Sweeney Todd | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Sweeney Todd

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Stephen Sondheim's Grand Guignol musical, which tells the story of a vengeful 19th-century London barber who hacks his enemies into pieces and stuffs them into meat pies, is widely regarded as one of the composer and lyricist's finest works. Until recently, however, Todd wasn't performed in major opera houses. Excuses have been offered, some valid, some not. It's true that not all the parts were written with operatic voices in mind--Angela Lansbury croaked her way through the part of Todd's accomplice, Mrs. Lovett, in the initial run. But complaints about subpar orchestrations are unfair to Sondheim's collaborator Jonathan Tunick, and anyone who insists that the story's juxtaposition of serial killing and tender love is too tawdry for operagoers has apparently never seen Tosca or Rigoletto. Lyric Opera presents Todd for the first time as part of its American Horizons initiative, a concerted effort to correct the opera world's Eurocentric bias--which is behind at least some of the criticism of the work. Lyric has gone all out for this production, securing a top-notch cast that includes Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel (Todd), up-and-coming baritone Nathan Gunn (Anthony Hope, the sailor who falls in love with Todd's daughter), bass-baritone Timothy Nolen (the villainous Judge Turpin), mezzo-soprano Judith Christin (Mrs. Lovett), and soprano Sheri Greenawald (the beggar woman who holds the key to Todd's past). It should be nice to hear the psychologically revealing (and often sardonic) songs performed by trained voices capable of broad range and dramatic nuance. The director is the inventive Australian Neil Armfield, whose career got a boost down under with a Hamlet starring Geoffrey Rush and Cate Blanchett, and who moves with ease between opera and theater. Lyric has also engaged Paul Gemignani, the conductor at Todd's world premiere almost a quarter century ago. This production runs through December 22. Monday, November 18, 7 PM, Thursday, November 21, 2 PM, and Saturday, November 23, 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker; 312-332-2244.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lisa Kohler.

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