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Classical Search – Recommended

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Anna Thorvaldsdottir

Sat., April 25, 7:30 p.m.

There’s something beautifully refined about the music of Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir—in it, seemingly skeletal structures sprout fragments of dramatic melodies, textures evocative of nature (a la John Luther Adams), and harmonies that open up the heavens. Tonight, for the first full concert of her work in Chicago, cellist Michael Nicolas, violist Kyle Armbrust, harpist Nuiko Wadden, pianist Cory Smythe, and percussionist Nathan Davis of the International Contemporary Ensemble tackle three remarkable compositions. “Tactility”—which turned up on last year’s fantastic Aerial (Deustsche Grammophon), one of my favorite albums of 2014—feels evocatively nocturnal and a little spooky, as it features thudding rubbed percussive sounds embroidered by the harp’s brittle twang and desiccated runs, as well as thwacks against its large frame. Nicolas will perform the recent solo piece “Transitions,” in which spindly, astringent lines are disrupted by flat, percussive pizzicato patterns—imagine a Morse code-like patter ripping apart swaths of melancholy. The highlight of the concert promises to be the local premiere of In the Light of Air, a patient 40-minute, three-movement work she created for ICE that casts a ritualistic trance: piano scrapes, scratchy cello and viola bowing, terse clusters of harp notes, bowed vibraphone tones, and rumbling percussion jut out of a collective murmur. There are passages where instruments line up and trace fragile melodies that are like tendrils of sound crawling over a bleak landscape; later in the piece short but gorgeous soliloquies emerge for piano and viola, followed by repeating long tones and meandering piano that push the music into a distant oblivion. —Peter Margasak $28, $22 members, $10 students

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Lyric Opera's Carousel

Fri., April 24, 7 p.m., Sat., April 25, 1:30 & 7 p.m., Sun., April 26, 1:30 p.m., Tue., April 28, 7 p.m., Wed., April 29, 7 p.m. and Thu., April 30, 1:30 & 7 p.m.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's 1945 musical, originally set in 1870s New England, is the tale of the troubled romance between ne'er-do-well carnival barker Billy Bigelow and strong-willed mill worker Julie Jordan—a love that, though ill-fated, is so powerful it transcends death. Lyric Opera's somber production offers an imaginative if not wholly successful new take on this classic work. Director-choreographer Rob Ashford has reset the action to the 1930s, allowing him to explore the story's sexual undercurrents more directly than usual. The scenic design by Italian artist Paolo Ventura (making his theatrical debut) evokes a sense of loneliness and of the characters' connection to their environment I associate with the Depression-era paintings of Edward Hopper. Ashford has also expanded the use of nature imagery already present in the libretto (a Hammerstein hallmark). And he has intensified the role of ballet in the show, approaching a Wagnerian ideal of Gesamtkunstwerk, in which drama, song, orchestral music, dance, and design are fused into a total theater experience. Laura Osnes is a superb Julie—at once tough and fragile, independent and vulnerable. Broadway veteran Charlotte d'Amboise shines as Billy's sometime lover and employer Mrs. Mullin—a traditionally secondary role that Ashford has beefed up by using d'Amboise's skills as a dancer as well as actress. And it is wonderful to hear Rodgers's rich score delivered by an opera-company chorus and orchestra under David Chase's baton. The weak link, unfortunately, is Steven Pasquale's Billy. Seeking a more naturalistic approach to the traditionally flamboyant character, Pasquale (despite his fine singing) ends up failing to connect with either his leading ladies or the audience. This Bigelow needs more big to complement the low. —Albert Williams $29-$199

Civic Opera House (map)
20 N. Wacker Dr.
Loop
phone 312-332-2244
Lyric Opera's <i>Carousel</i>

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Chicago Opera Theater’s A Coffin in Egypt

Sat., April 25, 7:30 p.m., Wed., April 29, 7:30 p.m., Fri., May 1, 7:30 p.m. and Sun., May 3, 3 p.m.

The source material for this 80-minute opera is Horton Foote’s great play A Coffin in Egypt, a near monologue that consists entirely and compellingly of the reminiscences of a 90-year-old woman in Egypt, Texas. Composer Ricky Ian Gordon (whose Orpheus & Euridice, produced in a swimming pool, was a recent success) and librettist Leonard Foglia (who directed the a major production of the Foote play) wrote it with veteran mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade in mind. This Chicago Opera Theater production features von Stade in the role tailored for her, along with a locally cast gospel quartet of operatically trained singers. It’s directed by Foglia and conducted by Emanuele Andrizzi. —Deanna Isaacs $35-$125

Harris Theater for Music and Dance (map)
205 E. Randolph St.
Loop
phone 312-334-7777
Chicago Opera Theater’s <i>A Coffin in Egypt</i>

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