Duke Ellington Opera among Rare 20th Century Works on COT’s 2014 Season

300px-Jazz_musician_Duke_Ellington1Did you know that Duke Ellington wrote an opera? That Ernest Bloch created his own Macbeth? Or that Carl Orff composed something else besides Carmina Burana? I’m just kidding about that last one – of course we all know that Carl Orff wrote other things besides Carmina Burana. But if you’re curious about the Duke Ellington, Bloch, and Orff operas, then you’ll definitely want to check out these works at Chicago Opera Theater next year. The city’s most innovative opera company has announced that its 2014 season will be comprised entirely of 20th century music by the afore-mentioned composers, as well as a little-known work by Viktor Ullmann. General Director Andreas Mitisek comments, “It’s a season that is 100% 20th century and 150% COT.  New, rare and with contemporary relevance for a curious audience that is hungry for new theatrical experiences.”

The season will open with Duke Ellington’s Queenie Pie, which combines a fascinating mix of big band, opera, jazz, and musical theater. The title character was inspired by Madam C.J, Walker, the first African-American self-made woman millionaire who created and sold a line of hair and beauty products. Ellington start composing the piece in 1962, and in collaboration with librettist Betty McGettigan, worked on the opera from 1967 to his death in 1974. Even though the opera was never completed opera, different versions have been produced in cities around the United States. COT will present the version that librettist McGettigan created for the Butler Opera Center at the University of Texas in 2009. Performances will take place at the Harris Theater February 15-23, 2014.

In the spring, COT will offer a double bill of Viktor Ullmann’s The Emperor of Atlantis (Der Kaiser von Atlantis) and Carl Orff’s The Clever One (Die Kluge). Both of these German works, composed in 1943, satirize oppression and dictatorship. Ullmann composed Emperor during his imprisonment in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. A parody about fascism, the opera is set in Atlantis where Emperor Overall advocates total war against everyone and Death retires from his duties.

Carl Orff wrote his own libretto for The Clever One, a fairytale opera which tells of a foolish, tyrannical king who is outsmarted by a clever woman. The two operas will be presented together May 31-June 8, 2014 at the Merle Ruskin Theatre of Depaul University, 60 E. Balbo Ave.

NFordSalome_COTErnest Bloch wrote his version of Macbeth between 1904 and 1906, at the ripe old age of 24. COT will perform Bloch’s own English translation of Edmong Fleg’s original French libretto, which retains much of the original Shakespearean writing. The opera has only been staged once in the United States, at the Juilliard school of music in 1973. Long Beach Opera (LBO) will perform Macbeth as part of its 2013 season next month; COT will create a new production based LBO’s performances for the 2014 season. Performances will take place at the Harris Theater September 13-21st, 2014.

Subscriptions to COT’s 2014 season started $95 and go on sale July 1, 2013. Individual tickets will be available beginning January 6, 2014. To purchase subscriptions and tickets, visit www.chicagooperatheater.org or call 312-704-8414.

Image of Duke Ellington from Wikipedia; image of Nmon Ford by Ian Keith Polakoff, courtesy Long Beach Opera.

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2 comments on “Duke Ellington Opera among Rare 20th Century Works on COT’s 2014 Season
    • Hi Jenn, thanks for stopping by. I’m with you-it’s fantastic that COT is offering a great lineup of 20th century works for a relatively low subscription price. Hope you get a chance to attend some of those performances!

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