Chicago Opera Theater (COT) presents “Elizabeth Cree,” a suspenseful and thrilling tale set in Victorian London, based on the novel “The Trial of Elizabeth Cree” by Peter Ackroyd. Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have reunited for this world-premiere, co-produced with Opera Philadelphia and Hackney Empire, telling the story of a woman on trial for her husband’s grisly murder. This show features music direction by Geoff McDonald, stage direction by David Schweizer, and stars Katherine Pracht in the title role. The opening night and main press performance will take place on Saturday, February 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the historic Studebaker Theater (410 S. Michigan). Additional performances will take place on Friday, February 16 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, February 18 at 3 p.m.
“COT is committed to bringing innovative opera to Chicago, including developing new work that will become part of the canon of great opera in the future,” remarked General Director Douglas Clayton. “This will be the first time Chicago will have the opportunity to hear the masterful work of Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell, giving our community the chance to experience the artistry of these talented collaborators as they tell the suspenseful and thrilling tale of ‘Elizabeth Cree.’”
Anthony Tommasini, reviewing the debut staging at Philadelphia Opera for the New York Times, wrote “Mr. Puts’ music blithely segues from Felliniesque evocations of British music hall skits to Gothic horror melodrama.” David Shengold, reviewing for Opera News, hailed the opera as a “fast-paced ninety-minute entertainment” complimenting “Puts' rhythmically alert score, ingeniously orchestrated.” DC Metro critic Steve Cohen raved “Elizabeth Cree’ is worth repeated viewings for its vivid characters, ingenious development and gripping music.”
Puts and Campbell weave the story of Elizabeth’s days performing in an English music hall, the people she meets, and the slayings that begin not long after she joins the troupe. On trial for her husband’s murder, her case is complicated by the discovery of her husband’s diary and the shocking details within. Historical luminaries including George Gissing, Dan Leno and Karl Marx all make appearances in this dark and delightful world premiere production, set against the gas-lit backdrop of Victorian London.
“It is a thrill to bring this riveting story to life for the operatic stage,” said Kevin Puts, who has been heralded by The New York Times as “a brilliant composer with a strong musical voice.” “’Elizabeth Cree’ is fast and furious, moving from scene to scene with the pace of a thriller, and I have delighted in working to provide a seamless and organic flow to it all.”
The cast stars Katherine Pracht as Elizabeth Cree, Christopher Burchett as John Cree, Richard Troxell as Dan Leno, and Levi Hernandez as Inspector Kildare. The production also features Stacey Tappan as Aveline Mortimer, David Govertsen as Uncle, Jason Ferrante as Little Victor, Quinn Middleman as Doris, Bill McMurray as Greatorex, Vince Wallace as Mr. Lister, Emma Ritter as Jane Quig, Zacharias Niedzwiecki as Karl Marx, Samuel Weiser as George Gissing/Solomon Weill, and Jonathan Weyant as the Priest.
Creative Team for “Elizabeth Cree”
Composer: Kevin Puts
Librettist: Mark Campbell
Conductor: Geoff McDonald
Director: David Schweizer
Lighting/Video Designer: Alexander V. Nichols
Set/Costume Designer: David Zinn
About Kevin Puts
Winner of numerous prestigious awards, including the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for his debut opera “Silent Night,” Puts’ works have been commissioned, performed, and recorded by leading ensembles, and soloists throughout the world, including Yo-Yo Ma, Jeffrey Kahane, Dame Evelyn Glennie, the New York Philharmonic, the Tonhalle Orchester (Zurich), the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Miro Quartet, and the symphony orchestras of Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit, Atlanta, Colorado, Houston, Fort Worth, St. Louis, and Minnesota. “Elizabeth Cree” is Puts’ first chamber opera, an adaptation of Peter Ackroyd’s gothic novel “The Trial of Elizabeth Cree.” A former Composer-in-Residence of Young Concert Artists, he is currently a member of the composition department at the Peabody Institute and the Director of the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute.
About Mark Campbell
Mark Campbell’s work as a librettist is at the forefront of this country’s current boom in contemporary opera. The more than 15 librettos he has written—and the five new operas he premiered in 2017—demonstrate a versatility in subject matter, style and tone, and an adeptness at creating successful work for both large and intimate venues. Campbell’s most-known work is “Silent Night,” which received the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music and is one of the most frequently performed contemporary operas in recent history. Campbell has received many other prestigious prizes for his work, including a Grammy® nomination for Best Classical Recording and the first Kleban Foundation Award for Lyricist. Mark is also an advocate for contemporary American opera and mentors future generations of writers through such organizations as American Opera Projects, American Lyric Theatre, and Opera Philadelphia’s Composer-in-Residence Program.
About Geoff McDonald
Hailed by The Philadelphia Inquirer as a “promising and confident” member of the new generation of American conductors, Geoffrey McDonald commands a broad repertoire with extensive experience in operatic, symphonic, and choral conducting. As Music Director of New York City’s On Site Opera, McDonald’s passion for promoting new or neglected pieces with fresh and innovative presentations was evidenced in the critically-acclaimed, immersive production of Paisiello’s “Barbiere di Siviglia” in the summer of 2015. In past seasons, Maestro McDonald led productions of Handel’s “Orlando and Alcina,” partnering with stage director R.B. Schlather to create inventive art-installation-opera. In the 2016-2017 season, MacDonald appeared as a guest conductor with The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and was joined by the renowned International Contemporary Ensemble in On Site Opera’s production of Milhaud’s “La Mere Coupable.” He conducted workshops and performances with Opera Philadelphia and National Sawdust, and led On Site’s/Atlanta Opera’s co-production of Mozart’s “La Finta Giardiniera.”
About David Schweizer
David Schweizer emerged from Yale Drama School to make his New York debut at the age of twenty-four at Lincoln Center opening the brand new Mitzi Newhouse Theater with his radical version of Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” for producer Joseph Papp. And, some decades later, he returned to Lincoln Center with his acclaimed staging of Richard Rodney Bennett’s opera “The Mines Of Sulphur” for the New York City Opera. Over the years, he has directed a vastly eclectic mix of theatrically innovative work in a wide range of styles and venues. Early career highlights include world premiere productions by such playwrights as Sam Shepard, Michael Weller, Albert Innaurato, Maria Irene Fornes, and many others in New York City. His extensive work in both new and “old” opera theater includes Benjamin Britten’s “Albert Herring” (Gotham Opera), Stephen Hartke’s “The Greater Good” (Glimmerglass Festival), and several notable Verdi productions – “Macbetto” at Boston Lyric Opera and “Giovanna D’arco” at Chicago Opera Theater.
Saturday, February 10 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, February 16 at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, February 18 at 3 p.m.
Tickets for Elizabeth Cree ($45 - $145) can be purchased by calling 312.704.8414 or by visiting chicagooperatheater.org.
Chicago Opera Theater’s season concludes in April with a double bill of Gaetano Donizetti’s “Il Pigmalione” and “Rita.” The two works—Donizetti’s first work and one of his last—are presented together as a theatrical exploration of love, fantasy, and the blurry lines between them.
About Chicago Opera Theater
Chicago Opera Theater (COT) is a nationally recognized opera company based in Chicago, now in its 45th season. COT expands the tradition of opera as a living art form, with an emphasis on engaging Chicago premieres, including brand new contemporary operas for a 21st century audience.
Since its founding in 1973 by Alan Stone, COT has staged 127 operas, including 65 Chicago premieres and 35 operas by American composers. In 2017, COT presented its first world premiere commission: “The Invention of Morel” composed by Stewart Copeland with a libretto by Jonathan Moore.
COT is led by Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson General Director Douglas R. Clayton and Music Director Lidiya Yankovskaya. As of fall 2017, Maestra Yankovskaya is the only woman with the title Music Director at a major opera company in the United States. COT currently performs at the Studebaker Theater (Michigan & Congress) and the Harris Theater for Music & Dance (Michigan & Randolph).
For more information on the Chicago Opera Theater and its programs please visit chicagooperatheater.org.
About Opera Philadelphia
Opera Philadelphia is committed to embracing innovation and developing opera for the 21st century. Described as “the very model of a modern opera company” by the Washington Post, Opera Philadelphia was the only American finalist for the 2016 International Opera Award for Best Opera Company. The company is charting a bold new path to September 2017, when Opera Philadelphia will open its 2017-18 season with an immersive 12-day festival featuring seven operatic happenings in six venues throughout the city. The first festival, “O17,” will feature three world premieres and a Philadelphia premiere, plus the exclusive East Coast appearance of Barrie Kosky’s groundbreaking production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” and a recital by superstar soprano Sondra Radvanovsky. Opera Philadelphia will continue to present a spring season each year, including two additional productions in February and April, making it the only U.S. opera company producing an annual opera season that begins with a dynamic festival. For more information, visit operaphila.org.
About Hackney Empire
Hackney Empire is a special building in a special place. Built in East London in 1901 by Frank Matcham and fully refurbished and restored in 2004, it is an extraordinarily atmospheric theatre. A Grade II* listed building, Hackney Empire has always been a confluence of the arts and popular culture. Today Hackney Empire has the world on its doorstep and the world on its stage.
We are a positive and passionate organization and our core values of EXCELLENCE, DIVERSITY and ENGAGEMENT consistently underpin all aspects of our artistic and cultural proposition. In the period from 2017 we will further develop and focus our distinctive offer to an ever-growing and astonishingly wide range of customers.
We look to commission, produce and present work that is both local and global in its appeal and its origins - work accessible to local Hackney audiences and attractive to audiences from across London and beyond. We are determined to nurture and present work that is at once extraordinary, inclusive, inspirational and transformative.
Music – and especially its intrinsic role in emotional narrative – is at the heart of Hackney Empire’s work. We actively celebrate culturally diverse artists and audiences, and nurture early-career artists. By developing and collaborating on innovative work we aim to become a truly dynamic place for audiences to experience opera in the 21st century.