Review: Lyric Opera offers up a sweet celebration of Bernstein at 100

Chicago Tribune
March 11, 2018

For all the larger-than-life fame Leonard Bernstein achieved on the podium, on television and in everything else this multifaceted musician did, Bernstein the composer was deeply torn between his need to be at once the George Gershwin and the Gustav Mahler of his era.

The iconic status he achieved as the most important American musician of the 20thcentury simply wasn’t enough for this protean figure: This revered composer of “West Side Story” longed to be taken seriously as a composer of concert and operatic works, and the frequent belittling of those works by critics bothered him greatly.

The flood tide of performances, publications, recordings and events from all corners of the world (including, this summer and beyond, at Ravinia) during the 2018 Bernstein centennial celebration promises to correct this perceptual imbalance. Too bad Bernstein, who died in 1990, won’t be around to witness it.

Lyric Opera kept the focus on Bernstein the master of American musical theater with its hugely entertaining tribute concert, “Celebrating 100 Years of Bernstein,” Saturday night at the Lyric Opera House. This was no grab bag of greatest hits, but an intelligently planned, well-directed (by Peggy Hickey), skillfully performed selection of familiar and unfamiliar Bernstein vocal works.

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