Gateway to Martin Theatre, Ravinia © Ravinia Festival
Gateway to Martin Theatre, Ravinia
© Ravinia Festival

Love is in the air in Ravinia this summer with a festival line-up under the banner “Summer of Love/ Season of Stars”. Set in 36 acres of parkland and sprawling lawn, Ravinia is the oldest outdoor music festival in the United States. Each season, up to 600,000 visitors travel to experience a diverse range of musical entertainment, with 120-150 concerts encompassing classical music, jazz and musical theatre.

The site was created in 1904 as an amusement park to lure people onto the railroads and has been used as a concert venue since 1911, with performances of opera added a year later. From 1919 to 1931 it saw the “Golden Age” of opera, featuring the world’s greatest stars, but fell silent during the Great Depression. In 1936, it became the summer home of the Chicago Symphony. Each season, the orchestra returns with a rich programme of music to delight festival-goers. Ravinia’s distinguished roster of music directors have included Seiji Ozawa, James Levine and Christoph Eschenbach. Current music director James Conlon has been in the post since 2005.

Lawn screens © Ravinia Festival
Lawn screens
© Ravinia Festival

Romance is the focus for the coming season, celebrated in three concerts which feature Shakespeare’s star-cross’d lovers Romeo and Juliet in one guise or another. Susanna Mälkki leads the orchestra through a selection of highlights from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet. When the score was first presented to the Bolshoi in 1935, it was claimed to be “undanceable”, but is now one of the standards of the ballet repertoire. Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture is part of a ‘Tchaikovsky Spectacular’ by the Chicago Symphony, which also features Russian virtuoso Denis Matsuev in the composer’s evergreen Piano Concerto no. 1 in B flat minor. Matsuev also gives a solo recital of romantic Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov which should not be missed.

The third incarnation of Shakespeare’s lovers transports us to New York and Leonard Bernstein’s classic musical West Side Story, with street gangs 'The Jets' and 'The Sharks' replacing Verona’s Montagues and Capulets. The Chicago Symphony performs Bernstein’s score to Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ film, which will is beamed on the giant Pavilion and lawn screens. Film composer David Newman makes his Ravinia debut as conductor.

Broadway has a further influences on the programming. Deborah Voigt, raised just outside Chicago, offers an evening of Broadway favourites covering hits from favourite shows such as My Fair Lady, The King and I, Carousel and Annie Get Your Gun. There’s also an evening devoted to Lerner and Loewe.

Ailyn Pérez © Paul Marc Mitchell
Ailyn Pérez
© Paul Marc Mitchell

Hollywood muscles in with an evening entitled ‘Classics go to the Movies’ which features classical music used on the silver screen. However, there are even more intriguing, if subtle, Hollywood links in this year’s programme. Erich Korngold was famous as one of the great composers of early film scores, such as Errol Flynn swashbucklers like The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk. However, he also wrote for the concert hall and his sumptuous String Sextet forms the climax of a lovely chamber concert featuring Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll and music by Korngold’s fellow Austrian Hanns Eisler. German baritone Matthias Goerne includes songs from Eisler’s Hollywood Songbook in a song recital on 31 July.

Ravinia’s proud opera tradition continues with a concert performance of Salome, in the year of Richard Strauss’ 150th anniversary, with Patricia Racette in the title role. Two Mozart operas are presented in semi-staged performances. A tempting cast assembles for Don Giovanni; baritone Christopher Maltman, who takes the title role, also starred in Kasper Holten’s film adaptation Don Juan. The Don won’t be the only one to fall for Ailyn Pérez’s Zerlina – fresh from three appearances this season with The Royal Opera, Pérez is a soprano set for stardom. Just as starry a cast is lined up for The Marriage of Figaro, with Stéphane Degout and Soile Isokoski as the Count and Countess and Lisette Oropesa as Susanna, opposite John Relyea’s Figaro. Both Mozart operas are conducted by James Conlon. 

A picnic on the lawn is the perfect way to enjoy the musical fare on offer. Be warned, though, that concerts take place rain or shine, so it’s best to be prepared for all weathers! There is even a Ravinia Weatherline visitors can phone to help with your planning.

For full information, visit the Ravinia Festival's website

Picnic panorama © Ravinia Festival
Picnic panorama
© Ravinia Festival

This article is sponsored by Ravinia Festival.