Last weekend was an auspicious one for Chicago Opera Theater. On Friday, at DePaul University’s handsome Gannon Concert Hall, COT presented The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing, an opera in progress by composer Justine F. Chen and librettist David Simpatico.
This one-night concert performance was the culmination of a weeklong workshop, and there’s no doubt some fine-tuning to come (the second act needs trimming), but it was a revelatory evening, worthy of the man who invented the modern computer and facilitated the Allied victory in World War II by breaking the German military’s secret code—only to be prosecuted and chemically castrated by British authorities for homosexual activity, which was then illegal and heavily policed. Baritone Jonathan Michie was outstanding as Turing, the half-dozen singers in featured roles all turned in top-notch performances, and Chen’s terrific score made inventive use of Northwestern University’s Bienen Contemporary and Early Vocal Ensemble as chorus. COT music director Lidiya Yankovskaya conducted.
Saturday night, when COT opened the Chicago premiere of The Scarlet Ibis at the Studebaker Theater, was a different story in every way. This too-literal adaptation of James Hurst’s short story about two young brothers in the World War I-era American south, with music by Stefan Weisman and libretto by David Cote, originally featured a puppet in a major role. COT’s production has dumped the puppet, and not even a strong performance by countertenor Jordan Rutter and valiant efforts by the rest of the cast could make up for the loss of the magic it might have contributed. v