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Duke Ellington rarity to launch Chicago Opera Theater season

With one opera (Verdi’s “Giovanna d’Arco”) wrapping up its 2013 season in September, Chicago Opera Theater has announced its schedule for 2014.

Once again, general director Andreas Mitisek is venturing off the beaten track to meet the needs of what he calls “a curious audience that is hungry for new theatrical experiences.”

Opening the season Feb. 15-23 will be the Chicago premiere of Duke Ellington’s only opera, the fairly unknown and rarely performed “Queenie Pie.” The work, which Ellington began in 1962 but left unfinished at his death in 1974, is based on a real person, Madam C. J. Walker (nee Sarah Breedlove), a Louisiana-born African-American entrepreneur regarded as America’s first self-made millionaire, who made her fortune developing and selling beauty and hair products for black women.

COT will perform the version librettist Betty McGettigan created for performances at the University of Texas in Austin in 2009. A co-production with Mitisek’s other company, Long Beach Opera, “Queenie Pie” will employ the Chicago Jazz Orchestra. Performances will be at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

The company’s spring offering, May 31-June 8, will be a double bill of Viktor Ullmann’s “The Emperor of Atlantis” and Carl Orff’s “The Clever One” (“Die Kluge”).

Both works date from 1943 and are parables about dictatorship, mordantly so in the case of the Ullmann. The latter composer, a Czech-Austrian Jew, wrote his opera while interred in the Nazi concentration camp at Terezin; he was later sent to his death at Auschwitz. COT gave the Chicago premiere in 1998, and the work also was staged here in 2005 under Ravinia Festival auspices, with James Conlon conducting.

COT performances will be given at the Merle Reskin Theatre, 60 E. Balbo Drive.

The season will conclude Sept. 13-21 at the Harris Theater with the Chicago premiere of another rarity, Ernest Bloch’s “Macbeth.” Based on Shakespeare’s tragedy, the 1906 opera will be presented in the composer’s own English translation. The new production is to be based on performances to be given next month by Long Beach Opera. Interestingly enough, the COT performances will come roughly a year after Riccardo Muti’s fall 2013 concert performances of the much better known Verdi “Macbeth,” with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.    

Casts and production details are to be announced.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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