Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ours Go To 11: Volume 3, My Favorite Websites

- "Favorite" in terms of those I find most useful/beneficial, not primarily judging design, navigation, etc.
- Some now mainly used in app form
- Not necessarily in preference order 
- Opted not to include (the platform for this blog) or Hotmail (my email host) on this list

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Rabe Review: 'Good for Otto' Surveys Great Psychological Challenges, One at a Time -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Good for Otto
a world premiere play
by David Rabe
The Gift Theatre, Chicago
Thru November 22

Over the past 15 years, I have attended hundreds of plays by hundreds of playwrights, but until Sunday afternoon, not one by David Rabe.

Yet his is a name I've known longer than almost any dramatist, as I acutely remember having seen ads in the Chicago Tribune for Streamers, which would have been in 1977, and probably for Hurlyburly in the mid-80s as well (it was first produced at the Goodman Theatre in 1984, with a rather remarkable cast).

I vaguely remember something of--at least per my fledgling perception--a David vs. David thing going on, as David Mamet was having major success around that time as well. 

David Rabe
But although I've now seen several of Mamet's plays, and his movies, local productions of Streamers, Hurlyburly, In the Boom Boom Room, Sticks and Bones, The Basic Training of Pavel Hummel and other acclaimed Rabe works either haven't been presented or failed to capture my attention and/or interest in the years since I started paying great attention to the Chicago theater scene. (For the record, productions of Streamers and Hurlyburly were staged at the Gift Theatre in 2008 and 2006, respectively.)

So I'm certainly no David Rabe acolyte, but even just in reading of his Tony awards & nominations on Wikipedia, and the Tribune's Chris Jones calling him "justly one of the most revered American dramatic writers of the both century," let alone my own longstanding-if-scant recollections, I can appreciate the rather big deal it is for the Gift Theatre--Chicago's smallest Equity theater, with under 50 seats--to be staging the world premiere of his newest play, Good for Otto.

Jones did a nice job of explaining how this came about, and especially after he awarded the show 4 stars (out of 4), I feel lucky to have gotten a ticket.

Aside from the seeing-Springteen-try-out-new-material-in-a-tiny-club aspect to it, Good for Otto is an estimable work that helps one understand the challenges involved in both seeking and providing effective mental health treatment.

Even if, possibly due to missing any symbiosis with previous Rabe plays, I seemingly wasn't as wowed as Jones--I agree a bit more with the first part of what he calls a "messy, difficult, in-need-of-cutting, thoroughly wonderful play" than effusively with the latter--it was well-worth my time, if at a full 3 hours, a bit too much of it.

The new drama is based in large part on a book called Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn't Teach You and Medication Can't Give You by psychotherapist Richard O'Connor of the  Northwest Center for Family Services and Mental Health in Torrington, CT, for whom Rabe participated in a 1999 fundraiser that (if I understand correctly) included a staged reading of what became a fragment of Good for Otto

Per Jones' explanatory article, the reading "starred Meryl Streep, Sam Waterston, the late Edward Herrmann and Jill Clayburgh, the playwright's late wife," who died in 2010.

Set at a mental health center in similarly pastoral surroundings in the Berkshires, with Torrington fictionalized as Harrington, Good for Otto--the title references a pet of one of the patients--centers around Dr. Robert Michaels (John Gawlik), said to be loosely based on O'Connor. 

With 14 other characters sharing performance space smaller than many a residential living room--with audience members on both sides--Rabe, director Michael Patrick Thornton and designer Courtney O'Neill niftily cover a lot of ground without a lot of literal ground to cover. (I admired the way some elevated cubbyholes were utilized.)

But over the course of 3 hours, minus a 10-minute intermission, the person Dr. Michaels speaks to most is his mother (Brittany Burch), who committed suicide when he was 9. This gives the piece something of an ethereal quality, that probes the therapist's psyche via his haunted past, but I found this aspect much less riveting than the in-the-moment therapy sessions Michaels and another therapist, Evangeline Ryder (Lynda Newton), conduct with a variety of outpatients.

These include a suicidal young girl named Frannie (Caroline Heffernan), her foster mother Nora (Darci Nalepa), the slow-but-kindly Timothy (John Kelly Connelly), gawky packrat Jerome (Kenny Mihlfried), gay, frustrated and frantic Alex (Jay Worthington), struggling-for-purpose retiree Barnard (Rob Riley) and others, including a mother (Alexandra Main) whose son Jimmy (Paul D'Addario) has committed suicide.

With strong performances throughout, these glimpses into mental health counseling and the clinical/demographic diversity of those receiving assistance--with their torment often quite raw and real--made Good for Otto work best for me on something of a Hurt Locker level, taking me deep into an unfamiliar and unsettling world, with keen observations more compelling than any core narrative or message. (Interestingly, although much of Rabe's famed early works are about the Vietnam War, in which he fought, PTSD and other psychological repercussions of war don't factor acutely into this play.)

Although I had inferred from Jones' preview and review that Rabe was taking aim at how ineffectually mental health issues are dealt with (on a macro level) in 21st Century America--the play takes place in 2015--other than a few gibes about maddening insurance coverage decisions, rationales and bureaucracy, the play is much more empathetic to the challenges and the challenged than it is derisive, angry or aggrieved.

To Rabe's credit, although there seems to be too much packed into Good for Otto for its abundant insights to be appreciated with complete, cohesive acuity, its epic length never feels burdensome.

Even if I can't quite call it a masterpiece, it is nothing less than a formidable new piece by a venerated master.

And though the event of seeing an opus by a theatrical superstar squeezed into a Jefferson Park storefront made me delighted to have shared the experience at Gift--which routinely does stellar work; I'm sorry I missed their much-heralded The Royal Society of Antarctica earlier this year--don't worry too much if you're unable to shoehorn yourself in.

Good for Otto is conceivably destined for greater things--Broadway eventually seems within reason--and the somewhat unwieldy piece will likely become substantially better once it's had more time, and space, to breathe. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Pithy Philosophies #26

My friend Ken contributeth:

What makes you rich is not how much you have but how much you can appreciate.  

Thursday, October 22, 2015

October 21, 2015 Didn't Provide a Cinematic Ending, but I Can't Wait to Go Back to the Future with These Cubs

This time, the unfortunate end wasn't accompanied by baseballs going under Gatorade-soaked gloves or bouncing off the outstretched hands of fans.

You couldn't blame Billy Goats or black cats, and thankfully nobody did.

Just days after the Chicago Cubs were proclaimed betting favorites to win the World Series, they were swept by the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series. 

On October 21, 2015, the date in Back to the Future 2 where Marty McFly learns the Cubs have just won the World Series, the Cubs--in reality--failed to win the pennant for the 70th straight year.

Yet despite umpiring that has me wondering WTF is a strike--seemingly almost nothing is too low, high or outside these days--one can't really summon excuses, as the Mets decidedly outplayed the Cubs offensively, defensively and on the mound...throughout every game.

Nor can dark forces or cruel twists be ascribed, apart from Murphy's Law, as Mets second baseman
Daniel Murphy ruled the series by homering in all 4 games (of a record 6 straight, and 7 overall, in the postseason) while hitting .529 with a 1.850 OPS against the Cubs.

Given the possibilities that seemed plausible and, albeit with a lifelong Cubs fan's skepticism, almost likely after the North Siders beat their Arch rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, in the NLDS--I attended the clinching game at Wrigley--certainly this loss hurts. 

It's disappointing.

But it's also baseball, where one team getting hot while another goes cold has perennially overriden momentum, regular season records--the Cubs had won all 7 games against the Mets, winding up with 7 more total wins--or any prevailing "logic."

I certainly would have preferred if the Cubs had won 3 games in the NLCS--or obviously, 4--rather than zero, but their being trounced so soundly makes this failure to advance far less brutal than 2003's, when they blew a 3-1 series lead. (I was at the infamous Game 6 and in some ways have never fully recovered.)

Cubs fans are, imperatively, a resiliant bunch, and there is considerable solace to be taken in the young team being 1-2 years ahead of most experts' expectations, in terms of what they accomplished in 2015.

With rookies Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell having truly stellar debuts, heralded prospects Jorge Soler and Javier Baez showing terrific promise, young stars Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro having strong--and in the latter's case, wonderfully resurgent--years and pitcher Jake Arrieta putting together possibly the best season ever for a Cubs hurler, there is contentment to be derived from this theoretically being only the beginning of a magnificent, years-long run of success.

And almost as cool a story as how good the kids were, was the way the Cubs got great pitching performances out of "reclamation projects" like Clayton Richard, Fernando Rodney, Trevor Cahill, Jason Motte and in a similar vein, Travis Wood and Pedro Strop.

So the annual Cubs fan refrain of "Wait 'til next year" atypically holds genuine promise rather than hollow hope, and a shorter waiting period to boot, given that October 21st is the latest date on which the Cubs have ever played.

Certainly, in baseball, reasons for excited, even educated, optimism don't always translate into championship rings, as fans of talent laden Dodgers, Rangers, Tigers and Nationals teams of recent years clearly understand. As I write this, not only do the Mets, Royals and Blue Jays remain contenders this year and beyond, but the long-moribund Pirates and Astros franchises have been revitalized, and big money or well-stocked teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Cardinals and Giants can never be discounted.

While it is tremendously cool that the Cubs made the Championship Round (i.e. semi-finals) in 2015, since the last time they did so in 2003, 22 of the 29 other franchises have done likewise, with 13 different teams making it to the World Series. (7 teams--from 2003 inclusive--have won titles, including the crosstown White Sox.)

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are to be celebrated for seeing their long rebuilding project flourish to such a glorious extent, with numerous team farmhands maturing ahead of schedule, yet the NLCS disappointment undoubtedly served to show that their work isn't finished.

At least 2 high-quality starting pitchers beyond Arrieta and this-year's big free agent signing, Jon Lester, would be welcome, as the Cubs' 3H trio--Kyle Hendricks, Jason Hammel and Dan Haren--couldn't consistently get the job done.

Schwarber and Soler showed themselves to be suspect defensively in left and right field, respectively, and it remains unclear if Castro or Baez deserves to be the second baseman for years to come. (They seem redundant, especially with such pitching needs, but I wouldn't want to trade either.)

So, as history has pounded into my head, and even more so my heart, I am taking nothing for granted. To be a Cubs fan is to be skeptical, even disbelieving until proven otherwise (which is probably saving me from an emotional breakdown as I write this).

But this isn't just about moral victories or the wonderful diversion from real-life that sports provides.

What I really like about the 2015 Cubs is how much I really liked--or at least perceived liking, as I don't know any personally--the players and manager.

Without meaning to denigrate Dusty Baker or Lou Pinella or Rich Renteria or Dale Sveum of Jim Riggleman, et. al., Joe Maddon is not only the coolest manager in baseball, but by far my favorite Cubs' skipper since Don Zimmer.

And as opposed to the good Cubs teams in recent memory--let alone the many bad ones--this one seemingly didn't have (possibly) steroided superstars, perpetually brittle pitchers, players lambasting the broadcasters, hurlers slamming their mitt to the mound like a pissed-off Little Leaguer (Ted Lilly in the 2007 NLDS) or anyone paying any apparent heed to "curses."

So it isn't just that the Cubs made me happy for 6-1/2 months, they made me happy to feel proud of them. 

Sure, it will be nice if they will--ever--win a game played after my birthday (October 15; I really thought this would be the year;), but I guess I now have at least another year to save the $4,000 it would seem to require to buy a seat at a World Series game played at Wrigley.

Fortunately, I learned long ago to put sports in the proper perspective. I will cheer fervently, and invest myself emotionally, but at the end of the day--and each season--what happens on any field doesn't really matter the way family, friends and other facets of life do.

Thus, I realize it isn't entirely apt to cite an expression I like including on sympathy cards, but with that disclaimer I think it fits:

As you weep for all that has been lost, smile for all that has been gained.

And thus, as fellow Cubs super fan Eddie Vedder emotes in the video below, "It's OK."

Destiny (still) awaits, it's just been postponed. 

Go Cubs Go!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Has It Shirley Bin 20 Years?: Garbage Recycles Its Remarkable Beginnings at the Riv -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

w/ opening act Torres
Riviera Theatre, Chicago
October 17, 2015

There are few bands I've followed across their entirety any more so than Garbage.

I became aware of their 1995 self-titled debut album soon after its release, in part because of the novelty of three Madison, WI-based producers--including Butch Vig who had famously produced Nirvana's Nevermind--rekindling their own musical chops, starting a band and recruiting a striking Scottish singer named Shirley Manson.

With its heap of superb songs like "Only Happens When It Rains," "Stupid Girl," "Not My Idea," "Vow" and more, Garbage became one of my favorite albums of the '90s.

I didn't see the band live supporting album no. 1, but have caught them on tours for their four subsequent releases, for a total of 7 times including Saturday night at the Riv. (And I still rue that their 2002 tour with No Doubt didn't include a Chicago date.)

In 1998, I even briefly met the band at a CD signing for their second album, Version 2.0, at the now-extinct Tower Records on Clark Street. As shown, I also got each of the members--Manson, Vig, Duke Erickson and Steve Marker--to sign a photo I had brought, in addition to the CD booklet.

So I have always been a big fan and considerable admirer, including of Manson's wonderfully-opinionated Facebook feed.

Hence, along with a couple good friends, I eagerly bought a ticket to the Chicago stop on their 20 Years Queer tour celebrating their debut album and named for the second song on it.

Of course, back in June when tickets went on sale, I couldn't assume the show would coincide with the Cubs' first game in the NLCS.

But such is my regard for the band, despite not being quite as dazzled by 2012 and 2013 concerts as some earlier ones, that I forewent a rare chance to watch the Cubs in late-October to attend the concert.

And while I again found Garbage eminently enjoyable but not mind-blowingly phenomenal, alongside a group of friends that had swelled to six and with whom I had a nice dinner beforehand--abetted by another friend texting me constant updates about the Cubs' 4-2 loss to the Mets--the show was good enough for me not to rue my decision.

With the setlist devoted almost entirely to the debut album, its outtakes--included in the deluxe version you can find on Spotify--and other material the band wrote or covered in the mid-'90s, it was nice to hear the highlights mentioned above alongside some rarer tunes.

The show began with an opening set by a band called Torres, which reminded me and some of my pals of Kate Bush, Aimee Mann, Portishead, Radiohead, the Velvet Underground and--because of the female lead singer's hairstyle and garb--Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. Which isn't to say they reached any of these heights, despite sounding pretty decent on a number of songs.

After a brief video respective on Garbage was accompanied by a recorded version of Garbage outtake "Alien Sex Fiend," the headline band launched into "Subhuman"--also left off the debut--while shrouded by a white scrim.

The not officially sold out, but pretty-well packed crowd went nuts as the curtain dropped and "Supervixen," the first song on the first album proper, was blasted into the balcony by the quartet, augmented as on recent tours by Jane's Addiction bassist Eric Avery.

Following "Queer," the band eschewed the album's third song (and first single), "Only Happy When It Rains," for placement late in the main set.

Though the debut album holds up rather distinctively 20 years on, not every song is quite a home run--which actually allowed me occasion to check the Cubs' score--and while outtakes like "Girl Don't Come," "Trip My Wire" and Jam cover "The Butterfly Collector" were nice augmentations to the actual album, there were some periods of relative lull. (As a huge fan of The Jam, I loved hearing Manson relay how much the great British trio meant to her.)

By and large, the lighting design was also impressive, but often kept the entire band shrouded in darkness, if Manson usually a bit less so.

With its three grizzled studio denizens and petite, fashionable singer, Garbage has always somewhat resembled a kidnapping, and as Shirley noted onstage that she often gets much of the focus while the other three do much of the work, it seemed a bit odd that the men were often rather unnoticeable. (I literally only saw Vig well when he was leaving the stage.)

Manson did nothing to diminish her status as one of rock's best frontwomen ever--and even one of the world's coolest people--but though in great voice and prowling the stage frequently, she didn't seem quite the dervish she was in the past.

But even if not mesmerizing throughout, it was a good, fun concert that I was happy to attend with some great friends (and some new ones). Songs like "Only Happens When It Rains," "Stupid Girl" and the show-closing "Push It"--the lone representative of Version 2.0--will always have a special place in my heart and, along with several other songs, they sounded great.

And it was great to hear what a special place Chicago holds for the band members, as Manson shared that it is where Vig, Erickson and Marker first heard her sing (when she was still fronting a band called Angelfish).

The quality of the music the band created right from its onset is pretty remarkable--they never really topped Garbage, IMO--and I was happy to celebrate the 20 years of pleasure they've brought to my life.

Even if this show, like those in the recent past, wasn't quite--to borrow, in the best sense, the title of their 2007 hits compilation--absolute Garbage.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Ours Go to 11: Volume 2, My Favorite Movie Directors of All-Time

1. Martin Scorsese
2. Alfred Hitchcock
3. Orson Welles
4. Charlie Chaplin
5. Billy Wilder
6. Sidney Lumet
7. Quentin Tarantino
8. Akira Kurosawa
9. Frank Capra
10. Jim Sheridan
11. Steven Spielberg

Plus a few more

Francis Ford Coppola
David Fincher
Christopher Nolan
Stanley Kubrick

Federico Fellini

Friday, October 16, 2015

Ours Go To 11: Volume 1, My Desert Island Discs

With this post, I'm starting a new Seth Saith feature: the quick list.

Little or no introductory prose; just a list--that like Spinal Tap's amplifiers, "Go to 11"--with perhaps some brief exposition on my parameters.

Modeled after BBC Radio's longtime staple, Desert Island Discs--in which guests were allotted 8 musical recordings they would choose to take to a desert island--here are the 11 albums I would never want to be without.

I am allowing myself only one album per artist, studio recordings only. No live albums, greatest hits compilations, self-curated discs or Spotify playlists. If you want to play along, I will sanction hits collections for pioneers like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc., who didn't typically produce cohesive albums, but merely collections of singles.

All genres may qualify. Not necessarily ranked in order of preference.

1. Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run
2. Led Zeppelin - IV
3. The Who - Who's Next
4. Nirvana - Nevermind
5. The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
6. U2 - The Joshua Tree
7. R.E.M. - Reckoning
8. The Ramones - self-titled debut
9. AC/DC - Back in Black
10. John Coltrane - Giant Steps
11. Sunday in the Park with George - Original Broadway Cast Recording

Three saddest to leave behind: 
- The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers
- The Jam - All Mod Cons
- The Clash - London Calling

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Winning Moments: Photos of the Chicago Cubs' NLDS-Clinching Game 4 Victory

Tuesday night, the Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4 to win the National League Division Series in Game 4.

This was the first time in 109 years that a Chicago baseball team won a playoff series at home.

And I was fortunate to be there, having purchased a $100 upper deck ticket on StubHub just that morning, a relatively amazing bargain.

Here are some of my best photographs of the game, and the celebration--at least the one in the park.

Especially in having been to the Cubs' NLDS clincher in Atlanta in 2003, and their harrowing Game 6 loss in that NLCS, I didn't feel much need to hoot & holler in the streets after Tuesday's great win. I'll wait until the Cubs at least win the Pennant (for the first time in 70 years)--and dare I imagine--the World Series (107 years), and likely even then contently celebrate away from the marauding throng.

But no matter what transpires in the weeks ahead, I'll always have great memories of one of the better nights of my life--and these photographs:

Cubs great Billy Williams
Great to see Kerry Wood back on the mound, albeit to throw out the first pitch.
Javier Baez' home run swing in the second inning, to put the Cubs up 4-2
Free "W" rally towels were given out upon entry.
Anthony Rizzo scoring on his 6th inning homer, which gave the Cubs a 5-4 lead after the Cardinals had tied the game.
Kyle Schwarber watching his mammoth 7th inning home run, which put the Cubs up 6-4.
Victory! A bit blurry, but perhaps apropos.

Hector Rondon, who earned the save on the Cubs biggest win in years.
Kyle Schwarber
All photos by Seth Arkin, copyright 2015. Please do not repost without attribution, including mention of

Stay That Way Until: Blasting Through Old and Brand New, Bob Mould Remains True -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Bob Mould
solo electric
w/ opening act Jason Narducy
SPACE, Evanston
October 11, 2015

Turning 55 on Friday, Bob Mould has been--if never a household name--a musician of certain renown for about 35 years.

Initially with the seminal Minneapolis power trio Hüsker Dü, then on his own before and after fronting another power trio, Sugar, Mould has long been legendary (in astute musical circles) for his incisive songwriting and his unrivaled ferocity onstage.

Nothing that took place in the intimate confines of SPACE, where Mould performed for 90 nearly nonstop minutes Sunday night with just an electric guitar and an overtaxed amplifier, contradicted this.

But along with showing him to be a gifted, passionate artist with a stellar body of work, the last gig of a short tour that has Mould trying out a selection of newly-written songs also reminded that for all his talents, he is essentially a working man.

As he explained from the stage, Mould has kept a low profile this year, largely eschewing playing live for writing new songs.

This involved getting up every day at 7:00 a.m. to write, resulting in "about 50 songs, of which 12 might be good enough to wind up on an album."

So in realizing that stellar collections of songs, such as on 2014's Beauty and Ruin and 2012's Silver Age, don't come automatically even for a composer of Mould's stature, it was cool to hear him test out the presumed best of "six months of my life."

That on a first listen the new material--including "The End of Things," "Hold On," "Lucifer and God" and "Black Confetti"--held up well amidst gems from across Mould's career, made this "tryout" performance all the more thrilling.

Strictly in terms of set pacing, it may had been preferable for the 9 new songs to be intermingled rather than played en masse--as a certain sameness started to emerge without a band to flesh things out--but I will trust whatever Mould feels helps him best test and shape his latest work. Especially in getting to see him from just a few feet away, 15 minutes from my home.

Further attesting to how hard Mould has worked to remain relevant, recent album tracks like "The Descent," "I Don't Know You Anymore," "Hey Mr. Grey" and "The War" sounded no less stellar than classics from Husker Du ("I Apologize," "Chartered Trips," "Celebrated Summer," "Hardly Getting Over It" and the show-closing "Makes No Sense at All"), Sugar ("Hoover Dam," "Your Favorite Thing," "If I Can't Change Your Mind") and 1990's solo Workbook album  ("See A Little Light," "Lonely Afternoon."

While Mould remains a sonic and visceral tour de force of nature alone on a stage in a comfortable, seated, suburban venue, seeing him solo isn't quite as mindblowing as in full-band mode.

But with Evanston's Jason Narducy, who has long played bass in Mould's touring band, delivering a fine 40-minute opening set (including several songs from his own band, Split Single), it inarguably was a delectable evening of terrific music.

Some of which I'd never heard before; all of which I'll relish hearing again.

Old or new, a mighty wallop of Bob Mould will always Dü.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Even with Appreciative Admiration Rather than Emotional Embrace, Lyric's New Engagement of 'The Marriage of Figaro' is Rather Blissful -- Chicago Opera Review

Opera / Theater Review

The Marriage of Figaro
by Mozart 
directed by Barbara Gaines 
Lyric Opera of Chicago 
Thru October 24 

Every time I write an opera review it includes many of the same explanations. 

I enjoy, appreciate and admire opera but never "feel it" the way I do rock, Broadway and jazz. 

Even after seeing more than 50 operas, I consider myself an opera dilettante rather than an aficionado. 

I used to subscribe to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, but never became truly enraptured, and found 8 operas per season burdensome. 

I don't listen to opera regularly, or even in preparation for seeing particular titles. 

I seemingly suffer from Opera Amnesia, as neither storylines nor scores--save for particularly iconic overtures--stay with me long. (Tuesday marked my third time seeing The Marriage of Figaro in the part 12 years yet it predominantly seemed new.) 

I find most operas to have rather inane narratives, though even serious devotees seem to agree with this. 

I often have trouble keeping my eyelids from drooping at the opera, especially through loooooonnnnng works. 

Even when awake, my mind tends to wander and I miss some of the supertitles and story. 

And yet, I keep opting to go, which must mean something. 

In recent years I've typically chosen 1-2 operas to go to ad hoc each season, plus the Lyric's spring Rodgers & Hammerstein production. But when an offer came to choose three 2015-16 operas for $33 each in the first balcony--usually that price or more puts one at the back of the second (top) balcony--I was intrigued enough to choose four: The Marriage of Figaro, Wozzeck, The Merry Widow and Nabucco. 

The other current production, Cinderella, also sounds terrific, other titles hold some appeal and I fully intend to see The King & I, having greatly enjoyed the Lyric's lavish, resplendent takes on Oklahoma, The Sound of Music and Carousel

This new production of The Marriage of Figaro is directed by Barbara Gaines, founder and Artistic Director of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. 

While my recollect of past productions, most recently in 2010, is rather scant, I believe Gaines brought whimsical vibrancy and newfound buoyancy to Mozart's great opera, complemented by great costuming by Susan Mickey and an innovative set design by James Noone. 

The fantastic overture sounded phenomenal, and while I lack the wherewithal to name specific songs or cite which aria was sung by who, I appreciated how The Marriage of Figaro features solo turns by several characters, duets--including by Adam Plachetka as Figaro and Christiane Krug as his soon-to-be wife, Susanna--larger small group numbers and some nice choral pieces. 

Luca Pisaroni made for a rather suave Count Almaviva--Figaro's employer, who though married, is a constant womanizer, including of Susanna--and though a pre-show announcement asked the audience's understanding as Amanda Majeski fought through a cold as Countess Almaviva, I certainly couldn't hear anything deficient in her performance. 

Especially in this ravishing rendition, Figaro is a truly sumptuous opera, and even if my enjoyment and memory are again fleeting, I nonetheless feel enriched for having taken it in. 

While I entered truly looking forward to the experience and never rued it, I was somewhat tired throughout the 3-1/2 performance, and though highly appreciative--and perhaps a bit more embracing--I still can't say I was truly smitten as by a great musical or rock concert. 

The music and singing were sublime, and I reminded myself throughout not to worry much about not fully understanding all the plot twists--one of which involves a male servant named Cherubino, who is played by a woman (Rachel Frenkel) and within the play is asked to disguise himself as a female. 

Still, with binoculars, bouncing between the action onstage and the English supertitles above, never allowed for a perfect balance between just "going with it" and trying to grasp what was happening in the farcical soap opera with a libretto by Lorenzo da Pointe. Being a bit sleepy at times also didn't abet this. 

But I think I'm safe to say that if you're an opera lover, Ms. Gaines' production of The Marriage of Figaro is a delicious feast for the eyes and ears, and if you're an interested neophyte--as I still consider myself--there is, even if one ingests it more admiringly than emotionally, undoubtedly a whole lot to savor. 

I should also note the Opera Talk, held an hour before each performance, was quite valuable, as much for learning why The Marriage of Figaro is so esteemed as for abetting my enjoyment of the present production.