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