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Chicago Symphony Orchestra Gala features Elina Garanca

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Gala features Elina Garanca

Next time you travel to Chicago, be sure to check out the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  Under the impeccable direction of maestro Riccardo Muti, is one of the city’s greatest treasures.

Riccardo Muti

The CSO celebrated its success last Saturday night at the annual Gala concert in the magnificent Orchestra Hall.  The acoustics of Orchestra Hall allow even the highest balcony seats to enjoy the rich, full sound of the orchestra.

Riccardo Muti and the CSO

After 10 years at the orchestra’s helm, Maestro Muti will be stepping down.  So time is running out to enjoy his masterful guidance of this world class orchestra. Maestro Muti effortlessly embodies the mood of every moment and passes that along to his players in a gestural vocabulary that is highly emotive but also calm and composed, as is the Maestro is himself.

The frothy overture to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro was a vibrant and engaging way to start the evening.

The CSO was then joined  by Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca, who has been hailed in NYC as well as globally, singing Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, based on the lyric poetry of the German romantic, Friedrich Rückert.

Elina Garanca

As a mezzo, Ms. Garanca has a full, commanding lower register, which fit the dark tone of the material.  It was then almost surprising, and certainly delightful, to hear her flawlessly navigate all the way up to the lightest of her soprano register.  Her sensitive handling of the legato lines were full of grace and beauty as well.

However, I am just not a fan of these art songs. Call me a heathen; but I’d much rather hear a tune I can recognize as such than listen to what seems to just ramble on like recitative.  I thought these somber pieces were an odd choice for an otherwise upbeat program. Regardless, the lovely Ms.Garanca has an outstanding control of her fine instrument.

I will admit that I do prefer the musical theater singing actor over the well dressed but rigid classical performer in a recital setting.  Musical theater singers have to act when they sing, move with what they feel, and still produce beautiful tone. As elegant and beautiful as she was in her long, black gown, Ms. Garanca never smiled, and hardly moved anything other than her lips.  I was impressed, but disengaged. I am equally baffled by the classical tradition that the audience should cough and rattle their programs between pieces rather than applaud the singer song by song.

CSO party Elina Garanca

Fortunately, the balance of the program afforded the audience two more uplifting orchestral pieces filled with memorable motifs, dynamic melodic construction, and emotionally stirring moments, which satistified everyone.

Les Preludes by Liszt evokes a wide gamut of emotional response, from the romantic to the triumphant. As a boy, I grew up watching reruns on TV of the Flash Gordon serials which my father watched in the movie theaters.  That series was liberally underscored with this piece.  In movies, music tells you what to feel, and what you should feel at every moment is quite clear in this piece.

Before playing the final piece, the overture to William Tell, Maestro Muti, in his endearing and highly personal way, took time out to tell the audience that he wasn’t aware, as a young music student, that this piece had been co-opted as American “folk music” by making it the theme of  The Lone Ranger radio and television programs.  He also recounted, with dismay, that the Nazis had made it their anthem as well.  He wanted the audience to be aware, particularly in the light of current world events, that it was intended as a song of freedom from oppression for William Tell and the Swedes.


Jeffery Lyle Segal is a multifaceted theater artist who has worn many professional hats. He started as a musical theater performer in his teens. He attended Stanford U., Northwestern University, and SUNY at Binghamton to study acting, directing and dramatic literature. He also wrote theater reviews for The Stanford Daily and was Arts Editor of WNUR Radio at Northwestern. After college, he is proud to have been the first full time Executive Director of Chicago’s acclaimed Steppenwolf Theater Company. He left them to work as a theater actor and director. His special effects makeup skills got him into the movies, working on the seminal cult horror film, Re-Animator.He also did casting for several important Chicago projects, sometimes wearing both production hats, as he did on Chicago’s most famous independent movie, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. While living in Los Angeles, he joined the Academy for New Musical Theater, where he developed two book musicals as a composer, lyricist and librettist, Down to Earth Girl (formerly I Come for Love, NYMF 2008), and Scandalous Behavior! (York Developmental Reading Series 2010). He wrote, produced and performed his song “Forever Mine” as the end title theme of the horror film, Trapped! He also has written songs for his performances in cabaret over the years, and the time he spent pursuing country music in Nashville. Most recently he created a musical revue, Mating the Musical, for the Chicago Musical Theater Festival 2016. In NYC, he has attended the BMI musical theater writers’ workshop, and the Commercial Theater Institute 14 week producer program. He is currently creating a company to develop new musicals online. He still keeps up his makeup chops, working with top doctors in NYC and Chicago as one of the country’s most highly regarded permanent cosmetic artists ( and as a member of Chicago local IATSE 476.

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