All things are go right now for Chicago Opera Theater ( COT ) . After launching a new production of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito last weekend, COT is in the midst of readying two more operas to open next month. Pictured: La Clemenza di Tito. Photo by Chicago Opera Theater
The crush of opera openings is COT's first attempt at trying out a spring festival schedule. This plan allows for out-of-towners and local opera fanatics to see two different operas during two separate weekends.
"Perhaps we haven't pushed it as much as we should," said COT General Director Brian Dickie 10 days prior to opening night. Nervously eyeing the ticket sales, Dickie added that audiences are more willing to buy single tickets nowadays instead of investing as season subscribers.
Still, Dickie is encouraged that COT's move to a spring festival season has attracted some national press attention. ( The Wall Street Journal is sending a reviewer for the first time, while other out-of-town journalists are also capitalizing on the two-opera weekends. )
During this busy time, COT is also commemorating two special anniversaries. This year is COT's 35th anniversary in addition to Dickie's 10th anniversary with the company.
For the occasion, COT is doing what it always does best as the Second City's second major opera company ( after the Lyric Opera of Chicago ) . Old classics are looked with a fresh theatrical approach, while lesser-known operas usually passed over by the Lyric get an airing.
For instance, La Clemenza di Tito features Music of the Baroque's music director Jane Glover as conductor and Christopher Alden as director. Although local opera audiences still might not forgive Alden for his critically reviled Lyric production of Rigoletto in 2000, Alden has gone on to win critical plaudits his recent European work.
" [ Alden is ] highly regarded in the business and he's much liked," Dickie said. "He isn't always approaching things in the most conventional way, but he does do it with an intellectual honesty and spirit of exploration into the meaning of the work."
Also on tap is Marius Constant, Peter Brook and Jean Claude Carriere's critically acclaimed adaptation of Bizet's Carmen done by in the 1980s. Bizet's potboiler about a gypsy who is murdered by an ex-lover gets condensed in La Tragédie de Carmen to a cast of only four singers. Aside from having an enormous impact in the theater world at its debut, Dickie admitted that this Carmen's compact casting helped his decision to choose it in these difficult economic times.
Rounding out the season is Owen Wingrave, gay composer Benjamin Britten's 1971 penultimate opera dealing with pacifism. Owen Wingrave is receiving its U.S. debut in a new chamber version that debuted at London's Royal Opera House in 2007.
"Because we're a smaller theater and only do five performances of each work, we can afford to do works that will interest just 6,000-8,000 people," Dickie said. "People who are enthused by opera will be enquiring to explore the wider ranges of the repertory that we can provide."
But aside from having an adventurous repertory and approach to staging, COT also has a proven track record of showcasing new talent.
"It's always been a place where up-and-coming young singers have found early opportunities for their careers," Dickie said. "The secret to attracting them is to get really exciting and authoritative directors and conductors."
Indeed, some recent stars who were first seen locally at COT before going onto bigger success include soprano Danielle de Niese and the contralto Meredith Arwady. ( Both starred in COT's inaugural Harris Theatre staging of The Coronation of Poppea in 2004. )
Dickie said early music conductor Emmanuelle Haďm's work on COT's Aggripina in 2003 helped to get her engaged for the Lyric's Julius Caesar in 2007, plus Dickie engaged director Diane Paulus for several seasons before she became artistic director of American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. ( and before Paulus directed the current hit revival of Hair on Broadway ) .
After prominent careers with the Canadian Opera Company and the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in the United Kingdom, Dickie has been more than happy to build upon COT's legacy this past decade.
"It's been a great joy and a great privilege," Dickie said. "It's not without its frustrations, but it's always difficult to put on opera because it's such a complicated and expensive art form."
La Clemenza di Tito continues at 3 p.m. April 26 and 7:30 p.m. April 29 and May 1. Sung in Italian with English surtitles.
La Tragédie de Carmen plays 7:30 p.m. May 2, 5, 13 and 15 and 3 p.m. May 10. Sung in French with English surtitles.
Owen Wingrave plays 7:30 p.m. May 16, 20, 22 and 26 and 3 p.m. May 24. Sung in English with English subtitles.
All Chicago Opera Theater performances are at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph. Tickets are $30-$120 each, with two-opera subscriptions available for $60-$230. Call 312-704-8414 or 312-334-7777, or visit www.chicagooperatheater.org .