Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Berlioz Spectacular!

Feet First | 21

Kicked off another symphony season this evening with a program of all Berlioz. The first half was spectacular. Riccardo Muti conducting the Symphonie Fantastique, which was exactly that, fantastic. There was a little something for everyone in the orchestra on this one, including a really effective back-and-forth between the giant chimes (played off stage) and the brass.

Muti is extremely expressive and a lot of fun to watch. He conducts with his entire body, leaping, jabbing, hopping, leaning in to the orchestra and then away, punctuating the air with his arms up high, down low and sweeping the length of his body. At one point he simply stopped completely and turned his attention to the violins on his left, seeming to let them carry on on their own, as if listening and enjoying with the rest of us. I'd never seen that before.

The second half, Berlioz Lelio, was less enjoyable personally though I do give the CSO extra points for dramatic staging. Surprise guest Gerard Depardieu was on hand (a surprise to me because I had no idea he'd be there) to narrate the piece in French. The orchestra and chorus performed behind a giant black scrim, lit as if by candlelight from the lights on their music stands and scores. It looked great and the music was beautiful, but I could have done without the narration.

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