Stories by Hedy Weiss

For 30th Anniversary, Dance for Life Takes the Celebration Outdoors

The annual event that puts the spotlight on Chicago dance companies is free and open to the public this year with a concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

Willie Nelson’s Enduring Magic on Display at Ravinia Along With ‘The Family’

Willie Nelson performs at Ravinia on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. (Credit: Kyle Dunleavy)

The crowd roared and jumped to its feet the minute the 88-year-old country music legend walked onto the stage on Saturday night — and his ability to instantly connect to his audience is unwavering, with his guitar playing still seemingly effortless.

Celebrating Bernstein’s Broadway Songbook at Ravinia

Sheléa performs at “Unboxing Bernstein: A Live Revue” at the Ravinia Festival on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021. (Courtesy of the Ravinia Festival)

“Unboxing Bernstein: A Live Revue” served as a stirring reminder of Leonard Bernstein’s genius for mixing and matching musical genres. 

At Ravinia, Cynthia Erivo’s Blazing Star Power and Rachel Barton Pine’s Last-Minute Prowess

Rachel Barton Pine performs with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Friday, July 16, 2021. (Courtesy of the Ravinia Festival)

It was quite a weekend at the Ravinia Festival. On Friday evening virtuoso violinist Rachel Barton Pine filled in for the indisposed Midori with just a few hours of advance notice, and aced Prokofiev’s fiendishly difficult “Violin Concerto No. 1.”

For CSO, It’s Time to Tango as Plans Through Holiday Season Are Announced

Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti on the podium during the CSO’s May 9, 2019 program of works by Mozart and Stravinsky. (Photo credit: Todd Rosenberg)

In addition to the series of Maestro Riccardo Muti’s concerts, the fall season will mark the arrival of violinist Hilary Hahn, visits by many guest conductors and artists, plus a vast and varied lineup under the Symphony Center Presents banner. Here’s what else to expect.

Chicago Opera Theater Announces Eclectic 2021-22 Season

A promotional image for three upcoming Chicago Opera Theater productions, from left: “Carmen,” “Becoming Santa Claus” and “Quamino’s Map.” (Courtesy of Chicago Opera Theater)

Since its founding in 1973, Chicago Opera Theater has been making audacious choices in its programming and presentation. And in many ways the company displayed its formidable ingenuity and determination throughout the pandemic. Here’s a peek at its all-live season.

CSO Announces Return of Maestro Muti and Adventurous Plans for 2021-22 Season

Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti on the podium during the CSO’s May 9, 2019 program of works by Mozart and Stravinsky. (Photo credit: Todd Rosenberg)

Beginning in September, Maestro Riccardo Muti will lead the orchestra he has not seen since February 2020 in a three-week residency marking the official opening of the 2021-22 season in Orchestra Hall and the return of (hopefully full) live audiences.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Puts Elegant Spin on Season’s Third Live Concert

Musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra onstage in Orchestra Hall, June 10, 2021 (Credit Anne Ryan)

“Overture,” the final entry in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s springtime series of three different programs was performed live in Orchestra Hall on Thursday.  Remaining performances are Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. 

The Magic of ‘Strum,’ ‘Galanta’ and More in CSO’s Second Live Spring Concert

Erina Yashima, former CSO Solti Conducting Apprentice, joins the CSO for the opening performance of the program entitled "Strum," June 3, 2021. (Credit Anne Ryan)

It was a magical evening at Symphony Center Thursday as a meticulously spaced and masked audience gathered for “Strum,” the aptly titled second of three different programs of springtime concerts from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Toots Its Golden Horns in Triumphant Return to Live Performance

A socially distanced, reduced-capacity audience listens to the sounds of the CSO brass at the concert that signaled the return of Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts, May 27, 2021. (Credit Anne Ryan)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra walked onstage to perform their first concert before a live audience in more than 14 months, Thursday evening.

It’s Curtain Up and Light the Lights for the Lyric Opera and Joffrey Ballet

“Florencia En El Amazonas” (Credit: Lynn Lane / Houston Grand Opera)

After 15 months of dark theaters and livestreamed performances, two of Chicago’s most famous performing arts companies announce they are returning to the stage for live performances — this time under one roof.

Rachmaninoff Yearns for His Homeland in Hershey Felder’s Music-Driven Riff on Russian Composer

Hershey Felder, left, and J. Anthony Crane in “Nicholas, Anna & Sergei.” (Courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents)

In “Nicholas, Anna & Sergei,” Hershey Felder fully captures the “history, pride and melancholy of the Russians” with the fervor Sergei Rachmaninoff carried with him to the end. And he plays the composer’s sweeping music to magnificent effect.

Goodman Theatre Play Reflects on Life, Death, Love and ‘The Sound Inside’

The play by Adam Rapp will be streamed live through May 16

Mary Beth Fisher (Bella) and John Drea (Christopher) in ’The Sound Inside’ by Adam Rapp, directed by Robert Falls at Goodman Theatre (May 13 – 16, 2021) (credit Cody Nieset)

Adam Rapp’s “The Sound Inside” depicts the brief but harrowing relationship between Bella (Mary Beth Fisher), a lonely, middle-aged Yale professor and author who teaches a course in creative writing, and her intense, gifted, profoundly alienated freshman student, Christopher (John Drea).

Joffrey Ballet’s ‘Under the Trees’ Voices’ a Masterwork of the Pandemic Era

Stefan Goncalvez (Photo by Matt de la Peña)

This world premiere, feverishly choreographed by Nicolas Blanc and performed by 15 of the company’s emotionally fiery dancers, is a work of such beauty and dynamic intensity that it can and should easily endure as part of the standard ballet rep for years to come.

CSO to Welcome Back a Limited Live Audience

Audience members enter Symphony Center on opening night of Verdi’s “Aida” on June 21, 2019. (Credit: Todd Rosenberg)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association has just announced that beginning May 27, and running through June 13, the CSO will perform its first concerts for a live audience since March 2020.

A Staircase. A Parking Garage. Chicago Opera Shines on Unconventional Stages

Megan Pachecano is Beatriz and Daniel Montenegro is Giovani in the Chicago Opera Theater production of Daniel Catan’s “La hira de Rappaccini” (“Rappaccini’s Daughter”). (Photo: Justin Barbin)

With most traditional theater spaces off-limits and Zoom an increasingly annoying way to have to watch anything, two Chicago opera companies have demonstrated in radically different ways that “all the world is a stage” — or can be turned into one.

Maestro Riccardo Muti Coaches Young Musicians Via Zoom

CMPI fellow Zachary Allen participates in a coaching session with CSO Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti on March 31, 2021. (Credit: Todd Rosenberg)

This is not a review. It is primarily a note of appreciation to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s music director, who has not been able to conduct his beloved orchestra for a year but has helped guide the superb CSOtv series. This week, he also pursued one of his greatest passions via Zoom.

Porchlight’s ‘Rock & Roll Broadway’ Fundraiser Deserves a Main-Stage Future

From left: Ariana Burks, Shantel Cribbs and Melanie Loren in “Chicago Sings Rock & Roll Broadway” from Porchlight Music Theatre. (Courtesy of Porchlight Music Theatre)

True to its title, this lavish production traces the evolution of Broadway scores from the 1960s until now, and explores the many ways in which pop music (as well as modern life) has expanded and altered the sound of musical theater.

Hershey Felder Captures the Life of Giacomo Puccini With Grand Operatic Flair

(Courtesy of Marco Badiani and The Florentine)

How do you tell the story of a musical genius whose operas are among the most beloved works in the Italian opera canon? If you are Hershey Felder, you create something unabashedly in the grand opera style that also manages to be hugely accessible for audiences still distanced from live performance by COVID-19.

‘The Catastrophist’: A Brilliant Play Bound to Go Viral

William DeMeritt in “The Catastrophist.” (Photo courtesy of Marin Theatre Company and Round House Theatre)

Lauren Gunderson’s new 75-minute play about her husband, acclaimed virologist Nathan Daniel Wolfe, is a riveting one-man meditation about life and death and the nature of viruses. It’s now being streamed by Northlight Theatre.

CSO’s Irresistible Streaming Series Pays Homage to Florence Price and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Florence Price (Courtesy of the CSO)

Programs framed by Bach and Beethoven are streaming now as part of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s virtual series, CSOtv. Here’s a look at Episode #13 and #14.

Chicago Opera Theater’s Scorching ‘Taking Up Serpents’ Captures America’s Pentecostal Fervor

Leah Dexter and Michael Mayes in “Taking Up Serpents.” (Sean Su / Chicago Opera Theater)

While most of this country’s major opera companies are suffering the painful slings and arrows of the pandemic scourge, Chicago Opera Theater continues to soldier on. And its latest production is another example of its musical, theatrical and thematic daring.

Pandemic Exorcisms as Finessed by the Joffrey Ballet and Cabinet of Curiosity

Anais Bueno with Brooke Linford and Christine Roca (Courtesy of the Joffrey Ballet)

Two thrillingly dramatic works — one by way of dance and another by way of radio theater — now serve as vivid evocations marking the one-year “anniversary” of the pandemic, and all the physical and psychological dislocations it has engendered. 

Lyric Opera’s New Music Director Has Prepared a Virtual Vocal Antipasto

Enrique Mazzola, music director designate at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Photo: Jean-Baptiste Millot)

“Sole e Amore,” Enrique Mazzola’s newest project, will include two dozen songs by seven of the most beloved Italian opera composers of the 19th century, performed by 11 members of the Ryan Opera Center, Lyric’s renowned artist development program.

Hershey Felder Creates a Grand Celebration of Sholem Aleichem and a Seductive Fiddler

A scene from “Before Fiddler: Hershey Felder as Sholem Aleichem.” (Courtesy of Hershey Felder)

Streaming through Sunday, “Before Fiddler” is the latest of the many remarkable feats of musical storytelling from Hershey Felder, the multitalented writer, actor, pianist and producer renowned for his solo shows about composers.

‘Red Folder’ Spins a Story of Self-Healing

(Illustration by Rajiv Joseph)

Any description of Rajiv Joseph’s mini-play — the newest entry in Steppenwolf Theatre’s NOW series of virtual programming that runs about 11 minutes — might make it sound like just a quick virtual doodle. But it is much more than that.