Chicago Theatre Review
Everybody Love A High Note
Lyric Opera – Chicago Voices
We’ve all heard the expression, “Anyone who was anyone was there!” Well last night at Lyric Opera of Chicago, EVERYBODY was there! Sure, there were some flashy evening gowns, but there were blue jeans and cowboy hats, bedazzled top hats and kerchiefs, sneakers and clogs, and outfits that probably spent a couple of hours at the grocery store yesterday, our garden variety, “It’s Saturday” getup.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Chicago Voices initiative broke all the musical walls down and then cemented them back together last night in the much anticipated Chicago Voices Concert. Chicago Voices is a multi-year initiative focused on the joining together of our city’s wildly exciting, varied musical cultures. It’s easy to forget our city’s particular gifts: We see the landscape, eat the food, and listen to the sounds. But how much do we dig in, get out of our comfort zone, and drive out of our way just a few minutes to catch a different view of the skyline? Try a new restaurant, maybe offering a cuisine that isn’t familiar to us? Or throw all caution to the wind and reach out to the fuller musical experience in which we are immersed? Chicago is celebrated the world over as a birthing place for new and developing musical expression, and Lyric Opera of Chicago is inviting us to our city’s ongoing, everyday extravaganza with their Chicago Voices programming. Last night, this city heard that trumpet call.
Hosting a plethora of artists of Chicagoland roots with such varied specialisms as hip-hop, jazz, blues, soul, country, bluegrass (in case you don’t know, country and bluegrass aren’t the same thing), pop, folk, and sure there was a little opera in there, Lyric Opera of Chicago threw a musical party that brought audiences to see one of the stars of the genres being showcased, and sat back and watched them get carried away by other musical stylings they had never experienced. You know what? At the end of the day, no matter what type of breakthrough musical moment it is, whether it’s a growl or a sizzle or a shout or a high C, everybody knows a high note when it gut-punches them, and those vibrations make a shift in our worlds, carry us out of the mundane milieu, lift our spirits, and unite us in a way that money can’t buy.
Lyric’s Creative Consultant Renée Fleming invited Shemekia Copeland to Lyric’s stage to start the evening with a rousing, rocky anthem that had our hands clapping right from the start. Jazz vocalist Kurt Elling made it back home from New York to teach an open-hearted lesson in phraseology with a dash of scatting. Michelle Williams threw down a combo of gospel, pop, and R&B, and singer/songwriter John Prine’s country- and folk-tinged story ballads reminded us that our similarities always outweigh our differences. Rapper Lupe Fiasco made it all look and sound SO easy, feeding direct audience interaction into his meticulous poetry, but with the running and jiving and all that hopping… This was a new music for me, and whatever it is, I know THAT man is a force.
Chicago-beloved musical theatre star cum Broadway diva Jessie Mueller slipped away from her starring role in the Broadway musical Waitress to remind us that the musical theatre artists who come of The Windy City can warble with the most gifted, but our specific theatrical language teaches them how to disappear into their work, (or is it that they become even more themselves as they work?) and in that moment of suspension, someone else shows up, someone so unique and honest and true that we no longer see Jessie Mueller. Our musical theatre artists are praised the world over because they are the bravest of conduits. Mueller took the air out of the room, and then gifted it back to us.
It wouldn’t be Lyric Opera of Chicago without a little trip down the classical lane. Artistic Director and world-renown soprano Renée Fleming and tenor Matthew Polenzani were there to remind us of the sounds that are most frequently heard in that massive palace. Everybody saw that high note coming at the end of Polenzani’s rendition of “Be My Love,” and when it washed over us we never, ever wanted it to stop. Fleming’s interpretation of “Summertime” from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess’ lazily limpid quality caused the sweat to drip right in the middle of a Chicago winter.
Musical Director and Conductor Doug Peck championed his musically worldly ensemble through all the graces fêted with appropriate glee and, at times, heartwarming humility. If Peck is in your musical house, things are going to hum, and this Chicago-based artist just keeps showing us that music is a large language, and the subsets can blur in a blink.
If you missed this one-night event, you’re in luck. Chicago station WTTW will be airing it on March 30th. Now you have no excuse.
As a regular attendee at Lyric, I had a grand time people-watching. What is more gratifying that to observe folks who never planned to walk into your city’s opera house look up, and up, and up in the grand lobby, and then just have to stop and take it all in. What’s more fun the helping someone to find the bar, or the bathroom? What’s more heart stopping than listening to the ushers constantly having to send patrons to a different floor of the opera house to find their seats, as they wandered about in a new world. For us opera lovers, it might have been easy to think of them as postulants. But last night, we were all seekers. And we all found our way.
Reviewed by Aaron Hunt
Presented on February 4 at Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 North Wacker Drive
More information about Lyric Opera and the programming of Chicago Voices is available at (312) 827-5600, or a lyricopera.org.