Katherine Pracht and Richard Troxell as Elizabeth Cree and Dan Leno
Here’s a prediction: if you’ve read Peter Ackroyd’s
1995 Victorian Gothic novel The Trial of Elizabeth Cree
, you’ll be fascinated by Chicago Opera Theater’s world premiere coproduction with Opera Philadelphia of Elizabeth Cree
, an adaptation of the book by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell.
And if (like me) you haven’t yet read the novel, you’ll also be fascinated. And you’ll be hunting up a copy, ASAP.
Because this gory, clever, and serious romp is not an opera you’ll be putting out of mind as you head up the aisle after the cast takes its well-deserved bows. The puzzle at its core—the identity of the killer in a series of particularly gruesome murders in London’s Limehouse district in 1880—will stay with you, along with the roster of suspects, their secrets and schemes, and their often sordid circumstances. The score, which includes numerous savagely funny music-hall numbers and some spine-chilling solos, carries the audience through 29 time-hopping scenes in 90 minutes, while the story probes the consequences of all kinds of evil—not least the still-resonant economic and social plight of 19th-century women.
Mezzo-soprano Katherine Pracht and baritone Christopher Burchett are fully convincing, both vocally and dramatically, as the resourceful title character and her complicated husband, John Cree. Soprano Stacey Tappan is engagingly trashy as the compliant Aveline, “Lizzie’s” onetime show business competitor and ultimate tool. And tenor Richard Troxell is winning in the role of real-life vaudeville comedian Dan Leno. (Karl Marx appears as well.) There's a solid ensemble feel to the entire cast under the direction of David Schweizer. Geoff McDonald conducts the 20-piece orchestra.
A word of warning: Sweeney Todd
will come to mind, but this is even darker. Don’t bring the kids.
Elizabeth Cree Fri 2/16, 7:30 PM, and Sun 2/18, 3 PM, Studebaker Theater, 410 S. Michigan, 312-704-8414, chicagooperatheater.org, $45-$145.