COT's Rimsky Rebooted features local artists & "collective grit"Review
At this point, it almost goes without saying: for arts organizations around the world, the ever-shifting realities (and regulations) of the COVID-19 pandemic have made business as usual an impossibility. For the majority of US opera companies, live performance will not happen at all this season and no two companies are adapting to that grim truth in quite the same way. In this tough time, the tenacity of companies like Chicago Opera Theater, who are pivoting to digital content, cannot be understated. The work COT is doing requires resourcefulness, organizational prowess, an abiding mutual trust from supporters and donors, and a kind of exuberant industriousness exemplified in their Orli and Bill Staley Music Director, Lidiya Yankovskaya.
Yankovskaya is a passionate advocate for Russian operatic masterworks that have historically been under-appreciated in the West.
In a recent Zoom conversation, Yankovskaya’s pride and enthusiasm in the COT administrative and artistic staff was evident from the start. She praised their collective grit, acknowledging that their upcoming digital release, Rimsky Rebooted represents not just a “Plan B” pivot from live performance, but is rather a “5th or maybe 7th reimagining” of what they hoped to originally present to Chicago audiences. Capitalizing on star talents living locally, mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen, baritone Will Liverman, and bass Wilbur Pauley, and partnering with Valhalla Media, a new company specializing in recording and livestreaming classical musicians, Rimsky Rebooted features lengthy excerpts from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Kashchej the Immortal and Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande along with Russian arias and songs. In addition to being the project’s Music Director, Yankovskaya will share pianist duties with another local artist, Michael Pecak and the project will be filmed (with safety measures in place) at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts.
Yankovskaya is a passionate advocate for Russian operatic masterworks that have historically been under-appreciated in the West. Rimsky Rebooted is the continuation of a seasons-long project to bring infrequently-performed Russian gems to the COT stage, (following Aleko in 2019 and Iolanta in 2018.) Like those two works, Kaschej the Immortal is also a one-act opera with its roots in Russian folklore. In Rebooted, audiences will hear the full second scene of the opera sung by Rosen (Kascheyevna) and Liverman (Prince Ivan). The scene is the first meeting of Kascheyevna, (the Sorcerer Kaschej’s daughter), and Prince Ivan. Defying Kaschej’s command, Kascheyevna refuses to behead the beautiful Prince, setting in motion a chain of events that will ultimately lead to her own father’s downfall.
Yankovskaya is confident that the concerts being produced by the company can’t be heard anywhere else, online or IRL.
The Tower Scene from Pelléas et Mélisande is the other major excerpt on the program and while Yankovskaya wouldn’t promise it, presenting the full opera on a future COT season would certainly fit within the company’s ethos; the opera hasn’t been staged in the city in over 30 years. The scene from Debussy’s dreamy, atmospheric, sensuous fairy tale features Liverman (Pélleas) and Rosen (Mélisande) in one of the opera’s most romantic and musically-beautiful moments.
COT’s 2020-21 digital offerings are consistent with the company’s long-standing commitments to bring something new to the opera landscape – with Rimsky Rebooted and other planned releases, Yankovskaya is confident that the concerts being produced by the company can’t be heard anywhere else, online or IRL. Alongside these more visible projects, the company is continuing with its laudable Vanguard Initiative, a two-year program for emerging operatic composers. While the pandemic has rendered some of the program’s usual opportunities unworkable in the short term, the company is still able to run workshops for the composers’ in-progress works and facilitate conversations and burgeoning mentorships between industry insiders and the Initiative’s resident composers.