Deeply committed Verdi fans ought to get themselves to Lyric Opera’s first ever production of Don Carlos, the four-hour, five-act, 1867 French language version of the shorter Verdi opera they already know as the Italian language Don Carlo. This love vs. duty tale of historical fiction, loosely drawn from the life of a 16th-century Spanish prince and the French princess to whom he was briefly betrothed before she became his stepmother, takes place in the gardens and forests of France and Spain.
But it plays out in this production, originally directed by Sir David McVicar for Oper Frankfurt (the revival director is Axel Weidauer), on a stark and weirdly astringent unit set of white brick (designed by Robert Jones). This production also (spoiler alert) kills off Carlos at the end, seeming to eliminate an ambiguity about his fate that’s celebrated in the program book’s featured essay by Martha Nussbaum as a strength. Still, it’s well sung by a six-person leading cast headed by tenor Joshua Guerrero in the title role, soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen as his intended, and mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine as her nasty rival. And it includes the Lyric debut of an outstanding baritone, Igor Golovatenko, in the role of Carlos’s buddy, Rodrigue. Anyone with this seldom-produced opera on their bucket list will need to be there.
Don CarlosThrough 11/25: Thu 11/17 2 PM, Sun 11/20 2 PM, Fri 11/25 7 PMLe Comte OryThrough 11/26: Wed 11/16 2 PM (audio described), Fri 11/18 7 PM, Tue 11/22 7 PM, Sat 11/26 7:30 PM. Both productions at Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-827-5600, lyricopera.org; tickets for Don Carlos $50-$310, tickets for Le Comte Ory $40-$330
Everyone else should head directly for the other opera running this month at Lyric, Rossini’s irreverent, gender-bending, thoroughly entertaining 1828 comedy, Le Comte Ory. A tale of mischief afoot at a medieval French castle while most of the men are away spilling blood on behalf of Christianity in the Middle East, it’s packed with sparkling patter, gymnastic coloratura, bel canto melody, and plenty of eye candy. A witty, campy, colorful production, it was originally created by director Bartlett Sher (revival director Kathleen Smith Belcher) for the Metropolitan Opera.
Lyric has as its leads two singers whose comic chops are as exceptional as their voices: tenor Lawrence Brownlee as the licentious but hapless count of the title and deliciously arch soprano Kathryn Lewek as the unwilling object of his affection, the duchess Adèle. Creamy-voiced mezzo-soprano (and Ryan Opera Center alum) Kayleigh Decker is also perfection in the trouser role of Isolier, Ory’s lithe page and the paramour the duchess prefers. Mezzo-soprano Zoie Reams is Adele’s sterling-voiced companion, Ragonde, and in Sunday’s opening performance, understudy Ian Rucker, a first-year Ryan Center baritone, stepped neatly into the role of Ory’s friend, Raimbaud. Actor Kirk Osgood never speaks, but is a madcap presence on the sidelines, the “prompter” in a play-within-a-play conceit that—like music director Enrique Mazzola conducting the great Lyric Opera Orchestra and chorus in both productions—makes the whole thing work.