Chicago Opera Theater Presents RIMSKY REBOOTED Review – Russian Composition and Beyond

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A woman in a red dress sings of the magic of red flowers. Her song, smooth and rich, echoes as she strokes the edge of the cup she holds, then passes her hand over its brim as if to enchant it. But this enchantment is no benevolent one. She then picks up a long, cruel sword and holds it out before her in both hands. Her song intensifies, becoming accented and sharp like her weapon. She sings directly to the sword as a friend who will grant her victory. A terrifying look of wicked intensity passes over her face. She strokes her finger along the blade of the sword, reveling in the thought of cleaving a knight’s head from his shoulders.

This scene from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Kashchej the Immortal marks the climax of Chicago Opera Theater’s (COT’s) Rimsky Rebooted, a musical production featuring the work of Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov and several other composers. Rimsky Rebooted is a pivot from the originally scheduled performance of Kashchej the Immortal. Rather than being a performance of a single opera, Rimsky Rebooted is a collection of individual pieces, primarily by Rimsky-Korsakov. Several other Russian composers, along with a handful of seldom performed compositions from non-Russian composers, are featured.

Chicago Opera Theater Fosters Appreciation of Russian Art

Across compositions, we see a range of emotions from love, to hate, to fear, to grief. The poetic lyrics of Russia Set Adrift nostalgically tells the story of a country once flourishing but now destroyed. It begins in despair. Then the tone transitions mid-piece as the singer describes the sparkling night sky of his homeland while the piano part quickens, evoking the glimmering stars in the lyrics.

We hear another celebration of nature—this one light and cheery—in Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden. Joy fills the singer’s face as she tells of the beauty of her forest. In contrast, a piece from COT’s upcoming Taking Up Serpents powerfully depicts the internal conflict of a wife who must decide between her faith and her husband’s life. Accompanying the singing, the piano mimics an EKG machine. In this writer’s opinion, the score’s creative use of the piano is an especially powerful way to highlight the severity of the situation and the woman’s conflict; furthermore, the performers of Rimsky Rebooted masterfully communicate each of these different emotions with the audience.

Rimsky Rebooted Tells Stories Through Interactions

Performing a piece from Claude Debussy’s Pélleas et Mélisande, two singers play the parts of the titular admirers. Mélisande, a beautiful young woman with long, flowing hair, lives in a tower. One night, her admirer Pélleas, comes to visit. Having just learned that Pélleas must leave the following day, Mélisande attempts to reach the man who she loves. As the music swells, the actress playing the part of Mélisande reaches forward, her tones and facial expression becoming frantic as Mélisande is unable to reach. In desperation, Mélisande sings “I will let down my hair!” In response, the actor playing Pélleas holds out his hands, catching Mélisande’s hair as it descends to him. Enamored, he refuses to let go, even when Mélisande, grasping her head in pain, begs. Throughout the entire piece, the two actors stand several feet apart and never touch—as is the norm in COVID-19 times. Even so, you likely would agree with this reviewer that their performances made the interactions between these two characters both realistic and transporting.

Rimsky Rebooted never ceases to impress with its excellent music, drama, and emotion. It is an impressive and well-executed pivot from COT’s originally planned performance of Kashchej the Immortal. This reviewer was held enraptured throughout the entire event and left longing for more at the end of the performance. The emotion in the music and actions of the performers are what make the performance truly engaging. Rimsky Rebooted is a perfect performance for opera, music and theater lovers who want to see a series of well-performed stories, or for any viewer who is interested in giving opera a try.

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Lidiya Yankovskaya, Music Director and pianist
Michael Pecak, pianist
Annie Rosen, mezzo-soprano
Will Liverman, baritone
Wilbur Pauley, bass

Unfortunately, this performance has passed. However, COT’s 2020-21 season continues as they bring alive their slogan Opera Lives Here. For more information on upcoming COT performances, visit the Chicago Opera Theater website.

To learn more about the Rimsky Rebooted cast and creative, view the Rimsky Rebooted Program.

Photos: Sean Su

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Adriana Moore
Adriana Moore

About the Author: Adriana Moore

Adriana Moore is an aspiring editor who recently graduated from Wheaton College with a B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy. During college, she worked as a copyeditor for her school’s newspaper. A lover of music, she has sung in choirs throughout her life, most recently Women’s Chorale during college. In her free time, Adriana enjoys reading books, taking her dog on walks, and introducing her youngest sister to the world of Marvel movies.

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