I thoroughly enjoyed the six nights that my wife and I recently spent in Chicago. It’s a very interesting city. I had spent surprisingly little time there until a trip a year or two ago on behalf of the College of Humanities at BYU, so this was fun.
Much of it, of course, was spent in the convention center at McCormick Place. I was, after all, there for a major academic conference. (I had to skip classes a week ago on Thursday, but, other than that, missed no class time: My courses this term — Introduction to Islam, The Qur’an in English, an Arabic grammar tutorial, and a directed Arabic readings course — are concentrated on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and, this week, BYU had scheduled Friday classes on the Tuesday prior to the Thanksgiving break.)
I was able to get away most evenings, though.
On Thursday night, when we arrived, we headed over to Berghoff’s for a wonderful German dinner. It was only 1.5 blocks from our hotel. Our hotel, by the way, was in the same building as the Bank of America Theater, where the Book of Mormon musical is shortly to begin its Chicago run. I was grateful that that play wasn’t yet in town, because I might have felt an obligation to see it (as, years ago, I saw Angels in America in New York), though I’m not particularly enthused about the idea.
On Friday night, we took in a performance of the musical Sister Act at the Auditorium Theater. Sister Act is an amusing piece of rather forgettable fluff; I was actually more interested in the architectural history of the Auditorium Building, which was designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. (I mentioned Sullivan’s little Holy Trinity Cathedral the other day. Sullivan was the model for the character of Henry Cameron in Ayn Rand’s 1943 novel The Fountainhead, just as his apprentice Frank Lloyd Wright was the prototype for Rand’s hero — and Cameron’s apprentice — Howard Roark.)
On Saturday night, we attended an excellent evening session, sponsored by the Evangelical Philosophical Society, on the theme of “External Confirmations of New Testament Historicity,” chaired by Craig Hazen (Biola University) and featuring Craig Evans (Acadia Divinity College), Craig Keener (Asbury Theological Seminary), Craig Blomberg (Denver Seminary), and — given his name, I have no idea how he managed to insinuate himself into the program (was William Lane Craig unavailable?) — J. J. Johnston ((Acadia Divinity College). Afterwards, a good dinner in the Theater District, at the Italian Village.
On Sunday night, we had stuffed Chicago-style pizza with my friend Scott Woolley and two of his sons, and then I gave a fireside at the stake center in Wilmette, north of Chicago. Nobody threw anything at me, so I guess it went well enough.
After our tour of the “Ukrainian Village” neighborhood on Monday, we basically relaxed for the evening. On Tuesday, though, following the conference and after walking where Barack Obama walked and having a farewell dinner at Berghoff’s and dipping in to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s magnificent lobby in the financial district’s Rookery Building, my wife and I, with Scott Woolley, attended a performance of Jules Massinet’s 1892 opera Werther — based upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1774 novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (“The Sorrows of Young Werther”) — by the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Given the overall plot of the opera (which follows the novel closely enough) — Werther threatens suicide, Werther threatens suicide again, Werther threatens suicide yet again, and then Werther commits suicide — I was amused to learn that its first complete recording, a recording that is still very highly regarded, was made in 1931 by Élie Cohen and the Orchestra and Chorus of . . . the Opéra-Comique. And a good time was had by all.