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Lyric Opera’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ and 10 other fall classical music highlights in Chicago

Promising programs also on the way from CSO, Music of the Baroque, Chicago Sinfonietta and others.

“Dead Man Walking” will be presented at the Lyric Opera Nov. 2-22.
“Dead Man Walking” will be presented at the Lyric Opera Nov. 2-22.
Javier del Real/Teatro Real

Lyric Opera of Chicago regularly showcases new works as part of its Lyric Unlimited outreach series, but modern and contemporary offerings on the company’s main stage in recent years have been less predictable.

That changes with a new initiative to annually produce at least one of what general director Anthony Freud calls “recent English-language operas.” It begins Nov. 2-22 in the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (lyricopera.org), with Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking,” which premiered in 2000 at the San Francisco Opera.

“We stand a strong chance of being able to attract new audiences,” Freud said of the undertaking, “and to select pieces that deal with topical issues that are relevant and resonant to people and communities around our city who may not feel a particularly strong connection with the heritage repertoire, if I can put it that way.”

Noting that most of the historical operas Lyric Opera presents are in such languages as Italian, French and German, the company is focusing on recent English-language operas to enhance accessibility. “Having pieces in English, hopefully, will break down whatever barriers may exist that are inhibiting people to come to performances,” Freud said.

An adaptation of Sister Helen Prejean’s book of the same title, “Dead Man Walking” examines the real-life story of death-row inmate Joseph De Rocher and broader questions surrounding capital punishment. One of the most successful operas of the past two decades, this searing drama has been featured in some 60 productions on five continents.

“It’s a piece that I believe in very strongly,” Freud said. “It’s a very powerful piece about a subject of enormous contemporary importance.”

Here is a look at 10 other classical music programs not to be missed this fall:

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B minor, Music of the Baroque Chorus and Orchestra, Jane Glover, conductor, Sept. 14, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph. Sept. 15, North Shore for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie: Written in stages from 1714 through end of the 1750s, this creation stands as a towering summation of Bach’s musical genius and one of the greatest choral works ever composed. Visit baroque.org.

The Chicago Sinfonietta
Ocken Photography

“Get Out,” Chicago Sinfonietta, Michael Abels, conductor, Sept. 21, Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Dr: The music went far in contributing to the hair-raising suspense in Jordan Peele’s Academy Award-winning social-political thriller. Abels, a co-founder of the Composers Diversity Collective, will lead the Chicago Sinfonietta in a live performance of his score during a screening of the 2017 movie. Visit auditoriumtheatre.org.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Riccardo Muti, conductor, Sept. 26, 27 and 28, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan: The Chicago Symphony will mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth with seasonlong performances of his works. Included will be all nine of the famed composer’s symphonies led by Muti, who is starting his 10th season as music director. That cycle begins with this program, featuring the conductor’s first performances of the Beethoven’s First and Third Symphonies with the CSO. Visit cso.org.

Maestro Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will kick off the 2020-2021 season with a free concert on Sept. 17 in Millennium Park.
Maestro Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth with seasonlong performances of his works.
Todd Rosenberg Photography

Orion Ensemble: New England Congregational Church, Sept. 29, 406 W. Galena Blvd., Aurora. Oct. 2, PianoForte Chicago, 1335 S. Michigan. Oct. 6, Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston: The Chicago chamber group’s pianist, Diana Schmück, is in the midst of an exploration of female composers who studied with famed French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. As part of that undertaking, this program features works by Lili Boulanger, Nadia’s younger sister and a winner of the Prix de Rome, and Louise Talma. Visit orionensemble.org.

Wu Man
Wu Man
Stephen Kahn Photo

“Wu Man: A Night in the Tang Dynasty Gardens,” Oct. 13, University of Chicago Presents, Performance Hall, Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th: Wu Man is arguably the world’s leading exponent of the pipa, a four-stringed, lute-like instrument with a history of some 2,000 years. She joins three other musicians, including Yazhi Guo on suona and Chinese percussion, for music from the Golden Age of China as well as a newly commissioned work inspired by that time. Visit chicagopresents.uchicago.edu.

Kirill Gerstein
Kirill Gerstein
Marco Borggreve Photo

Kirill Gerstein, pianist, Oct. 13, Symphony Center Presents, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan: In conjunction with the Chicago Symphony’s salute to the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, Symphony Center Presents features six esteemed soloists across the season performing the composer’s piano 32 sonatas — the apex of the solo repertoire for that instrument. Gerstein will begin the cycle with this concert, showcasing five of the pieces. Visit cso.org.

Composer and keyboardist Max Richter, soprano Grace Davidson, Oct. 19, American Contemporary Music Ensemble, Harris Theater: Richter is a multifaceted British composer whose output includes concert works and television and film scores. Featured on keyboards and electronics, he will join the New York-based ensemble for performances of “Lullaby for a frenetic world” from his 2015 album, “Sleep,” and other new works. Visit harristheaterchicago.org.

John Frederick Lampe’s “The Dragon of Wantley,” Haymarket Opera, Oct. 27 and 29, Studebaker Theater, 410 S. Michigan: The Haymarket has a reputation for ferreting out unjustly forgotten operatic gems from the past and giving them first-class period stagings. The company is set to do it again with this delightfully fantastical 18th century English work, a “cheeky send-up of Italian opera” that ran for 45 seasons at London’s Convent Garden. Visit haymarketopera.org.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Juanjo Mena, conductor, Sally Matthews, soprano, Nov. 21-24, Orchestra Hall: In one of the infamous failed debuts in operatic history, Samuel Barber’s “Antony and Cleopatra” got a thumbs-down from both critics and audiences when it opened New York’s new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in 1966. This program will feature two scenes from the work, which has begun to see something of a rebirth in recent years. Visit cso.org.

Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, “The Three Queens,” Dec. 1, 4 and 7, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Lyric Opera House: Radvanovsky appeared in all three of Donizetti’s Tudor-queen operas over six months at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 2015-16 – an operatic feat that could possibly have been a first. In this semi-staged program, the Berwyn native will present the finales from “Anna Bolena,” “Maria Stuarda” and “Roberto Devereux” alongside artists from the Ryan Opera Center. Visit lyricopera.org.

Kyle MacMillan is a local freelance writer.

Sondra Radvanovsky
Sondra Radvanovsky
Andrew Eccles