little more sumptuousness in Carthage part of the opera might have been nice but it all worked. The opera clocked in at 4:45 and this was with two substantial cuts. I missed the scene with the two soldiers and others felt that the ballet was too truncated. I don't know the piece well enough to have an opinion on that. As an extra treat I got to meet two members of the Facebook Met Opera group and It was wonderful to get to meet them. And after the performance there was a question and answer time with the GM and the stars that was also really fun.
So I left this wonderful experience thinking about Cassandra and how she kept saying: “That wooden horse is not what you think it is and it will destroy you!” And how the response – even when they hear the rattling of weapons inside – is “You’re crazy! This is a wonderful present! Make Troy great again!” And guess what? Cassandra is right! We have our own Trojan horse situation going on right now – and I fear for the future under the elect government who doesn’t seem to care about anyone but themselves.
So I had Friday off! I took the bus into town and decided to walk over the Privatebank Theater and see if I could get a ticket to see “Hamilton.” What a surprise that I was able to get a great seat near the front and it was not outrageously expensive. So, looking forward to “Hamilton” in the evening I attended the Chicago Symphony concert in the afternoon. The program featured the Dvorak G major Symphony, which is a piece I adore. It also included a performance of the Prokofiev 2nd Piano Concerto. I had never heard this work before. But I was seated down front so I was very close to the pianist and it was an experience to watch him play this piece up close. The piece itself is amazing! Prokofiev lived under the repression of Soviet Russia and Stalin and the piece reflects this in some profound and subtle ways. I found the relentless march of the 3rd movement exceptionally moving. The young pianist was terrific. The Dvorak was good, but it didn’t compare with the Prokofiev. Part of the reason was that because I was sitting so close to the strings, they dominated the sound of the orchestra and muted even the brass and the winds. As a former wind player I prefer to hear and see the winds and brass much more. This piece has such wonderful brass writing that the muted quality of the brass was a disappointment.
“Hamilton” was a wonderful experience. It is a great show. The Chicago cast was excellent and I enjoyed the performance very much. Anytime there is the representation of historical events on stage there is by necessity some compromise, but in the case of “Hamilton” I thought this was all pretty minimal. Historically the work is amazingly accurate and showed the events of Hamilton’s life. My favorite line: “Immigrants – we get things done!” Right, in case we have forgotten! Folks we are all immigrants and have no special God-given claim to special status – unless we are Native American! The musical was entertaining enough, but I actually found it very profound and powerful. It was certainly ironic when it turned out that the same evening I saw the opera there was an incident in New York at the “Hamilton” performance involving the Vice-President elect. Then the president-elect had to jump into the mess by making the most ridiculous statement I have (almost) ever heard: “theater is supposed to be a safe place.” He must not go to the theater very often. I have never found the theater to be a safe place. I have, however, found it to be a human place. A place were human emotions are stripped and made raw; a place where I am reminded of my own vulnerabilities and a place where my own prejudices and close minded-ness is challenged. The theater is not a safe place – but it is an essential place, for the theater teaches us human values like love and compassion. I think this is why I prefer the theater to television or even the movies – because I feel that the theater is honest and it puts us in touch with our humanity in a way TV hardly ever does and that most movies (I have found anyway) do not. I hope our Vice-President elect experienced the joy and the challenge and the power that is theater on that evening at “Hamilton.”
My last opera was wonderful production of the opera Don Quichotte by Massenet. I found this entire experience to be very magical and very moving. Ferruccio Furlanetto was simply terrific. His beautiful, rich dark bass combined with his terrific acting skills brought DQ to life in a unique way. From the opening tableau where he and Sancho were revealed in the pose of a famous illustration to his final death scene FF was funny and touching as was Nicola Alaimo as Sancho. For me the serenade DQ sings in act one, interspersed with his fighting a duel and Sancho's beautiful and moving defense of him while others are mocking him at the end of act 4 were highlights. I also found the prayer in act 3 very moving as well. The windmill scene was clever and funny. This was a very traditional production and it was very well executed. I really liked the quotes that were projected on the scrim before each act. They really set the feel for what was to come. Clementine Margaine was Dulcinee and also did a beautiful job. Her character is the one that is most changed from the novel and from the musical. Dulcinee in this telling of the story is a noble woman of aristocratic bearing. Chorus and orchestra were also excellent. It was a joy to experience this beautiful work. As is always the case with Massenet the score is brilliantly orchestrated and exceptionally colorful. There are extended solos for all the winds and a beautiful cello solo which is the whole of the last act entr’act. There is also a wonderful canzonetta sung by Dulcinee with in stage guitar accompaniment.
This world needs more knights errant. People who take it upon themselves to comfort those who are grieving, help and feed the poor, and treat all - no matter who they are - with kindness and respect. Perhaps like DQ those who have compassion for others will be similarly mocked but it is in this that true humanity is found.