The Lyric Offers Chicagoans A Varied Season

LYRIC OPERA OF CHICAGO offers its audiences an unusually wide variety of operas and production styles. The 1990-91 season opened last month with Robert Wilson's first production in a major United States opera house, ``Gluck's ``Alceste,'' and continued with a strong revival of the company's 1984 production of Tchaikovsky's ``Eugene Onegin.''

Wilson's controlled theatrical vision uses dramatic visual elements and a protracted time frame for the action. These elements found an ideal musical partnership in Wilson's collaborations with composer Philip Glass. How Wilson would adapt his sensibilities to standard operatic works was but one of the interesting questions surrounding ``Alceste.''

The production tended to overlay abstract pictures - complete with Martha Graham-ish choreography - on the action, creating a series of often-arresting tableaux that only rarely had much to do with plot development. Since Wilson vetoed Lyric's now-standard practice of projecting lyrics in English above the stage action, the confused and eventually bored audience dwindled noticeably from first act to final curtain.

If there were any worries as to how diva Jessye Norman, in her Lyric debut, would mesh with this often quirky visionary production designer, they were quickly put to rest. She gave a superb portrayal of this noblest of operatic heroines - perhaps not as consistently stentorian as expected, but the nobility of her bearing, her ability to communicate each emotional turn of character, and the sheer magnificence of her stage presence were all superbly showcased here.

Her Adm`ete, Chris Merritt, sang impressively enough, but his acting was wooden. The rest of the Lyric cast performed most roles commendably. Gary Bertini conducted a rather subdued performance of Gluck's magnificent music.

The ``Onegin'' was enlivened by Anna Tomowa-Sintow's magnificent Tatiana - sensitively acted, gloriously sung. Wolfgang Brendel, in the title role, was vastly improved over his 1984 appearance in this role, singing and acting with an authority not always apparent in other circumstances.

Vyacheslav Polosov's Lensky made up in sheer fervor what it lacked in finesse, and Dimitri Kavrakos made much of Gremin's lovely aria.

The handsome Pier Luigi Samaritani sets were atmospherically lit by the gifted Duane Schuler.

The seven operas that round out the Lyric season are Puccini's ``La Fanciulla del West'' with Placido Domingo; new productions of Argento's ``The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe'' and Donizetti's ``Lucia di Lammermoor'' (featuring June Anderson and Alfredo Kraus); Verdi's ``Rigoletto''; Bizet's ``Carmen''; and Mozart's ``The Magic Flute.''

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