Once the leaves start changing colors, it's a pretty good sign that opera and orchestra season is just around the corner. Chicago is blessed with some world-class institutions, including the Lyric Opera and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but there are plenty of touring acts passing through the city, including pianist Vijay Iyer and Bill Murray (yes, the comedian—he'll be reading literature set to the music of Bach and Gershwin). Check out our top picks for classical music and opera this season, all of which are among the best concerts in Chicago.
Classical and opera to see this fall
Teaming up with the Northern Illinois University steel drum ensemble and Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, Chicago Sinfonietta channels island vibes and kinetic movement as it opens its 2017-18 season. With a program that boasts the world premiere of two pieces, you can expect one of the more adventurous and varied classical concerts of the season.
In this adaptation of the classic Greek legend, the poet Orpheus travels to the Underworld to bring his beloved Eurydice back to life. The Lyric Opera performs the Paris version of Christoph Willibald Gluck's opera, collaborating with the Joffrey Ballet to choreograph the moving ballet sequences that accompany the dramatic narrative. If you're on the hunt for a stirring evening of singing with some killer dancing, this might be the opera for you.
A court jester named Rigoletto goes on a quest for revenge that ends up hurting the ones he loves most in this classic tragedy by Giuseppe Verdi. Director E. Loren Meeker heads up the Lyric Opera performance of this drama, which features memorable tunes like “La donna è mobile” and “Caro nome.” Brush up on your Italian (or just read the projected subtitles).
You don't usually go to the symphony to see Bill Murray, but the Wilmette-native has a tendency to pop up in unexpected places. During this special performance, he'll be reading poetry and literature set to the music of Bach and Gershwin, performed by German cellist Jan Vogler.
Conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner marks the 450th birthday of opera pioneer Claudio Monteverdi, joining forces with the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists for performances of each of his three surviving operas. On October 12, the group will present "L’Orfeo," on October 13 "Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria" and on October 15 "L’incoronazione di Poppea." Each performance will mark the United States premiere of the respective opera.
Conductor James Gaffigan leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a performance Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances. The program also includes Bernstein's Symphonic Suite from the film On the Waterfront and violinist James Ehne playing Barber's Violin Concerto.
Composer, pianist and MacArthur Fellow Vijay Iyer makes his MusicNOW debut at the Harris Theater, performing his piece "Time, Place, Action," which pays tribute to American poet Amiri Baraka with improvisational flourishes. He'll also be joined by trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith for a performance of selections from the duo's 2016 album A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke.
Chicago Philharmonic teams up with local ensemble Third Coast Percussion to premiere a new bell-driven composition by composer Augusta Read Thomas entitled "Sonooous Earth." The program also includes performances of Joan Tower's "Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 5" and Mozart's Symphony No. 41.
Local chamber ensemble Eighth Blackbird premieres it latest evening-length work, Olagón, which was developed with the help of composer and fiddler Dan Trueman, vocalist Iarla Ó Lionáird and Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Paul Muldoon. The expansive, 85-minute piece draws on traditional Irish and American folk music and incorporates electronic instruments.