Grant Park Symphony Orchestra | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Grant Park Symphony Orchestra


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When Berlioz, an ardent Shakespeare fan, set Romeo and Juliet to music in 1838, he called his adaptation a "dramatic symphony" for chorus, soloists, and orchestra. Unlike Gounod's less successful operatic treatment, Berlioz's version wisely focused on the essentials of the tragedy. The prologue for chorus and soloists sets forth the conflicts between the Montagues and Capulets, the choral finale brings about the reconciliation, and what transpires in between is largely episodic orchestral music interspersed with vocal commentaries. The instruments are the actors, from raging trombones to delicate, heartrending strings. Of course melodies abound: a ballroom dance recalls Symphonie fantastique, and the "Queen Mab Scherzo," based on Mercutio's famous speech, is filled with galloping, silky strains. The chorus numbers--especially the solemn eulogy of "Juliet's Funeral Possession"--are so sensitively and deftly crafted that one can't help but wonder why this Romeo and Juliet is seldom revived. Bass Paul Plishka, a Metropolitan Opera veteran who's at the top of his game, sings the conciliatory Friar Lawrence. Theresa Brancaccio-Hansen, a highly touted alto, and Thomas Dymit, an up-and-coming lyric tenor, are the other featured soloists. The Grant Park Symphony Chorus, under Michael Cullen's direction, has an equally important role. Hugh Wolff, who seems to understand the romantic penchant for extravagant swoons, conducts. Saturday, 8 PM (with preconcert talk at 7 PM), and Sunday, 7 PM (with preconcert talk at 6 PM), Petrillo Music Shell, Grant Park, Columbus and Jackson; 819-0614.

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