Theater & Music, Chicago
State Street is once again thronged with holiday shoppers, and now you can see street puppet theatre in small "carts". (I'm sure Mayor Daley makes sure that they are licensed.) This one featured a "Punch and Judy" story - its always fun to watch someone getting wacked on the head.
Home of the Hubbard Street Dance and the Chicago Opera Theater (as well as a number of other local performance groups), this new auditorium is located in the Millenium Park project. The box office and entrance foyer is right off Randolph Avenue, across from the Aon (formerly Amoco) Tower. But the theater itself is underground, buried underneath Millenium Park much like a parking garage. And guess what the theater lobby looks like?
This is modernism at its most unadorned and unapologetic. If you are going to like the place, you just have to surrender yourself to the aesthetic. If the interior seems to you like a streamlined European parking garage, that is the architect's intention. This is the antithesis of the Lyric Opera Building - no gaudy display of decoration here, no trappings of bourgoise taste. "Sprockets" style minimalism reigns. That said, the interior of the theater itself is quite nice - excellent acoustics where I sat.
I did hear people grumbling that after a three hour opera performance, they had to climb several flights of stairs just to reach street level. It's quite different from the norm of theater design, where audience members "descend from the heights" after the show.
Held in the outdoor Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, this summer festival is the nation's only remaining free, outdoor classical music event.
Series begin in the middle of June and last until the middle of August.
Days: Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays usually. Very rarely Tuesdays.
Rules: Photography is not permitted during the performance, video taping is not permitted at all times, cell phones should be switched off.
Advice: Come an hour early to get seats, if you do not want to sit on the lawn. First 20 or so rows are for the members, the rest is free. On my picture #1, everything you see is reserved for the members, my row is the 1st free one.
Pritzker Pavillion features "fixed" seating for 4000 people, with addition room for about 7000 on the lawn - so it's a fairly ample space, even if it isn't quite as large as some people would have liked. I attended a performance by the Grant Park Symphony - they played Bruckner's Ninth Symphony, not exactly "light pops" fare. Naturally, the performance was amplified, but the engineers have done their best to ensure that the sound is as "natural" as possible. Bruckner's wonderous epiphanies of brass were not just loud, they were rich. Unfortunately, some of the "piano" moments in the score were basically inaudible. I understand that "corrections" are still being made on the sound system to ensure that quiet passages have the same value as the fortissimos.
When the stage is not being used, a glass curtain wall descends and protects it from the environment. I would think though that even a limited exposure to Chicago's humidity would be detrimental in the long run - but what do I know?
Home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. People in Chicago rightly take pride in their great orchestra: the brass players in particular are local celebrities. Listening to the CSO in a great Bruckner or Mahler Symphony is a tremendous experience. However, acoustics here can be a little tricky: I've found that there are some "dead spots" on the ground floor, but in general the sound in the balcony is the best in the hall. Designed by the great Daniel Burnham, and opened in December 1904.
"I adore Chicago. It is the pulse of America."
Sarah Bernhardt, theatre actress
Here is a list of great "Live" Theatre in Chicago:
1. Apollo Theatre
2540 N. Lincoln (312)935-6100
2. Auditorium Theatre
2936 N. Southport (312)525-0195
3. Body Politic Theater
Players Workshop Children's Theatre
2261 N. Lincoln
4. Briar Street Theater
3133 N. Halsted
5. Famous Door Theatre Co.
3212 N. Broadway
6. Goodman Theatre
200 S. Columbus Dr.
7. Pegasus Players
1145 W. Wilson
8. The Second City
1616 N. Wells St.
Note: THE SECOND CITY since 1959 has been entertaining with its signature brand of socio-political satire.
It has been the starting point for many famous actors. Second City should not be missed!
There are several others plus suburban theatres.
Since 1957, the Old Town School of Folk Music has been a place of refuge for music lovers. In the 50s and 60s, the folk music scene was kind of a subversive culture, and all those who just wanted to "hang out" or play music or simply discuss social issues (usually liberal causes) were welcome at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Today, it is no longer considered a "beatnik organization"; rather, it is a well respected institute known for embracing diversity, for helping the Chicago community express music, and for entertaining those who love music.
Until 1998, the school was located at 909 West Armitage Avenue. In 1998, they moved to Lincoln Square and into the old library which is an art-deco building. Before the move, the closed-stack library area was gutted, and a concert hall was built in its place. The stage was installed where the old circulation desk stood. Supposedly, the acoustics in this concert hall are some of the best in Chicago.
There is a cafe in the building, a store, a basement with thick walls for individual studios, and a dance room with "sprung-wood flooring. In addition, there are numerous classrooms.
The school offers a wide variety of music & dance classes for all levels of expertise.
We've been there several times and can vouch that it is low-keyed and quite friendly.
Sitting in the "music shed" is an alternative to lawn tickets at Ravinia. It's more expensive, but you are guaranteed a good view of the performers, and you have some protection in case of rain.
I had tickets in the pavillion for a Gala Concert in the summer of 2004 that was celebrating 100 years of classical music at Ravinia. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra played under the direction of Christolph Eschenbach, with appearances by vocalists Renee Fleming, Susan Graham and Heidi Grant-Murphy, pianist Lang Lang, and violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.
The Ravinia Festival features classical, jazz, and popular musics performed outdoors, in north suburban Highland Park, from June to September. "Lawn tickets" are $10, and attract both professional picnickers (that class of people who lay out a spread that would please Teresa Heinz Kerry), and those seeking simply to enjoy a beautiful night listening to good tunes in the middle of a beautiful park. (The music is regularly accompanied by a chorus of chirping cicadas, as well as by the hoots of passing trains.)
When the weather is right, Ravinia is a great night out.
It's kind of a big deal, but it can be worth it: the Lyric Opera of Chicago is one of the world's great opera companies, maintaining a very high level of accomplishment year in and year out. Some of the productions put on here are among the finest you'll see anywhere in the world. One example would be the February 2004 production I saw here of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor," with the luminous French soprano Natalie Dessay in the lead role. It was just the best opera production I've ever seen. The Lyric performs 8 productions every year in this gargantual theatre on Wacker Drive. The Art Deco facility was dedicated in 1929, and truly represents all that is grand about grand opera. It would be fun to come here just for the people watching!
Whenever you're visiting Chicago be sure to turn your FM radio to 95.5 MHz. There you'll discover some of the sweetest sounds ever.
WNUA is my favourite Jazz station, which fortunately I get to listen to via the Internet wherever I am!
Never, ever miss a chance to see the Chicago Simphony Orchestra....it's sublime....my friend Andrea can tell, right Andrea?!?! ;-)
Try to get the Chicago Simphony Orchestra playing...