Chicago Opera Theater finishes their excellent 2010 season off with a fantastic production of Three Decembers, starring none-other-than Frederica von Stade. If you're like me, and have missed von Stade since she left the opera circuit, it's a real treat to catch the mezzo-soprano in her final performances before officially retiring. Her voice has long been one of my favorites and she's still got it.
Three Decembers is about the relationship of two grown children, Bea and Charlie, to their mother Madeline, a famous actress whom they believe loved the theater more than her family. This one-act opera, by Jake Hegge based on a play by Terrence McNally, is only ninety minutes long, set in three different years, over three different decades. The music is quite accessible, not always true with modern operas. Some of the songs are particularly lovely, especially the duet between Bea and Charlie as they try to conjure up memories of their long-dead father, and "The Moon's Lullaby," sung by Madeline. "Shoes Duet" was another highlight, where Bea and Charlie sing about their mother's obsession with buying shoes as a cure-all for life's troubles.
All three performers were very strong in voice and acting chops. Individually, each has a moment to shine and they were magic together when singing the trios. The simple story was given spare yet effective staging, with darkness and spotlight illustrating the emotional void between mother and children as well as the theater stage, where Madeline is most comfortable. The small orchestra, dramatically lit, appears directly on stage.
Whether you're looking for the perfect introduction to Chicago Opera Theater (one of Chicago's cultural gems), or you're a fan of the always amazing Frederica von Stade, or you're simply interested in a winning night of theater, I couldn't recommend Three Decembers any higher. But don't delay, there are only three performances remaining.