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Lyric Opera’s ‘Florencia en el Amazonas’ among the highlights in classical music season this fall, winter

Chicago’s fall/winter classical music scene is filled with international flair, world premieres and holiday treats.

Lyric Opera of Chicago will present the Spanish opera “Florencia en el Amazonas” in November.
Ana María Martínez sings the title role in the Spanish opera “Florencia en el Amazonas” at the Houston Grand Opera. She will reprise the role in Lyric Opera’s production opening in November.
Lynn Lane/Houston Grand Opera

While it’s incumbent on major opera companies to advance the art form by commissioning and premiering new works, it’s also important to re-stage and champion recent creations deemed worthy of such treatment so they have a chance to gain a lasting place in the operatic repertoire.

That’s exactly what Lyric Opera of Chicago (lyricopera.org) is doing with its Nov. 13-28 production of “Florencia en el Amazonas (Florencia in the Amazon),” a 1996 opera by one of Mexico’s leading composers, Daniel Catán. In this this tale steeped in magical realism, elements of the fantastical intervene as operatic diva Florencia Grimaldi takes a boat trip up the Amazon River to a performing engagement where she hopes to reconnect with her lover, Cristóbal.

Anthony Freud, Lyric’s general director, president and chief executive officer, called “Florencia” one of the “comparatively few recent operas” that deserves regular revival. “It’s a piece that I love,” he said. “I’ve known it for some time. It’s a very accessible, very beautiful piece that combines Puccinian romance in terms of the melodic and orchestral writing with a sense of fantasy and a sense of [Gabriel Garcia] Márquez-inspired magical realism. It’s a real grand opera, and I’m thrilled that we’ll be producing it.”

This opera will be the first Spanish-language opera that the company has presented as part of its Lyric Opera House mainstage season, a milestone Freud acknowledges might be overdue given the prevalence of Latinx culture and the Spanish language in the United States. “I think it is important in the context of our wanting to tell more diverse stories and to engage a more diverse range of storytellers to tell them,” he said.

Starring in the title role will be soprano Ana María Martínez, a Lyric Opera regular. “It’s a marvelous role,” Freud said. “Being able to combine an important new piece with one of our favorite, most distinguished artists in that central role is really significant. It’s another demonstration of the seriousness of our commitment to that piece.”

Here’s a look at 10 other classical music presentations worth considering this fall:

Through Oct. 4: Ear Taxi Festival, venues across the city (eartaxifestival.com). After debuting in 2016 to great success, this nationally heralded celebration of Chicago’s bustling new-music scene is back, and it’s bigger and more diverse than before. This year’s edition runs three weeks and features about 100 events, including more than 20 premieres on its Mainstage Series alone.

Oct. 3, 6 and 9: Giuseppe Verdi’s “Macbeth,” Enrique Mazzola, conductor, bass-baritone Craig Colclough, soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Upper Wacker Dr. (lyricopera.org). Mazzola begins his tenure as Lyric Opera’s third music director, leading this 1847 Shakespearean adaptation, which came just before Verdi’s best-known operas like “Rigoletto.” It is part of Mazzola’s plan to lead a series of Verdi’s early works — one a season.

Oct. 5: “Fanm d’Ayiti (Women of Haiti),” Nathalie Joachim and Spektral Quartet, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph (harristheaterchicago.org). Joachim, a Brooklyn-born composer, flutist and vocalist, developed this evening-length work for flute, voice, string quartet and electronics as a way to explore her Haitian heritage. A 2019 recording of “Fanm d’Ayiti” with the Chicago-based Spektral Quartet received a Grammy nomination for best world music album.

Oct. 7 and 9, Collaborative Works Festival, Ganz Hall, Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan, and Oct. 8, Driehaus Museum, 40 E. Erie (caichicago.org). This annual festival pays tribute to the rich, sometimes underappreciated world of art song — vocal settings of poems or other texts. This year’s edition, titled “Strangers in a Strange Land,” explores themes of immigration and cultural exchange and puts an emphasis on diverse compositional voices.

Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham
Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham | Dario Acosta Photo
Dario Acosta Photo

Oct. 8: Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and Music from Copland House, University of Chicago Presents, Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th (chicagopresents.uchicago.edu). Graham, one of the leading lights of the vocal world, joins a six-member resident ensemble from Copland’s historic home for an all-American program. A highlight is the world premiere of Richard Danielpour’s “A Standing Witness,” settings of poems by former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove.

Oct. 17: North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, and Oct. 18, Harris Theater, “Vivaldi & Friends,” Music of the Baroque, John Butt, conductor (baroque.org). Butt, music director of Scotland’s Dunedin Consort and a respected early-music specialist, joins Music of the Baroque for the first time. He will lead a program that explores the music of the celebrated baroque master as well as composers who influenced Vivaldi and whom he influenced.

Pianist Yuja Wang.
Provided

Nov. 7: Pianist Yuja Wang and violinist Leonidas Kavakos, Symphony Center Presents, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan (cso.org). Few classical-music artists are better known worldwide than Yuja Wang, a 34-year-old Chinese pianist who has electrified audiences with her fiery, technically dazzling style. She joins her frequent recital partner, Kavakos, for this program, which includes works by J.S. Bach, Ferruccio Busoni and Dmitri Shostakovich.

Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero.
Giancarlo Guerrero
Ma2la Photo

Nov. 18-21: Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor; Daniel Binelli, bandoneón, Symphony Center (cso.org). Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla gained lasting fame for transforming the tango into a viable concert form. The Chicago Symphony will mark the 100th anniversary of his birth with a program that includes the composer’s Aconcagua Concerto for Bandoneón — a showcase for a kind of concertina popular in Argentina and Uruguay.

Dec. 9-11: Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, conductor; Hilary Hahn, violin, Symphony Center (cso.org). Hahn, a probing, always expressive violin soloist and innovative arts leader, began a two-year appointment as the Chicago Symphony’s artist-in-residence on Sept. 1. Her first performances in that role will come during these concerts, which will also feature the world premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Haillí-Serenata,” which the orchestra commissioned.

Dec. 11, 17 and 19: Mark Adamo’s “Becoming Santa Claus,” Lidiya Yankovskaya, conductor; Chicago Opera Theater, Studebaker Theater, 410 S. Michigan Ave. (chicagooperatheater.org). The Chicago Opera Theater presents the Chicago premiere of this whimsical holiday opera by composer and librettist Mark Adamo, who is known for such popular contemporary operas as “Little Women.” Director and choreographer Kyle Lang will oversee this new family-friendly production of the work, which premiered at the Dallas Opera in 2015.

Conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya. | Kate Lemmon Photo
Conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya.
Kate Lemmon Photo