There is a long tradition of presenting operas via puppets in Central Europe, one of the reasons that these stories are so much more familiar to a broader public there than here. And though Schoenberg’s chamber-music song cycle “Pierrot lunaire” was not specifically written as an opera, his Expressionistic and eerie treatment of the legendary clown lends itself perfectly to staging, especially of the puppet variety. Calling “Pierrot” a “cabaret opera,” contemporary-music ensemble eighth blackbird will appear under lighting and in costume, as will soprano Lucy Shelton. But Pierrot himself will be a life-sized puppet whose movements will be elaborately controlled by three puppeteers under the direction of Blair Thomas. This is not, by the way, the 12-tone Schoenberg that still sends most audiences running away in terror, but the culmination of his post-Romantic and pre-serial Expressionist period and the work creates its hallucinatory soundscape with disarming intensity and manages to create its own other world as few works since. It remains, nearly a century after being composed, a contemporary-music icon on the level that Edward Munch’s “The Scream” is to art. The program will also include pieces by Derek Bermel and Jacob Druckman, which will also be staged with puppets. (Dennis Polkow)
“Pierrot lunaire” runs at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago, (312)280-2660, through April 1.