1. The pop crossover
Rufus Wainwright with Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Ravinia Pavilion; Aug 14
Although Wainwright is best known for his baroque pop, the gay icon has long been a classical fiend. By his teens, the pianist was staging operas in the family living room. The 37-year-old’s first, inevitable and quaintly traditional foray into opera, Prima Donna, premiered in Manchester, England, in 2009. Now the talented polymath and new dad (he recently fathered a child born to Leonard Cohen’s daughter, Lorca) makes his debut appearance with the CSO, a fitting partner for his grandiloquence. He sets five Shakespearean sonnets to a full orchestral score.
2. The exotic staycation
Alondra de la Parra conducts David Russell
Grant Park Music Festival; Fri 8, Sat 9
Fleet-fingered guitarist David Russell has carved a niche for himself with a slew of brilliant recordings of Spanish composers. The Scot makes his GPMF debut alongside young Mexican-American conductor Alondra de la Parra, a 30-year-old who has made a mission of showcasing young composers from the Americas. Russell, who now resides in the Spanish community of Galicia, is an ideal choice for the star guitar spot in Joaquín Rodrigo’s exhilarating Concierto de Aranjuez.
3. The summer blockbuster
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Ravinia Pavilion; Aug 18
For nerds who prefer their “Ring” cycles with more Frodo and less Wagner: The first installment of Peter Jackson’s film trilogy is projected on behemoth screens in Ravinia’s pavilion and lawn, as the CSO provides the score, live. Conductor Ludwig Wicki brings Middle-earth to the Midwest, directing the orchestra and local vocal talents the Lakeside Singers, Chicago Chorale and Chicago Children’s Choir.
4. The nostalgia trip
The Rose of Stambul
Chopin Theatre; Jul 16–31
For the past five years, the husband-and-wife team behind Chicago Folks Operetta has exposed audiences to the lighthearted joy of operetta. Now, Gerald Frantzen and Alison Kelly bring a dash of the Ottoman Empire and Roaring Twenties gaiety in a colorful production of The Rose of Stambul. Set in an Istanbul harem during the collapse of the empire, Leo Fall’s comedic caper utilizes a new translation from the German by CFO dramaturg Hersh Glagov and artistic director Frantzen. This is the first U.S. performance of the romantic rib tickler in more than 85 years, and will please anyone who wished Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris was nonfiction.
5. For the traditionalist
Woodstock Mozart Festival
Woodstock Opera House; Jul 30–Aug 14
Mozartians get their yearly Wolfgang fix at this fest in the laid-back ’burb. The 25th edition brings German cellist Peter Horr, Ukrainian pianist Mykola Suk, Hungarian conductor Istvan Jaray and the return of Dutch maestro Arthur Arnold, who wraps up the festival with violinist Karina Canellakis and violist Rose Armbrust Griffin. The restored, European-styled opera house is the perfect spot to hold a celebration of the iconic composer.