Two one-act, operatic opus ones will have their Chicago premieres this weekend, and they both command a chorus of well over 100. Chicago Opera Theater opens its 2019-20 season with a double bill: Joby Talbot's Everest and Rachmaninoff's Aleko.
COT music director Lidiya Yankovskaya, who will conduct both Harris Theater performances, considers both works to be seminal. In a backstage interview between rehearsals at the Merit School of Music, Yankovskaya talked about the two operas: "Rachmaninoff's Aleko is a gem that has never been in Chicago... Many consider it some of his most beautiful writing in general. Joby Talbot's Everest is a much newer piece but is really a masterpiece of today's age and that is on its way to becoming a canonic work."
In this staging, both works employ a large chorus made up of over 100 members, including members of Apollo Chorus of Chicago. Their function, Yankovskaya explains, is akin to a Greek Chorus: "In Everest, the chorus serves as the voice of the mountain often or the voice of the people of the past who have climbed the mountain. In Aleko, likewise, the chorus is often commenting on the surroundings and creating an atmosphere."
In the piece "The lights have gone out" from Aleko, the chorus "creates a sense of time and place," Yankovskaya shares. "The lights have all gone out in the Roma tents. The travelers are going to sleep, and the two lovers, Zemfira and the Young Gypsy, are about to come out and have their duet. But before that happens, we hear this setting created by the chorus."