In the next few days Chicagoans have the unique opportunity to hear some of the world's most sought after singers including Eric Owens, Quinn Kelsey, Nicholas Phan, Ana María Martínez, and Ailyn Pérez. There are two organizations making this possible: Lyric Opera of Chicago, which presents its annual free concert at Millennium Park, and song-centric Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago (CAIC).
The Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park is the unofficial herald of the fall season and serves as an event that seems to bring the entire opera-singing and opera-enjoying community together. In previous years, this spacious, free venue has had to close its perimeters for a capacity crowd reaching over 13,000. The other Millennium Park events reaching this remarkable level of attendance have been the taping of the Oprah Winfrey show, the screening of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and the House Legacy Project. It is heartening to see so many people enjoying opera, and Lyric does a great job casting ambassadors. One hopes to hear Ms. Martínez previewing the Letter Scene from the upcoming production of Eugene Onegin.
Meanwhile, CAIC kicks off its fifth season with the Collaborative Works Festival: La bonne chanson - The influence of Paul Verlaine exploring the influence of the seminal French poet and his contemporaries on the composers of the Parisian Belle Époque. There are two salon concerts and a masterclass across town for those who want to delve deep into the topic. The whole idea sounds a bit pointy-headed, but for those who love song, all you need to know is that some of the finest interpreters will be on hand to present favorites like Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis and the epic, concerted Chanson pérpetuelle of Ernest Chausson. Furthermore, this festival offers a chance to hear one of the greatest singers on stage today - Ailyn Pérez, who will give a recital that somehow fits the theme with pianist Craig Terry. The editor could hardly care less what Ms. Pérez is singing - she could sing the phone book and it would still be a top recommendation. For those readers who did not witness her Contessa a few years back at Ravinia Festival's concert production of Le Nozze di Figaro, her magnetic stage presence and glamorous tone quality earned her an extended ovation the likes of which are rarely heard these days. Hers is a voice that merits pandemonium.
And if you are the type to reject what is popular and be on the fringe, please check out Hilliard & Boresi's The Filthy Habit which has its final performance as part of the Chicago Fringe Festival on Friday - the same night as Lyric at Millennium Park. Filthy Habit is a concise, comic chamber opera set during New York's smoking ban in 2003. Barihunk Jonathan Wilson is a stand-out for his dynamic performance as a gym-brat-brah who suspects that his girlfriend may be cheating on him. Third Eye Theatre Ensemble triumphs with a strong cast wringing out every laugh from the hilarious material.