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.


In 1804, E.T.A. Hoffmann became acquainted with Schlegel’s translations of Spanish plays in Spanisches Theater. During an illness in 1807, he returned to the Schlegel and discovered Calderon’s Die Scharpe und die Blume, finding it an ideal operatic subject.  He composed the opera in Warsaw and Berlin, and began seeking a theatre that would present…

on December 22, 2010 at 11:45 AM

Arthaus Musik has released on DVD a superb 1963 “Historical Studio Production” of Der Konsul, a German language filmed version of Menotti’s 1950 opera, The Consul. It is a dark, harrowing vision of Menotti’s “denunciation of all forms of tyranny”, beautifully sung, superbly acted, and directed with an almost film noir/expressionistic style by Rudolph Cartier.…

on December 08, 2010 at 11:34 AM

The interpretation of Carmen by Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca has been much debated, many finding her cold and remote, others admiring her subtly smoldering quality.  A new Deutsche Grammophon DVD documenting the Met’s January 16, 2010 performances offers us an opportunity to examine the gypsy in close-up.  This is certainly not the lusty, passionate, mercurial Carmen…

on November 29, 2010 at 10:02 AM

Chicago’s opera community has been abuzz about this production of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera ever since the 2010-11 Lyric Opera season was announced.  A sumptuous production owned by San Francisco opera, major female stars, a solid male cast of experienced Verdians, and stage direction by the legendary Renata Scotto—what more could one ask?  

on November 25, 2010 at 11:05 PM

Lyric Opera of Chicago has entrusted their new Macbeth to Barbara Gaines, Artistic Director of the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, whose work can be frustratingly inconsistent. She has directed the finest Troilus and Cressida and the finest King Lear that I have ever seen. Yet her recent work has been filled with wretched excess and effects…

on October 25, 2010 at 11:56 AM

Chandos’ Opera In English series continues with a new two-disc set of Strauss’ much-admired Ariadne on Naxos, with the Hofmannsthal libretto translated by Christopher Cowell.  Sir Richard Armstrong conducts the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and a starry if uneven cast led by Christine Brewer in the title role. This reviewer has never fully warmed to the…

on September 27, 2010 at 11:23 AM

A DVD of a 2001 Met performance of Berg’s Wozzeck is included in James Levine: Celebrating 40 Years at the Met – DVD Box Set, and it’s easy to see why this performance was chosen. Levine and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra he has done so much to build and improve are the real stars of…

on August 23, 2010 at 7:05 PM

As part of the massive CD/DVD release celebrating the 40th Anniversary of James Levine at the Met, “In Concert at the Met, 1982-83” offers generous excerpts from three memorable Gala Concerts: from February 1982, Troyanos-Domingo-Levine; from March 1982, Price-Horne-Levine; and from January 1983, Domingo-Milnes-Levine. I had the pleasure of being in the house for each…

on August 20, 2010 at 11:08 AM

Christof Loy’s highly controversial 2009 production of Berg’s Lulu for The Royal Opera House has been released on DVD (Opus Arte), with beautifully realized film direction by Robin Lough. Antonio Pappano and the Orchestra of The Royal Opera House lead an extraordinary cast of singing actors in plumbing the musical and psychological depths of this…

on August 13, 2010 at 1:07 PM

An ambitious and Wagner-smitten Ruggero Leoncavallo wrote his rarely heard opera I Medici (Historical Action in Four Acts) as the beginning of what he planned as “an epic poem in the form of a historical trilogy.” Taking his lead from the Ring, Leoncavallo called his planned trilogy Crepesculum, an homage to the Italian translation of…

on June 27, 2010 at 4:31 PM

Chandos has issued an excellent new CD of Serge Rachmaninoff‘s one-act opera Aleko, written when the composer was only nineteen as a graduation exercise for the Moscow Conservatory.

on May 26, 2010 at 10:53 AM

Carl Orff’s 1949 opera (or quasi-opera, as some critics have called it) Antigonae has been issued on 2 CDs on the Profil label, in a Munich radio recording from 1958. This recording, conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch and featuring the German soprano Martha Mödl in the title role, is a most welcome addition to this work’s…

on May 06, 2010 at 3:14 PM

British soprano Dame Felicity Lott and her frequent partner, the pianist Graham Johnson, have collaborated on a new recital disc for Champs Hill Records, “Call Me Flott.”  Do we really have to?

on April 28, 2010 at 3:32 PM

With the production of Siegfried, the “Ring for the 21st Century” staged by La Fura dels Baus finally hits its stride.   

on March 21, 2010 at 4:33 PM

The Catalan theatre company La Fura dels Baus, under the baton of Zubin Mehta, brought forth a new production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen in 2007 in Valencia. The brochure for the DVD release calls this “A Ring for the 21st Century” and tells us that stage director Carlus Padrissa has employed “…imagery for…

on February 21, 2010 at 2:06 PM

Christof Loy’s dreamlike, pared-down production of Donizetti’s 1833 masterpiece Lucrezia Borgia, created for the Bayerischen Staatsoper, is brought to life on Medici DVD from performances in July 2009. The DVD of the performance is accompanied by another hour-long DVD, The Art of Bel Canto: Edita Gruberova, which includes some fascinating rehearsal and performance footage of…

on December 04, 2009 at 12:56 PM

Siegfried Wagner ‘s 1903 opera Der Kobold  (The Goblin) is a fascinating yet infuriating work. It often seems as if both music and libretto were written by a committee that couldn’t come to agreement.   The plot structure careens wildly from realism to mysticism to symbolism; the music hops from style to style and influence to…

on November 12, 2009 at 3:46 PM
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