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Chicago Opera Theater to launch 2014 season with an Ellington rarity

NmFord sings title role Ernest Bloch's 'Macbeth' which Chicago OperTheater will stage as part its 2014 season. | Phocourtesy Long

Nmon Ford sings the title role of Ernest Bloch's "Macbeth," which Chicago Opera Theater will stage as part of its 2014 season. | Photo courtesy of Long Beach Opera

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Updated: June 20, 2013 6:29AM



Eclectic. Theatrical. Unusual. 20th century.

In announcing its 2014 season, Chicago Opera Theater continues to move in different directions from its recent past while building on its strong bond with its general director’s Southern California company.

At the company’s annual gala Thursday night, Andreas Mitisek, who also heads the Long Beach (Calif.) Opera, announced the second COT season under his watch and the first planned fully by him.

As he did this year with a Piazzolla tango work, Mitisek stretches the definition of opera with the Chicago premiere of Duke Ellington’s “Queenie Pie,” which will launch the season Feb. 15-23. For 12 years until his death in 1974, Ellington worked “Queenie Pie,” a musical setting of the life of the first black self-made millionaire, the hair-products pioneer Madam C.J. Walker.

COT will perform a 2009 version created for the University of Texas at Austin by the composer’s longtime collaborator, Betty McGettigan (who also wrote the work’s libretto). Ellington called this light piece, intended for public television, an “opera comique,” and others have compared it to ’20s-era orchestral jazz. COT will collaborate with Jeff Lindberg’s Chicago Jazz Orchestra on the production, which will later travel to Long Beach.

Spring brings a contrasting double bill of one-act German works from 1943: Carl Orff’s “Die Kluge” (“The Clever One”) and Viktor Ullmann’s “Der Kaiser von Atlantis” (“The Emperor of Atlantis”). Orff (1895-1982), best known for his 1937 cantata “Carmina Burana,” prospered during and after the Nazi period; his innocently satirical fairy tale opera, adapted from the Brothers Grimm, received productions in 21 theaters under the Nazis.

Ullmann, an assimilated Czech Jew, wrote his biting send-up of the Nazis in the Theresienstadt “model” concentration camp. In 1944, he was executed at Auschwitz and never saw his opera produced. In 1998, COT presented the Chicago premiere of the Ullmann work for the company’s 25th anniversary season. This spring bill will be staged May 31-June 8, 2014, at the Merle Reskin Theatre of DePaul University, instead of the COT’s usual base at the Harris Theater.

Fall brings another work with a complicated history, Swiss-American refugee Ernest Bloch’s 1904-06 “Macbeth” in its Chicago premiere, Sept. 13-21, at the Harris. Bloch (1880-1959) remains largely known for such Jewish-influenced works as “Schelomo,” written for cello and orchestra. His only completed opera ran up against hard political times in Europe, and the English-language libretto the composer preferred was not presented on the Continent until 2003 in Vienna. COT promises “a new production based on” the version that will go up at Long Beach next month.

COT’s current season continues with Verdi’s rarely performed “Joan of Arc,” Sept. 21-29 at the Harris.

Mitisek will conduct “Macbeth” and the spring double-bill. Casts, conductors and production teams will be announced later. Full 2014 season subscriptions starting at $95 go on sale July 1, with individual tickets on Jan. 6, 2014. Andrew Patner is critic at large for WFMT-FM (98.7).



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