The first full week of September finds the city rife with the freshest, brightest talent thanks to Lyric Opera and Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago (CAIC).
CAIC's Collaborative Works Festival makes for a strong launch of the fall season. Once again, CAIC uniquely presents the best of the vocal artists whose careers are as devoted to song as they are to concert and opera. Susanna Phillips and her regular collaborator Myra Huang headline the four-day festival on Thursday night with an ambitious recital that includes Libby Larsen's contemporary classic cycle Try Me Good King: Last Words of the Wives of King Henry VIII. Bass-baritone Douglas Williams returns to Chicago for two distinct joint recitals with soprano Sarah Shafer, tenor Nicholas Phan, and pianists Myra Huang and Shannon McGinnis. The first of these, the festival opener on Wednesday, focuses exclusively on Franz Schubert's settings of poems on Greek mythology, predominantly by Mayrhofer, Goethe, and Schiller. The Antikenlieder in particular find Schubert at his most melancholy and hint at his homosexual longing. The casting of the devastatingly handsome Williams for a program around this theme is an example of an organization really knowing its audience. The final concert of the festival on Saturday also features Wednesday night's artists in a program Schumann, Duparc, and Heggie. CAIC, with education a fundamental part of their mission, also offers a free masterclass with Susanna Phillips on Friday afternoon.
Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park adds to a star-studded week in a concert that has the largest reach of any vocal event of the entire year. Sopranos Janai Brugger, Andriana Chuchman, and Lauren Snouffer, mezzo-soprano J'Nai Bridges, tenors Dmitry Korchak and Matthew Polenzani, baritone Anthony Clark Evans, bass-baritone Eric Owens, and members of the Ryan Opera Center are all expected to perform with the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis. The program is scheduled to include selections from Figaro, Gluck's Orphée, Faust, Pearl Fishers, Turandot, Don Pasquale, Werther, and Die Walküre. A large swath of the 4,000 seat "seating bowl" of the Pritzker Pavilion is released to the public at precisely 6pm. Line up early if you want a seat, or fight for valuable real estate on the lawn. If the weather is fair, the lawn and seating bowl reach capacity early and the park may deny entry for safety.
For the die-hards, the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center offers a chance to hear the final stage of the trials to enter their prestigious program. Ryan Opera Center Final Auditions is a daylong event with tickets offered exclusively to subscribers and donors – but if you sniff around, you can find one. First year ensemble member soprano Whitney Morrison, one of VAC's outstanding performers of 2016, was one of the amazing gets who endured this public spectacle.
Quick pick: Even though it is a busy weekend, one should still be able to squeeze in Thompson Street Opera Company's final performances of Cosmic Ray and the Amazing Chris. Thompson Street commissioned the complete version of this new opera by Eric Lindsay with a libretto by Tracy Truels. The production images and YouTube previews suggest a rollicking good time. Look out for Max Seifert and Jonathan Wilson, who seem to be bouncing around from one chamber opera company to another – likely because of their excellent and reliable singing. For those who saw Chicago Fringe Opera's Song from the Uproar, Cosmic Ray is also using the Preston Bradley Center in Uptown.