Hearn Led CAMELOT, LuPone, Hyde Pierce and More Featured in Stellar 2009 Ravinia Season
Ravinia Festival Chairperson Pamela B. Strobel and President and CEO Welz Kauffman today announced details of the 2009 season of music theater and dance events. Highlights include a new concert production of the musical Camelot; the highly anticipated world premiere of Bill T. Jones's Ravinia-commissioned dance-theater work; three music theater nights featuring works by legendary composers Cole Porter, Kurt Weill and Rodgers & Hammerstein; star baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in Verdi's Rigoletto; Ravinia Music Director James Conlon conducting Weill's Mahagonny-Songspiel and Stravinsky's A Soldier Story; and the national radio broadcast of Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion.
"For a venue without stage curtain, we're doing theater right this summer. We raise the curtain on the 2009 season with Camelot reuniting our favorite music theater stars along with conductor Erich Kunzel. Then we lower the curtain on the season with the world premiere of Bill T. Jones's full-evening dance work in honor of Abraham Lincoln," said Kauffman. "This year theater is enmeshed with some of our most important programs, from the Lincoln Bicentennial to Breaking the Silence to Four Score For Chicago. This incredible music has become a significant thread in the Ravinia fabric."
The 2009 season opens on June 5 with a concert performance of the Broadway classic Camelot, starring George Hearn, Sylvia McNair and Rod Gilfry directed by Marc Robin with Erich Kunzel leading the Ravinia Festival Orchestra. The performance reunites the principal artists, director and conductor of Ravinia's 2007 production The Most Happy Fella, which received rave reviews.
In creating Camelot, writer/lyricist Alan J. Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe retold the Arthurian legend as what's been called "the most beautiful love story ever." The score includes such classics as the title hit, as well as "If Ever I Would Leave You," "The Lusty Month of May" and "What Do the Simple Folk Do?"
Named after King Arthur's famous court and spectacular castle, this 1960 musical focuses on the love triangle between the legendary monarch, his lady Guenevere and Sir Lancelot. Directed by Moss Hart, the original production starred Julie Andrews, Richard Burton and Robert Goulet while Joshua Logan's 1967 film adaptation starred Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero.
Tony Award-winner George Hearn, who also won raves in Ravinia's productions of Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music, will return to the festival following a triumphant run as the Wizard of Oz in the Broadway production of Wicked, as well as a new production of Kander and Ebb's The Visit with Chita Rivera.
Two-time Grammy Award-winner Sylvia McNair will play Guenevere. A favorite of Ravinia audiences, McNair has appeared at Ravinia in eight seasons over her 25-year career as a singer of opera, oratorio, cabaret and music theater.
Rod Gilfry, who stars as Lancelot, has established himself as one of today's most sought-after and compelling baritones in concert and opera productions, including last year's Cyrano de Bergerac in Valencia, Spain. He appeared at Ravinia in the festival's centennial season-ending concert "Carousel of the Animals" along with McNair.
Conductor Erich Kunzel celebrated his 30th anniversary as a Ravinia Festival regular during the 2008 season with two Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts, including a sold-out tribute to Broadway's greatest hits. He has appeared on the podiums of nearly every major orchestra in North America and has conducted at Ravinia more than any other conductor.
One of the most celebrated directors of music theater-especially in the Chicago area where he's starred in, choreographed and staged more than 40 productions-Marc Robin has been called the "proverbial man behind the curtain" for his writing, directing and choreographing throughout the region. He has earned eight Joseph Jefferson Awards and eight After Dark Awards.
DANCE FESTIVAL FEATURES LINCOLN PREMIERES
In addition to the festival-wide celebration of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial, Ravinia's Ruth Page Festival of Dance commemorates the 16th president with world-premiere works in performances including Chicago-based Concert Dance, Inc. and the New York-based Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in September.
One of the most highly anticipated events of the season, Bill T. Jones's new evening-length dance-theater work, Fondly Do We Hope ... Fervently Do We Pray receives its world premiere on Sept. 17 with an additional show on Sept. 19. These performances will feature dancers from the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Formed in 1982 and comprising 10 dancers, the Harlem-based company has performed in more than 200 cities around the world and is celebrated for its educational endeavors. In addition to winning the Tony for Spring Awakening, Jones received the 2007 Obie Award and 2006 Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation Callaway Award. He's also received the 2006 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Choreography for The Seven; the 2005 Wexner Prize, the 2005 Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Harlem Renaissance Award, the 2003 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize and a 1994 MacArthur "genius" grant. In 2000 The Dance Heritage Coalition namEd Jones "an irreplaceable dance treasure." The making of Jones's Fondly Do We Hope ... Fervently Do We Pray will be documented by the award-winning filmmakers of Kartemquin Films, and the finished feature-length documentary will be premiered on PBS as part of the American Masters series.
In honor of Abraham Lincoln's celebrated Gettysburg Speech, Ravinia's annual One Score, One Chicago selection has multiplied by four this year, morphing into Four Score For Chicago. This music of Jones's Ravinia-commissioned piece will be one of four works selected for this year's Four Score. Inspired by the Chicago Public Library's One Book, One Chicago, Four Score promotes the enjoyment of classical music and creates a cultural touchstone to enable people of diverse backgrounds to engage in community-wide discussion of masterworks.
Concert Dance, Inc., the official performance company of The Ruth Page Foundation, presents a program including two world-premiere works choreographed by CDI Artistic Director Venetia Stifler, one featuring the music of Lawrence Dillon's The Better Angels of Our Nature, a piece inspired by Abraham Lincoln featuring spoken word borrowed from Lincoln's personal letters, on Sept. 10 with an additional performance on Sept. 11. This new piece was one of three winners selected from Ravinia's first composition competition, devised to spur the creation of fresh musical works that would be imbedded with the words of Lincoln. The Lincoln Trio, the piano trio that Ravinia engaged to perform the competition winners works throughout the state of Illinois this spring, will perform Dillon's piece live on stage with Concert Dance, Inc. Ravinia President and CEO Welz Kauffman will narrate.
The second world-premiere work will be based on the company's cultural exploration of China, a trip they will be taking in May 2009.
GREAT MUSIC THEATER COMPOSERS
Best known for his Emmy and Screen Actors' Guild award winning portrayal of Niles on Frasier, Pierce first appeared on Broadway in the 1982 play Beyond Therapy. After performing in regional theater, including Chicago's own Goodman Theatre, Pierce appeared in such movies as Crossing Delancey and Little Man Tate and television shows including Caroline In the City and Titus before gaining his role on Frasier in 1993. He jumped back into the Broadway scene in Monty Python's Spamelot, which won the 2005 Tony for Best Musical. Pierce recently won the Tony Award for Best Lead Actor in a Musical in 2007 for his role in Curtains.
A Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle award-winner for her portrayal of Margaret Johnson in The Light in the Piazza, Clark made her Broadway debut in 1985 in Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park With George and has been a Broadway regular ever since. Other Broadway roles have included Alice Beane in Titanic, Smitty in the 1995 revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Penelope Pennywise in Urinetown and Fraulein Kost in the revival of Cabaret. She also appeared in the PBS special Sweeney Todd in Concert featuring Patti LuPone and George Hearn, both of whom return to Ravinia this season.
As an artistic director, conductor and pianist, Fisher is a recognized authority on American music of all kinds with a specialty in conducting classic musical theater. He was music director and conductor of the Tony Award-winning Encores! series at New York's City Center from its inception in 1994 through 2005. In 1997 he was presented with the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Special Achievement for his work on Encores! The series has spawned many recordings for which he has served as the conductor and associate producer.
Patti LuPone, who played Mama Rose for the first time in Ravinia's 2006 production of Gypsy, returns after winning the Tony for that role on Broadway in an evening of Kurt Weill masterpieces including The Seven Deadly Sins, Symphonic Nocturne on Lady in the Dark and other Weill Broadway works on Aug. 8. She is joined by vocal harmonists Hudson Shad and Ravinia Music Director James Conlon leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This performance is part of Conlon's ongoing Breaking the Silence series, which restores to the repertoire the music of composers suppressed by the Third Reich. This year's chosen composer is Weill.
LuPone helped launch the music theater initiative at Ravinia with the 2001 production of Sondheim's bloody classic Sweeney Todd. She has delighted Ravinia audiences since then, as driven actress Desirée Armfeldt in A Little Night Music, morbid Fosca in Passion, Yvonne in Sunday in the Park With George, outrageous Cora Hoover Hooper in Anyone Can Whistle, and her powerhouse Mama Rose in Gypsy, as well as in solo concerts. Under the direction of Conlon, LuPone joined Audra McDonald in the L.A. Opera production of Weill's The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny and also appeared on the recording, which most recently won two Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Opera Recording.
Michael Tilson Thomas with the San Francisco Symphony, Dennis Russell Davies with the RSO Wien, Zubin Mehta with the L.A. Philharmonic, Charles Dutoit with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, the Chicago Symphony and St. Paul orchestras, and the Kansas City and Ottawa symphonies. The ensemble has recorded The Seven Deadly Sins with the New York Philharmonic. In 1998 they appeared in The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at the Salzburg Festival.
Stars of the Lincoln Center Theater production of South Pacific, vocalists Kelli O'Hara and Paulo Szot make their Ravinia debuts alongside Ted Sperling conducting the Ravinia Festival Orchestra in a night paying tribute to the American songwriting duo Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein on Sept. 6. Known for their musicals Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music, Rodgers & Hammerstein garnered 34 Tony awards, 15 Academy awards, two Grammy awards and the Pulitzer Prize.
Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics award-nominated soprano O'Hara has established herself as one of Broadway's great leading ladies. Currently starring in the Tony Award-winning revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center, she has enraptured audiences and critics alike with her soulful and complex interpretation of Nellie Forbush, garnering a third Tony nomination in the process. Other Broadway credits include The Pajama Game, Light in the Piazza, Sweet Smell of Success, Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde and Follies. Besides currently working alongside O'Hara in South Pacific for which he received a Tony award, Brazilian baritone Szot has performed with such opera companies as New York City Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Theatre National de Bordeaux, and Opera Marseille. He is the winner of Brazil's 2000 Premio Carlos Gomes Award for Best Vocal Performance and most recently made his New York concert debut on Lincoln Center's American Songbook Series. In March 2010 he makes his debut with the Metropolitan Opera in their new production of Shostakovich's The Nose.
On the heels of the enthusiastically received presentations of Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio and Don Giovanni in 2008, opera sings again as Conlon brings Verdi's Rigoletto to life in a one-night-only concert performance featuring the CSO and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in his first Ravinia appearance since 2002, when he heroically headlined a concert as a commanding solo after the co-billed Karita Mattila fell ill, in the title role on Aug. 15. Hailed as one of Verdi's three great "middle period" operas, Rigoletto tells the tragic story of the cursed hunchback jester at the corrupt court of the Duke of Mantua.
The pavilion performance also features: the Apollo Chorus of Chicago; Italian tenor Stefano Secco portraying the Duke of Mantua, a role he has sung to acclaim around the world; Cuban-American soprano Eglise Gutierrez, who has been creating sensations internationally in the most challenging roles in the coloratura soprano repertoire, appearing as Rigoletto's daughter Gilda; American bass Morris Robinson, who sang the role of Osmin in The Abduction from the Seraglio and Commendatore in Don Giovanni last season, portraying hired assassin Sparafucile; Viennese mezzo-soprano Natascha Petrinsky, who has sung many of the greatest works of the 19th/20th century repertoire, as Sparafucile's sister Maddalena; and baritone Jason Stearns, who was first-prize winner of the first annual Chester Ludgin American Verdi Baritone Competition, as Count Monterone.
WEILL'S MAHAGONNY-SONGSPIEL/STRAVINSKY'S A SOLDIER STORY
Conlon continues his focus on Breaking the Silence composer Kurt Weill in a performance featuring Weill's Mahagonny-Songspiel on Aug. 4 in the Martin Theatre on a program that will also include Stravinsky's groundbreaking A Soldier Story. Conlon conducts the Chicago Chamber Musicians in this evening.
The "Little Mahagonny" is a devastating five-song portrait from 1927 of a fictional American town dedicated to decadence that Weill and playwright Bertolt Brecht composed as a preparatory exercise for their 1930 epic opera. The performance features tenor Bray Wilkins as Charlie, tenor James Benjamin Rodgers as Billy, bass Jonathan Michie as Bobby, bass Paul Corona as Jimmy, soprano Amy Justman as Jessie and soprano Rebecca Jo Loeb as Bessie. The piece will be directed by David Lefkowich.
A Soldier's Story tells of a soldier returning from war who possesses a violin (the soldier's soul) which he exchanges with the Devil in return for a book that shows him how to obtain all that he can desire. In the end, of course, the Devil is triumphant. The performance includes Amari Cheatom as the Soldier, Finn Wittrock as the Devil, Ben Rappaport as the narrator and dancer Andrea Miller as the princess.
A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION
Just as people enjoyed Robert Altman's film inspired by Garrison Keillor's radio classic, audiences enjoy the real show at Ravinia. A Prairie Home Companion, the cornerstone of public radio from American Public Media, will be broadcast Live Nationally from the pavilion on June 20. Fans who only know the show from the airwaves can get up close and personal with characters like gumshoe Guy Noir, the neighbors from Lake Woebegone and such sponsors as Powder Milk Biscuits. This sly variety show effortlessly blends eclectic musical performances with old-time sketches and local humor, all swirling around the amiable and versatile former English major, Garrison Keillor.
Tickets to all Ravinia Festival events go on sale exclusively at www.ravinia.org beginning April 16. Phone sales begin on May 17 at 847-266-5100. Please note that performances are not visible from the lawn. Ravinia is located 20 miles north of Chicago at Lake Cook and Green Bay roads in Highland Park. For more information, please visit www.ravinia.org.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride/Retna Ltd.