Allow me to curate your listening so that you may be introduced to and impressed by three artists you should know.
On Thursday (or Sunday), make your way to the Studebaker for Chicago Opera Theater’s excellent production of Stefan Weisman and David Cote’s The Scarlet Ibis, a tender and poignant story about fraternal love. I can’t think of other works in the canon that explore the love between siblings. When you remove romantic passion from the plot of most operas, you are left with love, fear, anger, despair, and joy, which Scarlet Ibis illustrates in vibrant detail.
Last week, I wanted you to trust that this Scarlet Ibis was worth hearing because it featured Annie Rosen. I can now wholeheartedly recommend it for Rosen’s pitch-perfect portrayal of middle childhood sibling rivalry and affection; for the mysteriously beautiful countertenor Jordan Rutter as Rosen’s co-star; and for the surprise of the cast — Quinn Middleman as their beleaguered mother. Middleman’s violent child birthing scene at the start of the opera revealed a singer who is vocally up to new challenges that belie her youth. I have been listening to Quinn since she was still a student at the Bienen School of Music, and the following years in COT Young Artist assignments, with Chicago Fringe Opera, and with Third Coast Baroque, all of which have been excellent performances. And yet, I was not prepared to hear her instrument in the extremes put upon her by the score of Scarlet Ibis. This is a voice. Congratulations to whomever cast Middleman in this role, which could have easily turned camp, but in Middleman’s hands feels visceral and authentic.
**Countertenors in the audience, take note of the aria “I have wings” which is destined to be a ubiquitous audition aria. Unfortunately for you countertenors, it would seem that Jordan Rutter will be cast as Doodle in every future professional production of Ibis until he is ready to retire the role. His physicality as the frail and disabled child is simply masterful.
On Friday you have two chances to hear the blossoming Baroque diva Hannah De Priest in Trio Speranza’s Handel-centric program. The understanding of rhetoric, the use of gesture in musical phrasing as well as in the body, the technique for vocal fireworks, a beautiful tone, and creative ornamentation are qualities we seek in a Handelian. Hannah De Priest is a Handelian. I first heard De Priest as a Young Artist at the 2017 Boston Early Music Festival, where she was covering Amanda Forsythe in the festival centerpiece opera. Her poise and intelligence were immediately apparent. Now based in Chicago, she is quickly ascending the ranks of musicians who specialize in Early Music, having already collaborated with Bella Voce, Trio Speranza, and soon with Newberry Consort. Trio Speranza adds an additional violinist and baroque triple harpist to fill out the ensemble for instrumental works and arias from Giulio Cesare, Rinaldo, Alcina, and the cantata Armida Abbandonata. De Priest is tasked with displaying the full range of affects from gay (“Tornami a vagheggiar”) to pathetic (“Lascia ch’io pianga”), and enjoys the distinct privilege of being able to perform what may be Handel’s finest, florid continuo aria “Ah, crudel” in the Armida cantata.
Mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin returns to Ravinia Festival in recital with her partner, pianist Jenny Taira. Rubin is blind, and one day, we should be able to delete that anecdote from her bio. But her unique experience as a queer artist who also happens to be blind seems to correlate to her superior ability to captivate audiences. I first heard Laurie Rubin singing Purcell and Couperin with a group called Callisto Ascending at the New York Public Library in 2008. Her tone quality was both vulnerable and dazzling, and her command of some of the most ornate high baroque flourishes left me awe-struck. I have been heartened to learn that she has since been involved in projects that celebrate her gifts, such as performing the roles of Penelope in Monteverdi’s Return of Ulysses and the title role of Cenerentola; partnering in recital with Frederica von Stade; championing new music as a guest artist of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; and co-founding a music festival and school in Hawaii. I was disappointed when her duet recital at Ravinia with von Stade was cancelled last summer. Ravinia is making amends by presenting Rubin and Jenny Taira this Saturday in Bennett-Gordon Hall, one of my favorite places to listen to art song. You won’t regret making the trip out to Highland Park. Hers is the type of music making that is not just gorgeous, it is also compelling and completely original. Don’t take my word for it, sample her inimitable artistry HERE.
If Highland Park is out of your reach, enjoy an intimate concert by The Marion Consort (Monteverdi, Strozzi, Cavalli) in Ukranian Village, or check out Chicago’s newest art song collaborative, Lynx Project at Pianoforte which boasts Quinn Middleman on her day off from Scarlet Ibis!