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Henson Keys

Henson Keys (AKA “actfive”) is a Chicago-based actor and director who fell in love with opera while working for the Met Ticket Service in NYC in the early 80’s. An Equity actor since 1974, he has performed in over 130 roles in New York and regional repertory including 46 productions of Shakespeare. From 1999-2015 he was Chair of Acting Programs at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, having previously led programs at Ohio University and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. He also writes opera CD/DVD reviews for Opera News.



Where have all the bubbles gone?

Susan Stroman’s relatively new Metropolitan Opera production of Lehar’s The Merry Widow translated well to Lyric Opera of Chicago when I attended Tuesday night, the second performance of the run. Read more »

Hell on wheels

Absent from Chicago Lyric Opera’s repertory for 21 years, Alban Berg’s Wozzeck came roaring into town on Sunday afternoon in a stunning new production by Sir David McVicar, featuring a uniformly excellent cast of singing actors. Performed without intermission, the production maintained a remarkable pace and kept the tension level high for one hundred minutes, after which the audience burst into an ovation of pent-up emotion.  Read more »

Mice mice baby

While taking the long ride on the “El” train to the Civic Opera House from my new home on the very North side of Chicago, I had plenty of time to contemplate the performance to come:  Rossini’s La Cenerentola, or, as Lyric Opera has marketed it, Cinderella. I had some trepidation about reviewing this production, as Rossini is far from my favorite composer, and in a buffo piece like this, one often encounters desperate attempts to get laughs with broad farce, or merely “playfulness”…for three hours and fifteen minutes.  Read more »

Haunted mountain

Beginning with the dark, ominous music of the prelude of Charles Wuorinen and Annie Proulx’s opera Brokeback Mountain, we know we are in for a very different and far less sentimental version of the work than was had with Ang Lee’s iconic 2005 film.

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Between the dragon and his wrath

Aribert Reimann’s 1978 opera Lear, based of course on Shakespeare’s titanic tragedy King Lear, is a major achievement in modern operatic scoring.

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A monster, without being a myth

Before this recording arrived in my mailbox, I: ( a) didn’t know there was an operatic version of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, one of my favorite plays; and (b) was unfamiliar with the works of composer Gerald Berry.  After several hearings, I’m still not convinced that there is an operatic version of Earnest.  Barry has created what I would call a narrative set to a series of sound effects.  Now many of these effects are clever, occasionally amusing, and purposely bizarre, but they rarely seem to fit the brilliant verbal wit of Wilde’s original.  I kept thinking that, […]

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Magic “Flute”

A confession:  I have a real love/ hate relationship with Mozart’s Die Zauberflote.

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Coming out

Christian Thielemann’s spirited, precise conducting and the superb, sumptuous playing of the Staatskapelle Dresden are the finest features of this strongly cast performance of Strauss’s Arabella.

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Let’s make it regal

Having heard a bit of the opening night broadcast and read some decidedly mixed reviews, I was totally unprepared for the remarkable performance of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena that I attended on December 15 at Chicago Lyric Opera.

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When I have sung my songs

Soprano Renée Fleming is certainly making the role of the Countess in Richard Strauss’s final opera Capriccio the focus of her late-career years.

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