A farewell to James Levine • Goerne sings Schumann

Ravinia Festival plays two trump cards this week.  Matthias Goerne, one of the most important Lieder singers of his generation, offers an all-Schumann program with pianist Alexander Schmalcz.  Sometimes Goerne's programming can be too esoteric and threatens to alienate the Lieder neophytes (there must be a compound German word for that), but on Thursday, Goerne and Schmalcz will perform the three most-programmed and beloved Schumann song cycles including a gender-incorrect Frauenliebe und -leben.    On Saturday, Ravinia can claim the most important musical event of the summer and probably the whole year when James Levine returns, likely for the last time, to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Mahler's Symphony No. 2.  The Resurrection Symphony is an epic masterpiece and connotes a special occasion whenever it is performed.  When coupled with the retirement of an inimitable American conductor, this will not just be a concert, but a celebration and honoring of a life's work.  

Back in Chicago it is a busy weekend with the final performances of Chicago Folks Operetta's The Cousin from Nowhere and Main Street Opera's The Consul. Maestro Anthony Barrese has raised the quality of music-making for the Folks Operetta and the critics have taken note.  George Cederquist's direction of Menotti's harrowing Cold War-era The Consul, while thrifty and austere, is extremely effective, and gives the singers a production that inspires them to produce their best singing. Both of these shows were Editor's Picks last weekend and remain so.

The choral recommendation for Sunday is the free concert at Columbus Park Refectory presented by Grant Park Music Festival.  We are reaching the end of the charismatic maestro Christopher Bell's season with Grant Park Chorus.  Bell is one of the city's most beloved conductors and the chorus, comprised of Chicago's best, sings as if they aim to please him - which is great for the audience. He has prepared an a capella program on the theme of Shakespeare which will be repeated at South Shore Cultural Center on Tuesday, July 26th.  His last concert of the season is around the corner and will surely be the top pick of that week - Mozart's Great Mass in C minor on Friday August 5th.