Margaret Garner | Auditorium Theatre | Classical | Chicago Reader

Margaret Garner All Ages Soundboard Recommended Critics' Picks

When: Thu., Nov. 6, 7 p.m., Sat., Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m. and Sun., Nov. 9, 3 p.m. 2008

A powerful drama as well as a rich musical experience, this 2005 opera by novelist Toni Morrison and composer Richard Danielpour is based on the same real-life incident that inspired Morrison’s Pulitzer-winning novel, Beloved—it tells the story of an escaped slave who, facing capture by a master who’d raped her, kills her own children rather than letting them grow up in slavery. Ironically, because the Fugitive Slave Act does not consider slaves people, Margaret is not tried for murder but rather for destruction of property. Though the evils of slavery are starkly presented, Margaret Garner is not merely an indictment of injustice; the suspenseful climax confronts both Margaret and her owner with a moral crisis, and the choices they make elevate the story to a level of tragedy perfectly suited to grand opera. Morrison’s libretto is lean and stark, and Danielpour, primarily a symphonic composer, proves himself a skilled musical dramatist: his orchestrations are inventive, his choral writing (heavily influenced by African-American spirituals) is electrifying, and his melodies surge and ebb to convey the characters’ shifting emotional states. Mezzo-soprano Tracie Luck, who played Margaret with the New York City Opera last year, reprises the role here, taking over from the great Denyce Graves, who sang last weekend’s opening shows; veteran baritone Gregg Baker (appearing Saturday and Sunday) is superb as her husband Robert, and soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams (appearing Thursday and Sunday) is luminous as Robert’s mother. This beautifully designed Michigan Opera Theatre production, directed by Kenny Leon and conducted by Stefan Lano (who both presided over the 2005 premiere), backs up the 13 soloists with a 70-person chorus and a full orchestra, in this case the Chicago Sinfonietta. And the glorious Auditorium Theatre—built in 1889 as an opera house but seldom used for that purpose since its reopening in 1967—is a nearly acoustically perfect venue for this majestic work. —Albert Williams

Price: $40-$150

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