I flew to Chicago on Saturday evening, and returned home on Sunday evening via Amtrak’s Lincoln Service. My trip to Chicago this weekend was specifically to see Carousel at the Lyric Opera.
Let me say clearly: this $600 trip was worth every penny. Chicago is a favorite city; Carousel, a favorite show.
Sadly, my luggage did not make it to Chicago at the same time as me, so I missed Matt’s show last evening, but all was well after the next Southwest flight and a reunion with the luggage.
The Palmer House Hilton, unable to deliver on the king-sized bed I had paid for, put me on the executive floor instead, where at least I had some coffee and fruit on Sunday morning.
(Side bar to front-desk staff: when you have no king rooms available, don’t ask me if a double is ok. It’s not, and I will tell you so. You’re going to put me in one anyhow. Instead, try this: “I’m sorry, Dr. Carter, but the room type you reserved is not available. To make this up to you, we are moving you to the executive floor, with free breakfast, and we’re throwing in a free drink tonight.” You will, in so doing, disarm my ire and make me feel valued. That you at the front desk finally got there, only after I expressed clearly my dismay at your own overselling, at least ameliorated my grumpiness.)
Matt Miles (known to me as Matt Wilson at the time) was one of my voice students 20 years ago when I taught in Independence. He has a theatre career now in Chicago, and I was to see his current show Saturday evening. We did catch up for breakfast Sunday morning, though, and shared conversation for the first time since 1998. I was, of course, delighted to see him and learn of his successes!
After our late breakfast, I hoped on the El and went around a few stops, then walked past the Sears Tower (as it always will be, no matter what name is on it) to Union Station to store my luggage in a locker.
The quick walk north, beside the Chicago River, led me to the Civic Opera House.
Carousel in Chicago this month boasts an enviable all-star cast of Broadway heavyweights, a stellar production team, and one opera diva extraordinaire. Laura Osnes is Julie Jordan, and Steven Pasquale is Billy Bigelow.
As expected, the Lyric’s production is sumptuous, with the vast stage used to great effect. While the show is not as cinematic as last year’s The Sound of Music, it is certainly fluid, if a little generous in its pacing. (Of course, Carousel includes some very long scenes, so it doesn’t lend itself to unpacking as much as more contemporary shows.) With an updated setting in 1930’s New England, the team gave us a muted hue of costumes, weather-beaten buildings, grey docks and rocks, with only the opening carnival scene a bright splooch of color.
Laura Osnes inhabited the lead role with incredible beauty and sensitivity. Her soprano was thrilling to hear. Her consummate artistry was so evident to me in that I saw nothing of Cinderella or Bonnie in her. Her face is honest and open, and her singing a wonder indeed.
Jenn Gambatese was a winning Carrie Pipperidge, with some sass and a little bit of ditziness and a lovely voice used to great effect. My statement last year, that she sang Maria like Galinda, is still true this year. I heard too much Wicked in her line delivery to let it go.
Denyce Graves, one of this country’s finest operatic mezzos, sang Nettie Fowler. Her ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,’ back-lit, with only Julie Jordan and lifeless Billy Bigelow on stage with her, caused many of us in the audience to shed more than one tear. Graves’ acting, however, was a weak link — she could have taken lessons from Stephanie Blythe in the recent New York Philharmonic concert production.
Sadly, the two male leads, while physically and dramatically right for the roles, were not vocally in the right place. Steven Pasquale leans too heavily into his trailing consonants for my tastes, and his retroflex R sounds, coupled with his tendency to give every syllable exactly the same weight, bothers my ear. He’s got the pitches, but the manufacturing necessary to sustain them is just a mess. Witness, for example, the two completely different vowels he sang on ‘take them’ at the conclusion of the famous aria ‘Soliloquy.’ (I have these same beefs with his singing in The Bridges of Madison County.) The thing is — when he drops his jaw and lets out sound that is not squeezed, his tone is stunningly warm and lively, as were most of the final line of ‘Soliloquy’ and the money notes in ‘If I loved you.’ And his edgy, dark, jaded take on the role certainly exhibited depth and meaning.
Matthew Hydzik was an Enoch Snow that I wanted to like very much, but his extraordinary amount of head-shaking on long notes (as he finally allowed the vibrato to be free) was so distracting that I had to look away. And his high A on ‘more’ in ‘When the children are asleep’ was another manufactured, pinched mess. But he’s funny, and made more of the role than what is in the script.
But of course, these are the guys getting the paycheck, and I’m the goofball in the $199 fourth-row seat. And the folks around me were, to a person, ‘wow, he’s good.’
Let’s just say, for the record, that I would not allow my students to sing like that.
Supporting characters were beautifully cast, including Charlotte D’Amboise as the carnival owner and Billy’s sometime paramour, Jarrod Emick as an especially and unusually three-dimensional Jigger Crain, and veteran actor Tony Roberts as the Starkeeper.
The chorus sang thrillingly, and the orchestra under the direction of David Chase was in top form. The corps de ballet performed director Rob Ashford’s evocative and athletic choreography with assuredness.
With this star casting, this was a Carousel for the ages, in spite of the shortcomings of two leading men. The final picture, with most of the cast turned slightly away from the audience, the Starkeeper and Billy having one final tip of the hat, the ensemble singing a reprise of ‘You’ll never walk alone,’ the flower petals falling, only Julie and her daughter turned out toward us — well, I’ll long remember it, and I will long remember the sting of tears flowing down my face, and the sobs of the folks around me in the audience.
The town doctor’s final speech is worth noting:
I can’t tell you any sure way to happiness. All I know is you got to go out and find it for yourselves.
The world belongs to you as much as to the next feller. Don’t give it up. And try not to be skeered o’ people not liking you — jest you try likin’ them! Jest keep your faith and courage, and you’ll come out all right.
Some photos from the day:
With former student Matt.
The Sears Tower.
Fourth-row view of the scrim.
Vintage carousel horses in the lounge at the Civic Opera House.
Union Station great hall.