Opera at the Lyric in Chicago

Daughter of the Regiment, Perfect. Jenufa, Not So

By: - Dec 06, 2023

In the lobby of the Lyric Opera House in Chicago you hear griping about management. Yet it is hard to imagine what people are talking about when you watch and hear the fall production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment. A perfect production.

Laurent Pelly put together the original. We are in the Tyrol mountains. These are reimagined by 2-D maps cut into peaks and valleys. Every time we look at them, we smile. We are in for a good time. 

In the pit, Speranza Scappucci is the mistress of all sounds. She encourages the orchestra, finding each detail. Yet she is always alert to stage action and to the interpretation of the singers. If Lisette Oropesa, our Marie, wants to hold a note, she can. Comfortably. She knows the conductor is going to wait for her, and move to her rhythms.

Christian Rath makes his Lyric debut as revival director. Those of us who have seen his work at Bard Summerscape know that he is a wonder. When he takes command of a production, every note is in place, every movement is considered. The elements are so smoothly integrated that you hardly notice them unless you ask yourself: Wow, how does this work so well?

Lisette Oropesa can do anything, including dragging a laundry line across the stage, climbing imaginary mountains, and singing perfectly beautiful notes.

Lawrence Brownlee is always a treat in bel canto roles. His high Cs drive the audience wild. 

The Claus Guth Jenufa production does not fare as well. Conducting both in London and Chicago celebrated Janacek’s complex score and offered appealing lyric colors when an opportunity arose.

It seems important for the two lead sopranos singing the title role and that of her stepmother to absolutely dominate the Michael Levine set which can creep eerily up on you and dominate. While the casting in Chicago seemed to do this, Nina Stemme did not warm up until the third Act and the title role does not seem suited to the gloriously large-voiced Lisa Davidsen. 

In London, Asmik Gregorian and Karita Mattila took complete control of the stage and satisfied. This duet of characters is at the heart of Jenufa, the stepmother's role as important as Jenufa’s. Grigorian has worked often with Claus Nuth so she knew what she was getting into. Mattila, who for decades was the go-to casting for the Jenufa role, was the talk of the town in London as the step-mother, Kostelni?ka. The great singing actress again made Janacek her own.

The next live Lyric production doesn’t open until January. Later this month, a filmed concert of Lawrence Brownless & Friends will be available for free live streaming. Brownlee is accompanied by Craig Terry on piano. They’ll be joined by Oropesa, Ronnie Miller and members of the Patrick and Shirley W.  Ryan Opera Center Ensemble.  

Lyric Opera here.