The Light in the Piazza: a Study in Contrasts

When mother and daughter take a vacation to Italy, what can possibly go wrong? Turns out... everything...

The Local Tourist tickets for two for the opening night of The Light in the Piazza compliments of Lyric Opera of Chicago.

The Chicago engagement of the new traveling production of The Light in the Piazza began at the Lyric Opera House December 14. The production stars Renée Fleming as Margaret Johnson. Joining her in the Windy City is Solea Pfeiffer as Clara.

Clara and Margaret in Florence (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Clara and Margaret in Florence (Photo by Liz Lauren)

Olivier winner Alex Jennings reprises his performance as Signor Naccarelli after appearing in the Daniel Evans-helmed production’s world premiere in London. The cast also includes Rob Houchen as Fabrizio, Marie McLaughlin as Signora Naccarelli, and Malcolm Sinclair as Roy Johnson—all three having performed in the London and Los Angeles engagements.

Clara and Fabrizio Take a Walk (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Clara and Fabrizio Take a Walk (Photo by Liz Lauren)

Rounding out the cast are Suzanne Kantoski as Franca and Eric Sciotto as Giuseppe, as well as Rhona McGregor, Matthew Woodyatt, Jordan Castle, Nicholas Duncan, Chlöe Hart, Molly Lynch, Tom Partridge, and Monica Swayne. Kimberly Grigsby conducts the Lyric Opera Orchestra.

The story takes place in Florence in the summer of 1953. As American Margaret Johnson and her daughter Clara take in the city’s wonders, a fateful gust of wind whisks Clara’s hat into the hands of local dreamer Fabrizio Naccarelli… and it’s amore at first sight. But Clara isn’t quite what she appears, and soon they must all confront a secret that’s been kept in the shadows for far too long.

Margaret Johnson Finds Her Peace (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Margaret Johnson Finds Her Peace (Photo by Liz Lauren)

What appears on the surface to be nothing more than a romantic story of young love slowly dissolves into a more tragic tale involving a past accident with serious consequences, dark family secrets, deception, and a conflict between maternal love and responsibility and an innocent girl’s physical and emotional desires as she becomes aware of her awakening sexuality.

Fleming presents her character Margaret Johnson as insecure and doubting, a change in perception for some, I imagine. The powerhouse soprano is matronly and a bit of a stereotypical American tourist. Her concern for her daughter’s wellbeing and acceptance by others is urgent and palpable. Stunningly costumed, Ms. Fleming carries the powerful production from first note to last.

Clara and Fabrizio (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Clara and Fabrizio (Photo by Liz Lauren)

Solea Pfeiffer’s Clara is winningly naive. At first glance, naive is all she is. But the consequences of a childhood accident soon reveal that Clara isn’t well. Ms. Pfeiffer communicates her character’s angst and confusion exquisitely, her longing for love and the search for what sets her apart are urgent and child-like. 

The Light in the Piazza raises some poignant questions in this the age of consent and “Me Too” movement. Those questions are relevant and aren’t at all answered within the production, leaving the audience to think for themselves. The show is well worth seeing just for that reason.

The Light in the Piazza is now playing at Lyric Opera located inside historic Civic Opera House at 20 North Upper Wacker.

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