Chicago Opera Theater Announces 2014 Season
Chicago Opera Theater (COT) General Director Andreas Mitisek today announces programming for COT's 2014 season, including two operas and a double-bill of one-acts. Mitisek comments, "It's a season that is 100% 20th century and 150% COT. New, rare and with contemporary relevance for a curious audience that is hungry for new theatrical experiences." The season opens with the Chicago Premiere of Duke Ellington's Queenie Pie, February 15 - 23, 2014. In the spring, COT presents a double-bill of Carl Orff's Die Kluge and Viktor Ullmann's Der Kaiser von Atlantis, May 31 - June 8, 2014. The season wraps in the fall with the Chicago Premiere of Ernest Bloch's Macbeth, September 13 - 21, 2014. Mitisek also comments "We increased our subscriber family by 18.5% in 2013. COT is THE place for adventure and discovery. We invite our audience on a journey into the good and evil of ambition."
About the Season
Duke Ellington's only opera and one of his fairly unknown and rarely performed works, Queenie Pie, blends big band sound and clever lyrics with the musical styles of opera, jazz and musical theater. The title character, Queenie Pie, was inspired by the life of Madam C. J. Walker, the first African American self-made woman millionaire, who developed and sold a line of hair and beauty products through innovative mail orders and door-to-door sales. Interested in the opera genre since the 1940s, Ellington started composing Queenie Pie in 1962, when he received a commission from the New York public TV station WNET. In collaboration with librettist Betty McGettigan, he worked on the opera from 1967 to his death in 1974, but the work remained unfinished. Since then, different versions have been produced (1986 in Philadelphia and Washington, DC; 1993 in Brooklyn; and 2008 by the Oakland Opera Theater). COT performs the version that librettist McGettigan created for the Butler Opera Center at the University of Texas at Austin in 2009, proclaiming it to be the closest to Ellington's original vision. For this production, COT partners with the renowned Chicago Jazz Orchestra. Queenie Pie is also planned as a co-production with Long Beach Opera, CA. COT performs Queenie Pie at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Street, February 15 - 23, 2014.
For its spring offering, COT's performances take place at the Merle Reskin Theatre of DePaul University, 60 E. Balbo Avenue. The Emperor of Atlantis(Der Kaiser von Atlantis) by Viktor Ullmann and The Clever One (Die Kluge) by Carl Orff are two satires about oppression and dictatorship. Mitisek shares that "COT's pairing emphasizes the political struggle inherent in these two pieces which, despite the circumstances in which they were written, both remain markedly comical and effortlessly satirical."
Although both works date from 1943, they were composed in very different worlds: Emperor in the Theresienstadt concentration camp and The Clever Onein Frankfurt, Germany. Ullmann's work, The Emperor of Atlantis, is a satire on fascism, set in Atlantis where Emperor Overall advocates total war against everyone and Death retires from his duties. The score contains musical quotations from blues to "Deutschland ueber Alles" in the style of a Bach chorale.
In his fairytale opera The Clever One, Carl Orff, best known for his perennial favorite Carmina Burana, tells of a foolish, tyrannical king being bested by a clever woman, a folktale found in many cultures. The composer also wrote his own libretto, based on Die Kluge Bauerntochter (The Peasant's Wise Daughter) from the also well-known Grimm's Fairy Tales. His version delivers passages critical of dictatorship, creating a "world theater" that is both timeless and universal. "Tyranny is holding the scepter. Virtue has been banished." COT presents this unique double-bill of German operas in four performances, May 31 - June 8, 2014.
Swiss-American composer Ernest Bloch was 24 when he began to sketch the music of his opera, Macbeth, composed between 1904 and 1906, Ernest Bloch's opera reveals the influence of Wagner's music dramas and Claude Debussy's symbolist opera "Pelleas et Melisande." Bloch's lush and dramatic score powerfully illuminates the central couple, and deeply examines the temptation of promised power and its influence over our actions. Edmong Fleg's original French libretto is essentially that of the Shakespeare play, with the five acts compressed to three. COT will perform Bloch's own English translation that keeps much of the original Shakespeare writing. It received its first performance on November 30, 1910 by the Opéra-Comique, Paris. After the premiere production, the opera was staged in 1938 in Naples, but was then banned on orders of the Fascist government. Subsequently, the opera was produced in Rome in 1953, and in Trieste. The opera has at this time been staged only once in the US, in English, at the Juilliard School of Music in New York in 1973. Next month, Long Beach Opera (LBO) will perform Macbeth as part of its 2013 season. COT will create a new production based on the LBO performances for their 2014 Chicago season. Performances will be at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Street, September 13 - 21, 2014.