Our excellent Baroque weekend: Haymarket and Lyric present rarely performed period operas

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Olof Lilja as Haymarket Operas Acteon
  • Chuck Osgood
  • Olof Lilja as Haymarket Opera's Actéon

We’ve got a Baroque opera minifestival going this weekend, with Lyric Opera performing Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito and Haymarket Opera Company offering a double bill by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Le Jugement de Pan and Actéon.

One is presented on the grandest scale, the other the most intimate. And both can be counted on to be world-class experiences.

Did anyone tell our cultural tourism promoter, Choose Chicago?

Tickets for Haymarket will be scarce even without tourists, because it runs this weekend only at the 230-seat Mayne Stage. And because this young company, founded three years ago by musician and music director Craig Trompeter, has already proved itself with authentic productions of rarely heard 17th- and 18th-century work, using period instruments and showing an obsessive attention to historical detail.

Le Jugement de Pan is a singing contest between two shepherds, with the half-goat, half-human god as judge. Actéon (Swedish tenor Olof Lilja has the title role) is the mythic story of a hunter who suffers a truly transformational penalty after spying on the goddess Diana as she bathes. Ellen Hargis directs. At Mayne Stage, as in the palaces where these pieces were first performed, you can enjoy a glass of wine while they unfold.

Clemenza, which opened Wednesday at Lyric and runs through March 23, is one of Mozart's last works, commissioned (and composed in a hurry) for the coronation of Marie Antoinette's brother, Leopold II, as king of Bohemia. This production, designed by Sir David McVicar and conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, is a mashup that sets the story of the Roman emperor Titus (crowned in 79 AD) at the end of 18th century, when the opera was written.

It's also a Ryan Opera Center reunion, with alumni from the Lyric's training center singing five of six lead roles. They are tenor and Wilmette native Matthew Polanzani as Tito (that's Titus), in this telling a paragon of virtue; soprano Amanda Majeski as Vitellia, who wants to be empress either by marrying Tito or by killing him; mezzo-soprano Cecilia Hall as trusty friend Annio; bass-baritone Christian Van Horn as the captain of the guard, Publio; and a silvery-voiced current trainee at the center, soprano Emily Birsan, as Annio's love, Servilia, in this production the only character other than Tito pure enough to wear white.

The lone non-Ryan Center lead is celebrated mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who lives up to her reputation in the pivotal (originally castrato) role of Sesto—Tito's best buddy and Vitellia's tool.

Chicago saw Majeski as the consumed and scheming Vitellia five years ago, when Chicago Opera Theater produced Clemenza at the Harris Theater. She delivered an outstanding performance then, as she and the entire cast, along with the orchestra and chorus, do now on the grand stage at Lyric.

Baroque fans all over the globe: eat your hearts out.

Le Jugement de Pan/Actéon, Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 5 and 8 PM, Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse, 773-381-4551, haymarketopera.org, $50-$60.

La Clemenza di Tito, Sat 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, lyricopera.org, $34-$244.

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