Live opera returns with new Opera Festival of Chicago, Des Plaines' summer opera

  • Chicago Summer Opera presents a double-cast production of Handel's "Alcina" featuring singers Juan Tello, left, and Isabella Hanreiter.

    Chicago Summer Opera presents a double-cast production of Handel's "Alcina" featuring singers Juan Tello, left, and Isabella Hanreiter. Courtesy of W. Biederman Photography

 
 
Posted7/15/2021 9:09 AM

After more than a year of online-only performances because of the COVID-19 pandemic, live opera is returning to select stages around Chicago.

The training company Chicago Summer Opera has five operas left in its six-opera 2021 season -- its first at the Prairie Lakes Theater in Des Plaines after five previous summers of hopping around smaller Chicago venues.

 

And then there is the inaugural season of the Opera Festival of Chicago. This new professional company is dedicated to Italian opera, with a focus on works not often staged in America.

Emanuele Andrizzi is the music director of the new Opera Festival of Chicago. Andrizzi conducts the festival's main stage productions of "Il Segreto di Susanna" ("Susannah's Secret") and "Il tabarro" ("The Cloak").
Emanuele Andrizzi is the music director of the new Opera Festival of Chicago. Andrizzi conducts the festival's main stage productions of "Il Segreto di Susanna" ("Susannah's Secret") and "Il tabarro" ("The Cloak"). - Courtesy of Opera Festival of Chicago

"At the time we were planning this festival, we were taking all the COVID-19 restrictions into consideration," said Opera Festival of Chicago general director Robert Massey.

Hence the repertory of two one-act operas: Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's 1909 domestic comedy "Il segreto di Susanna" ("Susanna's Secret") and Giacomo Puccini's tragedy "Il tabarro" ("The Cloak") from his 1918 trilogy "Il trittico."

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Both works eschew large choruses. Opera Festival of Chicago has also found a chamber orchestra version made by Wolf-Ferrari for "Susanna's Secret," and a 30-piece orchestra reduction for "Il tabarro."

In addition, there is the concert "Dante 700." It features opera selections inspired by "The Divine Comedy" and other writings of the great Florentine poet and philosopher, who died in 1321.

The works were chosen to cut down on mingling among artists onstage and audiences in the auditorium. Massey said all performers were required to have proof of vaccination against the coronavirus.

Baritone Franco Pomponi of Northbrook is the president of the new Opera Festival of Chicago. Pomponi also stars as Michele in the festival's production of Puccini's "Il tabarro" ("The Cloak") at Thalia Hall in Chicago on Thursday, Aug. 5.
Baritone Franco Pomponi of Northbrook is the president of the new Opera Festival of Chicago. Pomponi also stars as Michele in the festival's production of Puccini's "Il tabarro" ("The Cloak") at Thalia Hall in Chicago on Thursday, Aug. 5. - Courtesy of Opera Festival of Chicago
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Northbrook baritone Franco Pomponi is the festival's president and has starring roles in both "Il tabarro" and "Dante 700." The creation of the Opera Festival of Chicago was a dream of many years for Pomponi with music director Emanuele Andrizzi and artistic director Ella Marchment.

"America has the best-trained singers in the world," Pomponi said. "We're sought after, but we don't often get a chance to sing this repertoire in this country. So our idea is that we're not only helping the city by bringing music that opera lovers want to hear, we're also giving American singers repertory that they can sing elsewhere."

If resume-building for singers is one aspect of Opera Festival of Chicago, it is one of the driving forces behind Chicago Summer Opera.

Singers, usually in college or recently graduated, audition and pay tuition to attend Chicago Summer Opera's workshops, coaching sessions and to sing in fully costumed productions.

"We pick operas to fit young voices," said Chicago Summer Opera co-founder and artistic director Codrut Birsan of Berwyn. "We get about 250 students auditioning each year, but we use between 70 and 90."

St. Charles native Molly Clementz stars as Nancy in the Sunday, July 18, performance of Benjamin Britten's comedy "Albert Herring" for Chicago Summer Opera.
St. Charles native Molly Clementz stars as Nancy in the Sunday, July 18, performance of Benjamin Britten's comedy "Albert Herring" for Chicago Summer Opera. - Courtesy of Molly Clementz

One of Chicago Summer Opera's singers this season is St. Charles native Molly Clementz, who recently completed a doctorate at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Clementz jumped at the chance to play Nancy in Benjamin Britten's 1947 English comedy "Albert Herring," since it is one of the few mezzo-soprano romantic leads in the repertoire.

"It's all about the singing," Clementz said. "There's a wonderful faculty here, and for someone like me who just moved back to Chicago, I met about 10 people who like me and want to work with me again."

• • •

Opera Festival of Chicago

"Il segreto di Susanna" ("Susanna's Secret")

When: 7 and 9 p.m. Saturday, July 24

Where: Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, athenaeumtheatre.org

"Dante 700"

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, July 29

Where: Artifacts Events, 4325 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago

"Il tabarro" ("The Cloak")

When: 7 and 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5

Where: Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport St., Chicago, thaliahallchicago.com

Tickets: $30-$75; $99-$199 subscription packages; sung in Italian with projected English translations; operafestivalchicago.org

COVID-19 precautions: All performers have received COVID-19 vaccinations. Opera Festival of Chicago defers to each venue for COVID-19 policies.

• • •

Chicago Summer Opera

Repertory: "Albert Herring" at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 16, and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 18; "Alcina" at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 17; "Silla" at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 11 and noon Aug. 14; "Hansel & Gretel" at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 12 and 14; "Don Giovanni" at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 13 and 2 p.m. Aug. 15

Where: Prairie Lakes Theater, 515 E. Thacker St., Des Plaines

Tickets: $30; $20 seniors. Productions sung with projected English translations. chicagosummeropera.com

COVID-19 precautions: All performers have received COVID-19 vaccinations. Chicago Summer Opera defers to the venue's COVID-19 policies at: dpparks.org/prairie-lakes-community-center.

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