Updated: September 5, 2013 12:52PM
The classical scene in Chicago continues to boom, from Orchestra Hall and the Civic Opera House to storefronts and lofts. Opera and long-missed vocal recitals are prominent this fall, in part because of big birthday anniversaries for influential composers: 200 for Italian Giuseppe Verdi and German Richard Wagner and a century for Briton Benjamin Britten.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director is the world’s leading champion of Giuseppe Verdi, and he’s arranged his schedule to commemorate the Italian master’s 200th birthday right here in Chicago. Verdi programs fill Muti’s first month here and launch the season, starting in with the 2013 free community concert, this year in Cicero (!) on Sept. 18, and including three subscription weeks at Orchestra Hall, the Symphony Ball gala Sept. 21, concert performances of the complete opera “Macbeth” (Sept. 28 through Oct. 6) and the Verdi Requiem on the composer’s actual 200th, Oct. 10. This last, sold-out concert also will be shown live (and free) on a giant screen in Millennium Park and over a free international webcast at cso.org. Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan. (312) 294-3000.
Lyric also launches its season with Verdian Shakespeare, his popular, late “Otello,” although with a lesser-known and debuting conductor, the youngish Frenchman Bertrand de Billy. Stentorian tenor Johan Botha, charming soprano Ana Maria Martinez and appropriately creepy bass-baritone Falk Struckmann lead the cast of this revival. The opening-night Opera Ball gala performance on Oct. 5 will be broadcast live on WFMT-FM (98.7). It runs through Nov. 2. Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker. (312) 332-2244; lyricopera.org.
Chicago Opera Theater
COT rounds out its calendar 2013 season with ... another Verdi, although neither Shakespeare-based nor well-known, only his seventh (of some 30) stage work, “Joan of Arc.” In keeping with its “more of the different” concept, COT has experimental director David Schweizer making his Chicago debut with a highly theatrical, intermissionless staging led by young local conductor Francesco Milioto and young singers. Sept. 21-29. Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph. (312) 704-8414; chicagooperatheater.org
This rapidly established company focuses on the 17th and 18th centuries, so no Verdi for them. But they do get the fall’s only Chicago premiere: Georg Philipp Telemann’s 1725 comic opera, in Italian, “Pimpinone, or The Bossy Chambermaid.” With just two singers and period-style instruments, sets and costumes, the Rogers Park-based enterprise continues to explore the unexpected. Oct. 26-27, Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse. (773) 381-4551. haymarket
Enough of all this vocal stuff, you say? Another of the world’s greatest conductors and the much-loved former interim leader of the CSO, Bernard Haitink, 84, is slated to return to Orchestra Hall with Mozart’s last piano concerto and Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, the “Romantic.” The ever-reliable Emanuel Ax is the soloist, and there is not a singer in sight. Oct. 31-Nov. 3. Orchestra Hall. (312) 294-3000; cso.org.
Conductor Valery Gergiev makes headlines these days as much for his championing of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin as for his energetic presentations of the Russian classics. Gergiev brings his Mariinsky Orchestra from St. Petersburg to Orchestra Hall to perform Igor Stravinsky’s three great Russian ballet scores — “The Firebird,” “Petrushka” and “The Rite of Spring” — on a single program. Oct. 2. (312) 294-3000; cso.org.
Back to the vocals: Young New York-based tenor Nicholas Phan has a busy Chicago fall in connection with the centenary anniversary of British composer Benjamin Britten. He just sang Britten with the Knights at Ravinia’s Martin Theatre, and he kicks off his own Collaborative Works Festival Sept. 11 with a free all-Britten song program at the Poetry Foundation, a shared program with soprano Kiera Duffy and eighth blackbird at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center Sept. 15 and a Britten/Schubert program at the U. of C. Presents/Mandel Hall Oct. 18. (773) 702-8068; chicagopresents.uchicago.edu
Speaking of festivals, the enterprising young Chicago pianist George LePauw launches his third International Beethoven Project Festival this year with a streamlined but still very busy schedule and a more easily navigable downtown base. Impressive guests include composer/conductor Matthias Pintscher, Wilco’s Glenn Kotche, JACK Quartet, Chicago-raised rising star cellist Gabriel Cabezas and pianist and “From the Top” host Christopher O’Riley and bar-touring cellist Matt Haimowitz playing everything from Beethoven to Radiohead. Sept 7-15. Merit School of Music, 38 S. Peoria, and Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington. (312) 772-5821; internationalbeethoven
The intrepid company will mark its fifth anniversary with the Chicago premiere of African-American composer William Grant Still’s 1939 collaboration with poet Langston Hughes, “Troubled Island,” based on early 19th-century Haitian Revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Premiered at New York City Opera in 1949 as the first work by a black composer produced by a major American opera company, the work largely disappeared after its controversial premiere. Leslie B. Dunner conducts. Oct. 19. South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore. (773) 723-4627; southshoreopera.org
Music of the Baroque
No anniversary is needed to hear the music of the immortal J.S. Bach. Chicago’s popular Music of the Baroque kicks its season off with two cantatas and the Magnificat of the Leipzig master. Last year’s MoB performances of Handel’s oratorio “Israel in Egypt” were highlights of the season. Principal guest conductor Nicholas Kraemer leads the chorus, orchestra and vocal soloists in Skokie and at the Harris Theater. Oct. 6-7. (312) 551-1414; baroque.org
Andrew Patner is critic at large at WFMT-FM (98.7).