One of then-new Chicago Opera Theater general director Brian Dickie’s first acts in his inaugural 2000 season was to pair British conductor Jane Glover—who would go on to become music director of Music of the Baroque but was at the time unknown to Chicago—and New York stage director Diane Paulus—best known at the time for her off-Broadway disco version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” called “A Donkey Show”—to collaborate on Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” and initiate the first-ever area cycle of the three extant works of the man who invented musical theater as we now know it. That first “Orfeo” caused such a sensation that it went on to New York, something even a Lyric Opera production has never done, and the pair also ended up inaugurating a Mozart-DaPonte cycle as well, which will conclude next season with “Don Giovanni.” Meanwhile, this season sees the completion of the Glover/Paulus Monteverdi cycle with “The Return of Ulysses,” Monteverdi’s musical re-telling of the central section of Homer’s “Odyssey.” Happily, this highly anticipated production does not disappoint and on virtually every level is a remarkable experience. French mezzo-soprano Marie Lenormand brings the perfect pathos and gorgeous sound to the role of Ulysses’ long-suffering wife Penelope and British tenor Mark Le Brocq infuses the title character with the world-worn weariness and clear tone needed. The gods and mortals that surround them are creatively cast and benefit from Candice Donnelly’s stunning costumes and lighting designer Aaron Black’s clever use of color. The overall staging is significantly elevated by architect Rafael Vinoly’s unit set, a true work of art in itself. Glover and company make sure that the score is energetic and Italianate at all times. (Dennis Polkow)
“The Return of Ulysses” runs at Millennium Park’s Harris Theater, 205 East Randolph, (312)704-8414, through April 7. $35-$120.