In the classic Bugs Bunny episode called, What’s Opera, Doc? Bugs, in disguise, gets embroiled in a performance of a Wagner opera (sorry, cannot remember which one), while Elmer Fudd is busy tracking him down. This, of course, represents a good percentage of what I know about opera performance.
That, and if you’re going, you have to dress to, well, if not to impress at least to not depress.
But on WGN radio I caught a few minutes of on-air vivid description of the Lyric Opera’s performance of Showboat. They made it sound almost irresistible, and I had never been to the Civic Opera House which is a true Chicago landmark. The voices would be live, not miked or amplified, and the show itself is the original rendition of American musical theater, originating in 1927 and giving rise to what some consider the only truly American art form. No, it’s not a REAL opera, but it’s close enough.
Now, I am not a music buff or a big fan of stage musicals by any stretch of the imagination, and the only opera performance I had ever seen was in Vienna with student -price tickes (I think we stood) when I was 24. But I do enjoy stage musicals like Fiddler or Oklahoma, when I get the chance. Which is rarely. I also enjoy the occasional Hollywood movie musical, especially Wizard of Oz or My Fair Lady, with their multiple witty numbers. I had never seen any of the Hollywood versions of Showboat, the two best known being a 1951 production with Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel(not that well-regarded), and a 1936 version with Irene Dunn (regarded as better, especially Paul Robeson singing Ol’ Man River).
So, I bought tickets on-line. This means I now have an ID log-in and password with Chicago’s Lyric Opera. That, in and of itself, will add several IQ points in any unbiased analysis done by a competent examiner.
I wore a sport coat. And a clean shirt.
We arrived on the coldest night of a record-warm Chicago February, about 15 degrees F temp. with a near-zero windchill downtown. The breeze blowing into and through the lobby at the Civic Opera had many ladies keeping their coats on indoors as we grabbed refreshments. Spouse and I only had coffees, an attempt to help stay awake for the performance that would begin at 7:30 (on the dot, if you were wondering) and run ’til almost 10:30. I won’t say we tend to nod off , but, . . .
Of course, we ran into someone we knew–rather someone my spouse knew, which is almost always how it goes when you are married to a local celebrity–and we chatted for several minutes before finally giving in and checking our coats.
The seats were great, not because I paid extra for great seats, but because EVERY seat is great. We were on an aisle, and I had the aisle seat. Ask any guy, this makes a huge difference.
Surprisingly, the cast did NOT include Bugs Bunny, but the voices were awesomely amazing. Every voice. The story plot (maybe you know it, I didn’t) is pretty lame, but of course in a musical that is not the point at all. The funny parts were funny, the touching parts were touching, the dancing just good, but the voices? They arrived with rich, deep tones and rumbled, and I’m sorry if there is anyone reading that doesn’t appreciate a trained voice that can deliver with no amplification the truest sound all the way through the back of a crowded theater with two balconies. The female lead was sung by Ashley Brown, the male lead by Nathan Gunn. Joe, who gets to sing Ol’ Man River, was voiced by Morris Robinson. He was extraordinary.
Here is a link to a video mini-excerpt: http://www.lyricopera.org/
During the intermission two little girls in polka-dot skirts were picking up their coats. They were with their grandparents, and they were all leaving. “Getting a little late,” I commented. It was about 9:30, and Grandma said, “Yes, one Act is enough at their age. We don’t want to spoil opera for them.” I thought, How wise!
We caught the second act, and I can’t say we were humming show tunes on the way home. But I will say that it was worth every penny, and that I will remember the voices for the rest of my life.
Chicago’s Civic Opera House seats 3,600 and is the second largest opera venue in North America. It opened in 1929, and is located 1.3 miles from US 41.
Link to Bugs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJXBZbi2RJc&feature=fvsr
On Saturday we had tickets to Showboat in Chicago, so we spent a good part of the afternoon in the city exploring a bit.
First we went to a real estate showing on Fulton, an empty 3rd-floor condo, facing north (our son was doing the showing). In the city if you’re on the north side with windows facing north, it’s pretty boring compared to facing south which of course gives you the skyline, and if you’re high enough, maybe even a view of the lakefront.
Then we drove Lake Shore Drive north to where 41 leaves it to jut east on Foster for just a couple miles. The photos of Corner Store and Corner Bar were two different corners on Foster, only a couple blocks apart.
We turned north on Lincoln Ave. which is one of the few “diagonals” in the city. Chicago is laid out with a pretty disciplined grid system with eight blocks to the mile, so the diagonals of Clark, Lincoln, and Milwaukee are unusual. Took that to Lincolnwood (not real far), then turned back south on Cicero to bring us back to Lawrence Ave. We were heading to Marie’s (see photo).
I won’t go so far as to say Marie’s is legendary, but it’s well-known and I’d never been there. Opened in 1940, and maybe you can see from the pic it looks like it got redecorated about 1975 or so. Let’s just say the bar itself is vinyl as are the bar stool seats.
But it’s well-known for the old-style experience of a neighborhood Italian place that still functions pretty much exactly as it has for decades: real good thin-crust, a lively bar where kids that come in spin themselves on the barstool while waiting for a table in the restaurant. There’s strolling musicians a couple nights a week. And you can enter through the liquor store that is the second part of the establishment. We entered the normal way,
We had a mushroom pizza (very good–but nothing extraordinary if you’re accusotmed to pizza in Chicago–just real good thin-crust) plus baked mostaccioli which means (this is implied in the word “baked”) it’s been put into the oven or under a broiler with cheese melted and browned on top of the pasta & tomato sauce (also really good) and the best part of the meal to me, two meatballs ordered on the side, which were delicious. Marie’s was recently involved in a flurry of disagreement because of being featured on the local PBS station WTTW’s restaurant-review show called Check, Please!. On this episode, one of the “guest reviewers” who are ordinary citizens who get to be on TV, showed up to review Marie’s and just blasted it on-air for being out of step with the times and just ordinary.
Regular viewers were aghast, because, well, “Duhh, that’s the whole point!” The place is a Chicago pizza joint, it’s been a Chicago pizza joint since before pizza went global, and it will be a Chicago pizza joint long after the jaded, trendy guy is gone. People also didn’t like the way he looked. But the main criticism of his scathing “review?” He showed up on a Sunday and expected brunch. Classic.
Then, as it started getting dark, we were headed to the Lyric Opera performance of the classic American musical, Showboat.
Next post facto: what I thought of Showboat.