Chicago Opera Theater Set for Season at New Harris

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Byline: Bill Gowen

Last week, we discussed the official opening of the new Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park.

One of its most important founding performing organizations, Chicago Opera Theater, is now going all out to ensure its first season in the 1,500-seat theater is a major success.

Ticket brochures have been sent to COT's longtime patrons as well as potential new subscribers, heralding the company's inaugural season at its new home.

The 2004 season of three operas will open with a Feb. 18-28 run of five performances of Claudio Monteverdi's "The Coronation of Poppea," a Baroque masterpiece dating from 1642.

The second opera, Benjamin Britten's 1973 "Death in Venice," based on Thomas Mann's novella of the same title, will run May 5- 15, while the third production, Rossini's "Il viaggio a Reims" ("The Journey to Reims"), will be presented May 19-29.

Chicago Opera Theater general director Brian Dickie is obviously excited about the move into a modern theater equipped with state- of-the-art scenery handling and lighting technology, along with a much improved comfort experience for the audience. For decades, COT used the antiquated, tiny Athenaeum Theatre on the city's North Side, which restricted the company's artistic and audience growth.

"We have brought together some tremendously talented directors, designers, conductors and singers to give Chicago opera lovers a special musical and theatrical treat in our new home, where you will find the alluring combination of intimacy and supreme comfort," Dickie said in his open letter to old and potential new subscribers.

Chicago Opera Theater has long been a perfect complement to Lyric Opera of Chicago with its ability to produce smaller-scaled (though no less magnificent) operas that are out of place in a 3,500-seat theater such as the Civic Opera House.

While several of Handel's operas have enjoyed notable successes at the Lyric recently, it must be said that Handel is enjoying a surge in popularity at opera houses around the world. Last year, for example, Lyric Opera's production of "Partenope," starring countertenors David Daniels and Bejun Mehta, was one of the big artistic hits of the season.

For a little-known opera such as Monteverdi's "The Coronation of Poppea," a 1,500-seat theater is ideal, similar in size to opera houses throughout Italy and the rest of Europe. And this production is boosted immeasurably by the presence of COT music director Jane Glover and stage director Diane Paulus, who first collaborated on COT's acclaimed production of Monteverdi's first opera, "Orfeo," three years ago. …