Author Archive: David Kubiak

Some Roman Restaurants, a Thanksgiving Visit to the Eternal City

All serious visitors to Rome have a place that they always considered their personal find, but whose existence is inevitably revealed to the world at large, with a resulting change in ambience. Mine is Ristorante Pietro Valentini, just a few steps from the Hotel Portoghesi, where I have often stayed. This is the classic establishment of its sort – family run, and exactly seven tables in the place. But what set Pietro’s apart has always been the quality of the food and the supreme friendliness of Simona, the daughter-in-law of the family, who manages the room. Since the last time I was there the Internet had taken up the restaurant, and indeed some things were different on this trip. An American couple sent there by the concierge at the Excelsior sat in front of me. That did not bother me as much as the absence of two rituals that opened a meal at Pietro’s…

Lohengrin Revived at the Lyric Opera of Chicago

Totem poles in Lohengrin. Photo Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago.

This year’s production of Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin was only the second mounted by the Lyric Opera of Chicago in its history. The Ring, Tristan, and Parsifal have been seen multiple times on Wacker Drive since the 1950’s, but what is usually thought to be Wagner’s most accessible opera was not performed until 1980, a pedestrian premiere memorable only for Eva Marton in her prime as Elsa. The psychological complexities of the later works have generally commanded more attention in the post-war musical world, and the fairy-tale Lohengrin inevitably began to seem old-fashioned, a victim of jokes about Slezak and Melchior hauled upstream by swan boats. But Wagner achieved in Lohengrin a purity of lyric expression, both tender and ardent, not found in any of his other compositions, and always a pleasure to encounter again. Perhaps rightly, it was the Italianate Lohengrin of Plácido Domingo in 1984 that drew the serious attention of New York audiences back to the piece, and then Ben Heppner and Deborah Voigt in the controversial 1998 production conceived by Robert Wilson. That staging cut through accumulated theatrical tradition by adopting a highly stylized Kabuki-like form, both in the sets and the singers’ movements. (Ben Heppner has claimed that his vocal problems began with this production and the unnatural singing positions he was forced into.) What Lyric Opera audiences saw in February and March was, as is usual in Chicago, hardly so challenging.

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