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Review Fri Apr 23 2010
147 years have passed since the last time Rossini's Moses in Egypt was performed in Chicago; last Friday, The Chicago Opera Theater's production came to the Harris Theater. The opera company distinguishes itself as a producer of intimate and innovative productions while making the art form more accessible through programs like Opera for All, which incorporates elements of opera into the curriculum of Chicago Public Schools, and through collaborating with After School Matters and the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education.
For amazing voices, the cast of Moses really can't be beat; Concetti's rendering of Moses was commanding, and Taylor Stayton and Sian Davies' portrayals of the star-crossed lovers Osiride and Elcia were magnificent. The space at the Harris Theater is surprisingly intimate, and as the story unfolded in the darkened theater the distance between the viewer and performer seemed to dissolve. The English supertitles above the stage were a bit distracting at first, but it soon became second nature to glance up every now and then as if I was wearing a pair of bifocals. At times I forgot completely to read the supertitles and it didn't seem to matter, the music and the drama onstage communicated the story to me regardless of the fact that I understand about ten words of Italian, and of those, nine are food items.
The set and costuming, both designed by Anka Lupes, are strikingly modern; you won't find any obelisks or scale-sized pyramids here. A glass panel dominates the backdrop, through which lights are used for dramatic effect at various points during the piece. The panel is lifted up several feet in the air to represent the red sea parting, and despite the fact that this gave me a flashback to the last time my garage door only opened a third of the way and then got stuck, it was an innovative and interesting way to communicate the freeing of the Israelites. A staircase in the middle of the stage served as both a stage entry and as a symbolic passageway to the afterlife when characters died onstage. Most of the cast was barefoot, including all those playing the role of Israelites, which underscored their vulnerability.
There are two performances left of Moses in Egypt on April 23 and April 25, but if you don't get a chance to see it, you still have time to check out the rest of the Chicago Opera Theater's 2010 season. Upcoming performances include Francesco Cavalli's Jason and Jake Heggie's Three Decembers. For tickets and information visit the Chicago Opera Theater or the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.