Chicago Fringe Opera Makes Home in Chopin Theatre
The pillar-rich basement of Chicago’s Chopin Theatre probably hasn’t had a more appropriate event than Chicago Fringe Opera’s LUCREZIA. Descending the narrow stairs, the usual performance space anteroom not only had a working bar, puffy couches and chairs in great supply, but also warming music from pianist Cody Michael Bradley. It was as though this comfy lounge first found its true identity thanks to Chicago Fringe Opera.
Pre-Show in Lounge
If we hadn’t already felt transported out of the everyday, the succession of songsters performing playful works by William Bolcom did more to rope us close. This was also a very good introduction to the cast members, who all play almost caricature roles in LUCREZIA. This pre-show gave us a chance to see more of their vocal and dramatic range, as well as a chance to revel in Bolcom’s sometimes borderline randy songs. Most notably, we got a glimpse into the talents of Gabriel Di Gennaro singing a song where he moves his voice to be both father and son in a dialog about the meaning of life.
We also got to especially revel in Ashley Kay Armstrong, first feeling her star power that she brought to her performance in the title role of the LUCREZIA operetta that followed. While all the cast did a more than adequate job, both Armstrong’s role and performance made her the standout. (Cast, besides Armstrong included: Matthan Ring Black as Chucho, Tobias Wright as Lorenzo, Gabriel di Gennaro as Ignacio and Dina Stoic as Annunciata.)
Then the Zarzuela Begins
The itsy performance space beyond the Chopin basement lounge was covered with what seemed to be white flower petals. Behind were butterfly motif gauze curtains. Other than that, only a few movable boxes made the set. The sparse set design in some ways keeps the focus on the singing.
Librettist Mark Campbell, whom Chicago Fringe Opera expressed great thanks to for his generosity in coaching this production to life, was in the audience the first night. He had penned quite a number of funny lines, playing up the farce of this tale based on a Machiavelli story of a young wife whom many conspire to impregnate, but who turns out to have needed none of this deception, as she sums up in her aria, “I Like Sex”.
The romp has a Marx Brothers movie feel, paired with Bolcom music playing with almost slides into dissonance somewhat like a sonnet that is supposed to rhyme but refuses to most of the time and keeps you guessing when it will. We are reminded that this is zarzuela, a sort of Spanish Broadway genre back in the day, by songs punctuated with flamenco styled clapping. (Music Direction Catherine O’Shaughnessy; Stage Director George Cederquist)
This is a top pick for lovers of Bolcom and those of us who especially love singing up close and personal.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
May 9, 11 and 13
1543 W DIVISION STREET
Photos: Wendy Alas