Entertaining Opera Zimmerman, Glass Team Up to Stage Beautiful 'Galileo Galilei'

By Helbig, Jack | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 28, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Entertaining Opera Zimmerman, Glass Team Up to Stage Beautiful 'Galileo Galilei'

Helbig, Jack, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)

Byline: Jack Helbig Daily Herald Correspondent

"Galileo Galilei"

Mini-review: Gorgeous

Location: The Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago

Times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays; no performances Wednesday or Thursday; no 2 p.m. matinee July 13, 18 and 26 or Aug. 1; closes Aug. 4

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

Parking: Some on the street; paid lot across the street

Tickets: $35 to $50

Box office: (312) 443-3800 or www.goodman-theatre.org

Mary Zimmerman, the Chicago-based director who just won a Tony for the Broadway show she wrote and directed, "Metamorphoses," is responsible for some of the most fascinating, contradictory productions to grace Chicago stages.

At once academic and accessible, highly polished but sensual and spontaneous, her work explores serious themes - loneliness, love gone wrong, abusive power relationships, dysfunctional parent-child relationships, the price people pay for the lives they live.

But she does so with a sharp sense of humor that can turn a solemn scene into a hilarious one in a split second.

She packs her productions, many of them adaptations of classical texts like Homer's "The Odyssey" or Ovid's "Metamorphoses," with references too high art and haute couture (mannerist painting, classical music, high fashion through the ages) yet you can't really call her work elitist.

Born and raised in Nebraska, and educated in Illinois, Zimmerman retains a Midwesterner's love of puncturing pomposity.

Her current show, a sublime, hilarious, utterly entertaining opera, "Galileo Galilei," directed by Zimmerman and written in collaboration with Philip Glass and Arnold Weinstein, is no exception.

Hilarious? Entertaining? Are we really talking about an opera here? We are, and that is the secret to Zimmerman's success. She can take a high-art form, like opera, and make it accessible. It helps that she is working with Glass, who may be a serious composer, but who retains a bit of rock 'n' roll in his soul.

Zimmerman and Glass's opera tells the story of Galileo and his clashes with the 17th-century Catholic Church.

At first glance "Galileo Galilei" has snooty, high art written all over it.

The production values are extremely high, even by the Goodman's lofty standards. The costumes, designed by Mara Blumenfeld, are gorgeous.

The set, designed by Daniel Ostling, is gorgeous. The lighting (T. J. Gerckens) is gorgeous. Just a glance at the stage, and Zimmerman's exceptionally artful stage pictures, and you know you are looking at ART in all capital letters.

But here is the Zimmerman touch: if you drop your expectations and resistance - if you have any - to art and opera, you will find that both Zimmerman and Glass are working hard here to pull the audience into Galileo's story.

Sure, we are shown his life backwards, from the end, when he is blind, alone, and in virtual imprisonment by the church, to his early youth, when he attended his own father's musical extravaganzas. (Galileo's father is sometimes credited with having invented opera and Zimmerman and Glass made much of this fact, ending the show with an opera within the opera that restates many of the main themes of the show.)

This trick of telling the story backward has been done a lot, by Harold Pinter in "Betrayal," in the movie "Memento," even on one of my favorite episodes of "Seinfeld." But it is a nice trick if you can do it, and Zimmerman and Glass do it very gracefully.

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Entertaining Opera Zimmerman, Glass Team Up to Stage Beautiful 'Galileo Galilei'


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