50 Years of COT: Anniversary Season Boasts Shostakovich, Heggie, Premieres, and More

By Keegan Morris |

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Nathan Gunn

Baritone Nathan Gunn (Photo: Joe Mazza)

Chicago Opera Theater has announced its 50th anniversary 2023-2024, featuring three mainstage operas and three additional special events. Each of the six works in the lineup is a Chicago premiere.

The season starts with a long-awaited performance, as COT welcomes Nathan Gunn to present Soldier Songs. With music and libretto by David T. Little, the work is a one-man performance portraying the plight of a soldier. It draws from the composer’s research and conversations with veterans. Gunn, who hails from Illinois and recently appeared in the area in South Pacific, will anchor the show alongside music director Lidiya Yankovskaya. The work was first slated to appear in the 2019-2020 season, but that engagement was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This performance will take place at Epiphany Center for the Arts in the West Loop.

The mainstage opener comes in December at the Harris Theater. A rarity by one of the 20th century’s greatest composers, Dmitri Shostakovich’s The Nose was based on a short story by Gogol. Aleksey Bogdanov stars as Kovalyov, a bureaucrat, and Curtis Bannister appears as the title body part/character, a nose that has become separated from Kovalyov and taken on a life of its own. Yankovskaya, who has advocated for Russian and Slavic opera in her role at COT, will conduct.

In January, COT partners with the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival to mount Book of Mountains and Seas. Presented in two performances at the Studebaker Theater at the Fine Arts Building, the opera by Huang Ruo features vocalists, percussionists, and puppeteers.

Tenor Taylor Stayton will sing the title role of Rameau's Platée 

In March, COT turns the dial back a few centuries to present an early opera: Rameau’s Platée. Tenor Taylor Stayton stars as Platée, a water nymph whose vanity causes her to set her sights too high. Performed at the Studebaker Theater, Gary Thor Wedow will conduct.

In April comes a world premiere — COT mounts a concert performance of an opera by its resident Vanguard Composer Gillian Rae Perry: The Weight of Light. As with the season opening Soldier Songs, this performance will take place at the Epiphany Center.

Finally, the season will close on a world premiere with Chicago ties. Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s newest opera, Before It All Goes Dark, is based on a story reported by former Chicago Tribune columnist Howard Reich. When a Vietnam veteran discovers his claim to an art collection seized by Nazis, he embarks on a voyage to Europe and a journey of self-discovery. Ryan McKinny, who starred in Lyric’s production of Heggie's Dead Man Walking in 2019, will headline the performance under the baton of Joseph Mechavich. The work was commissioned and is presented by Music of Remembrance, which is dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust through music. COT wraps its 2022-2023 season with a program — also featuring McKinny — under the Music of Remembrance auspices.

For ticketing and information, visit cot.org.