Luisa Miller at The Lyric and Jane Eyre at The Joffrey — Playtime Chicago Theater Report

10.20.2019 Theater Report starts at 4:12


(Lightly edited transcript of my 10.20.2019 episode of Playtime Chicago Theater Report.)

Over the past week, I’ve been able to attend the opening nights of shows produced by two of Chicago’s greatest cultural treasures, the Lyric Opera and the Joffrey Ballet. 

Verdi’s Luisa Miller is the story of a village girl who, unknowingly, falls in love with a man she knows only as Carlo. Unfortunately for Luisa, other men, including her father, a courtier, and even the object of her affections himself, have other plans for Luisa’s life. 

While the story of this opera is a grim one, the music is utterly delightful. Maestro Enrique Mazzola, the Lyric’s incoming artistic director, conducted the orchestra beautifully.

In addition, I particularly admired Francesca Zambello’s direction of this piece: It could have been played in a heavy and melodramatic way. Instead, there was a certain ordinariness to the acting: Luisa and the other characters are largely bound by very real social conventions and hierarchies. Their actions, while often destructive and tragic, are not entirely unexpected and their portrayals in this production reflect a sense of business as usual. 

I found this approach a refreshing alternative to manipulative directing that attempts to direct the emotions of the audience. This doesn’t mean, however, that the audience didn’t react to some of the more troubling themes in this piece: We did react, but because we discovered the injustices and betrayals for ourselves.

Luisa Miller is at the Lyric through October 31st and you can purchase tickets at LyricOpera.org.

Jane Eyre at The Joffrey

When I learned that the Joffrey would be producing Jane Eyre, I was intrigued. I wasn’t quite sure how the classic novel would translate into a ballet, but I figured that The Joffrey was up to the task. And, I am pleased to say, I was not disappointed. 

The Joffrey’s Jane Eyre is superb: Beautifully danced and acted, this is the story of a vulnerable child and deeply sensitive young woman whose character attracts enemies, friends, and lovers. Anyone who is familiar with Charlotte Bronte’s novel will be able to follow along with this production. If you aren’t familiar with the story of Jane Eyre, or need a refresher, the program booklet also provides an act-by-act synopsis that can be quickly read before the show. 

The staging of this production is noteworthy and I particularly liked the simplicity of the sets that told the story of Jane’s inner life, along with her past and present. The character of Jane was played by two actresses: Young Jane by Yumi Kanazawa and Adult Jane by Amanda Assucena. Both were excellent. I would also note that the staging was particularly effective in establishing the time period being portrayed within the story. 

Jane Eyre is the first opera of the Joffrey’s 2019-2020 season, the last to be produced at The Auditorium Theatre. The Joffrey moves to the Lyric next year, so if you would like to see a Joffrey production at the Auditorium, now is the time to get your tickets. Jane Eyre runs through Sunday, October 27th.

That’s all for this week. Tune in to Playtime every Sunday from 1-3 pm central time on WCGO 1590 AM and 95.9 FM in Chicagoland. Take care!

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