Review "Three Decembers": Triple Triumph!

Chicago Opera Theater presents

3 decembers.jpg

At Harris Theatre, 205 E. Randolph
Composed by Jake Heggie
Based on a short play by Terrence McNally
Libretto by Gene Scheer
Musical direction by Stephen Hargreaves
Directed by Leonard Foglia
Sung in English with supertitles
May 8th, 12th, 14th, 16th
Buy Tickets
Running Time:  Ninety minutes no intermission

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

The annual holiday newsletter sent to the masses may be the least satisfying communiqué ever.  Imagine receiving this generic Christmas greeting from your mother. Chicago Opera Theater presents THREE DECEMBERS, an opera sung in English by composer Jake Heggie.  It’s the backstage onstage look at a successful actor.  Madeline Mitchell is a diva!  Her fan club is huge.  Her kids just aren’t members.  It’s a behind the scenes look at a celebrity’s relationship with her adult children.  Her critics can be harsh but Madeline raised them that way.   Based on the short play by Terrence McNally, THREE DECEMBERS spans thirty years with glimpses at the repercussions of an actor struggling with the role of mother. 
THREE DECEMBERS, three acts, three singers… triple triumph!

Frederica von Stade (Madeline) is a diva!  Stade chose the perfect role for her stage exit to retirement.  She stuns as the superstars: Madeline Mitchell and Frederica von Stade.  In gorgeous flowing dresses by Cesare Galindo (costume designer), Stade owns the stage right up to singing ‘curtain!’ in the finale.  Celebrating a wondrous opera career, Stade flawlessly sings, ‘isn’t life so simply grand?  I’m so awfully glad I showed up for it.’  Sara Jakubiak (Beatrice) and Matthew Worth (Charlie) add their perfectly pitched voices to the mix.  Family dysfunction never sounded so good!   A mother-daughter duet between Stade and Jakubiak is a magical union.  In one aria, Stade explains her actor drive by singing, ‘found on stage not escape but connection.’  THREE DECEMBERS connects the audience with the humanity of three people struggling individually and collectively.  

For opera aficionados, THREE DECEMBERS is a thoroughly satisfying send off for opera diva Frederica von Stade.  For opera newbies, THREE DECEMBERS is a perfect ‘starter opera.’  First, it’s shorter than the average opera.  So, the commitment isn’t overwhelming. It’s also in English, however, I still read the titles. Next, the family drama is relatable to everyone.  Of course, being the offspring of a celebrity isn’t everyone’s challenge.  Thank God! But everyone does, for good or bad, have a mother.   Composer Jake Heggie has paired serious identity issues with light whimsical orchestration.  He adds in humor and the occasional cuss word for witty, contemporary relevance.  THREE DECEMBERS is a triple threat as a comedy, drama opera!     

Believing her husband could have lit it better, Jasleen describes the show with, “aching, poignant, earnest.”



At the suggestion of Uptown Dick and armed with a Groupon, Jasleen and I head post show to Eno at the Fairmont Hotel, 200 N. Columbus.   It’s just a couple blocks from the Harris Theatre.  We take the scenic route through the unattractive lower bowels of Chicago.  I can’t begin to explain our route but we finally arrive ready to be wined diva-style.  According to the website, Eno’s wine enthusiasts (not servers or bartenders) will assist us in the selection process.  Eno is a bar-in-the-round located in the middle of the Fairmont Hotel.  For nine o’clock on a Saturday, the circle is empty.  We have our pick of seats.  Our wine enthusiast, Sean, is very knowledgeable about the wine choices and steers me to the cabernet flight.  Our flights arrive with cards introducing each wine with room for notes on the back.  We also decide on the cheese fondue.  It makes a spectacular appearance at the table with pot, flame and an abundance of bite size bread, mushrooms, apples and red peppers.  It almost looks too good to eat but we work through those issues quickly.  Garnering us with celebrity-like attention, Sean and his sidekick busser ensure are glasses are never empty.  Sure, we are their only customers.  But I prefer to imagine Eno treats all of their guests like divas!          



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  • Woohoo! My first shout out--and in the controversial section of the review too. Thank you thefourthwalsh!

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