Natalie Hall

Porgy and Bess

When most people think of opera they usually imagine something that is boring, too expensive, too long, elitist, stuffy, and unintelligible! It’s true, not all operas are for the faint of heart (I’m looking at you, Wagner!), but many are not as intimidating (or boring) as you might believe. A great example of this is George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

It’s sung in English and mixes traditional opera techniques with American jazz and folk music.  Set in Charleston, South Carolina in the 1920’s, it tells the story of a disabled man, Porgy, who tries to save a woman, Bess, from her abusive lover and drug addiction. You can check out a DVD of a 1992 stage production from the Glyndebourne Festival Opera here. You can also check out the 2012 New Broadway Cast recording or another recording of selections featuring Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

The Lyric Opera in Chicago is also presenting Porgy and Bess from November 17 through December 20th. They offer $20 student tickets for select performances through their NEXT Discount Student Ticket Program, which you can sign up for here. The Lyric Opera house is easily accessible via the Metra or CTA and they also offer discounted parking.

The 2012 Broadway Revival, starring Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis, won two Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. Here’s a video from the 2012 Tony Awards with excerpts from the opera’s best known songs.

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Graphic Novel Series: Economix

9780810988392 The Graphic Novel Symposium might be over, but I don’t think any of us here at the library are tired of them yet, and we’ve still got new titles being added to our collection all the time. One new addition that I’m particularly excited about is the non-fiction graphic novel Economix : How Our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work) in Words and Pictures by Michael Goodwin with illustrations by Dan E. Burr.

Whether we like it or not, the economy plays a big role in our lives and although I’m not suggesting we all need to major in Economics, it is important for everyone to have a basic understanding of how the economy works. However, economics is a complex topic and not always easy for the average person to figure out.  This work takes on the challenging topic of economics, breaks it down into manageable concepts, and makes it entertaining and much easier to understand.

It covers the history of economics, the foundations of our economy, how we got to where we are today, what that means for us, and how to use what we’ve learned to make good economic decisions moving forward, all with engaging illustrations and dialogue. It makes economics accessible and is designed to be enjoyable regardless of your previous experience.  After all, in the preface, Michael Goodwin says “Some people know lots about the economy, some know a little, but nobody understands the whole thing, and anyone can understand it better.”

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What do football and opera have in common?

In a surprise for both opera lovers and football fans, soprano Renée Fleming will be singing the national anthem for the opening of this year’s Super Bowl. This is a significant departure from the last five years which featured female pop divas Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, Carrie Underwood, and Jennifer Hudson. While Fleming is not the first classical musician to perform at the Super Bowl, she is the first opera singer. For those unfamiliar with her work, Fleming is a four-time Grammy winner, a National Medal of the Arts recipient, and has sung in opera houses and concert halls around the world. She’s also the Creative Consultant at our very own Lyric Opera of Chicago.

While I’m certain that there are many football-loving opera fans out there, there might be fewer opera-loving football fans, and indeed, I think many of us assume opera and football to be on opposite ends of the cultural spectrum. However, they’re not as different as you might think! Check out the Top Five Similarities Between Opera and Football.

If you’re interested in exploring some of Fleming’s work, check out the following items available in our library:

Bel Canto
The Beautiful Voice

or check out this book, Living Opera, which features an interview with Fleming..

Fleming will also be performing in Chicago on Wednesday, March 19th at 7:30pm with tenor Jonas Kaufmann at the Lyric Opera House. Tickets and more information available here.

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Happy (210th) Birthday, Berlioz!

Hector Berlioz, an influential French Romantic composer, was born in France on this day in 1803. One of his most well-known (and somewhat autobiographical) works, Symphonie Fantastique (1830), tells the story of a young artist in love with an unattainable woman. The symphony is in five parts and each part tells a different aspect of the story. Lest you think “classical” music is boring, in the fourth part, March to the Scaffold, the artist, while under the influence of opium, dreams he has murdered his love and is being led to his execution. This macabre movement memorably concludes with the sound of the blade falling and the head bouncing down the steps.

If you need a break from studying for finals, check out the following items available in our collection to learn more:

Berlioz : Symphonie fantastique. In this video, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony give a full performance of the work and provide a thought-provoking analysis of the music, program, and composer to enrich the listener’s experience.

Berlioz : scenes from the life and work / edited by Peter Bloom is a collection of twelve essays about Berlioz and his work.

Or if you’d just like to listen to the work while you’re studying, check out this recording by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Symphonie fantastique [sound recording] : op. 14 = Phantastische Symphonie = Fantastic symphony / Hector Berlioz

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