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Lyric Opera of Chicago


Announcing Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2013-14 season!

Preview Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2013-14 season: Verdi’s Otello, Puccini’s Madama  Butterfly, Wagner’s Parsifal, Verdi’s La Traviata, Strauss’s, Die Fledermaus, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Dvorak’s Ruslka, and Mozart’s La Clemenza Di Tito.

200px-Civic_Opera_House_060528Exterior of the Civic Opera House

Lyric Opera of Chicago is one of the leading opera companies in the United States. It was founded in Chicago in 1954, under the name ‘Lyric Theatre of Chicago’ byCarol FoxNicolà Rescigno and Lawrence Kelly, with a season that included Maria Callas‘s American debut in Norma. The company was re-organized by Fox in 1956 under its present name and, after her 1981 departure, it has continued to be of one the major opera companies in the United States.

Opera in Chicago 1850-1951

The first opera to be performed in Chicago was Bellini’s La Sonnambula, presented by a traveling opera company on 29 July 1850.  Chicago’s first opera house opened in 1865 but was destroyed in the Great Fire of Chicago in 1870. The second opera house, the Chicago Auditorium, opened in 1889.  In 1929 the current Civic Opera House on 20 North Wacker Drive was opened, though the Chicago Civic Opera Company itself collapsed in the Great Depression. The old Auditorium continued to produce stage shows and musicals till it closed in 1941.

Lyric Opera, 1954 to 1980

Carol Fox, America’s first female opera impresario at the age of 28, began her first season in 1954 by bringing Maria Callasfor her American debut in the title role of Norma, the first of many electrifying Callas performances in Chicago. However, this first eight-opera season in 1954 was not the result of a long apprenticeship in opera production; Carol Fox, fluent in Italian and French, had studied opera singing for many years, culminating in two years of intensive work in Italy. However, when she realized that performance was not to be in her future, she decided that it lay in bringing the performances of the world’s finest artists to her home town of Chicago. Her success can be measured in one statistic regarding the filling of the Lyric’s Civic Opera House: in 1954, the season ran for three weeks; in 2007-2008 the Lyric had an almost six-month season.

Fox also used her formidable persuasive powers on artists other than singers: she was able to bring Rudolph Nureyev to make his debut on an American opera stage at the Lyric; Vera ZorinaAlicia MarkovaErik Bruhn and Maria Tallchief also danced at the Lyric, and George Balanchine created choreography for the Lyric. The Italian composer Pino Donati was her artistic director. Bruno Bartoletti was principal conductor, but other conductors included Tullio SerafinDimitri Mitropoulos and Artur RodzinskiChristoph von Dohnányi and Sir George Solti chose the Lyric for their American operatic debuts. Franco Zeffirelli staged operas as did Harold Prince.

Because of her illnesses and her refusal to lower her artistic standards despite the Lyric’s dire financial state in 1980, her resignation was sought and given. Carol Fox died a few months later, survived by a daughter Victoria.

It was of the Lyric’s founder that Saul Bellow wrote in 1979: “Miss Fox will be remembered, together with Jane Addams of Hull House and Harriet Monroe of Poetry magazine, as one of Chicago’s greatest women.”

Throughout the many years at the Lyric, Carol Fox developed the confidence and authority to bring the following world-famous artists to the Lyric: Luciano Pavarotti (56 performances in 7 roles), Tito GobbiEleanor SteberJussi BjörlingBirgit NilssonRenata TebaldiGiuseppe di StefanoGiulietta SimionatoRichard TuckerBoris ChristoffEileen FarrellDorothy KirstenLeonie RysanekLeontyne PriceElisabeth SchwarzkopfGeraint EvansMirella FreniNicolai GhiaurovAlfredo KrausRenata ScottoRobert MerrillJoan SutherlandChrista LudwigJon VickersMarilyn HorneGrace Bumbry,Monserrat CaballeTatiana TroyanosSherill MilnesPlácido DomingoFelicia Weathers and Jose CarrerasAnna Moffo also chose the Lyric for her American debut.

Later administrations, 1981 to the present

Carol Fox was succeeded at the Lyric by her longtime assistant manager, Ardis Krainik (1981–1996), after whom the opera house was named, and then by William Mason (1997–2011). Anthony Freud took over in October 2011.

Sir Andrew Davis is Lyric’s music director and principal conductor, a post he has occupied since in September 2000. He led three complete cycles of Der Ring des Nibelungen in the 2004-2005 season to mark the company’s 50th anniversary. Danny Newman was the company’s long-time press agent from 1954 until his retirement in the 2001/02 season; Newman is largely credited as the founder of subscription-based arts marketing, the standard economic model for not-for-profit arts organizations in the United States.  Philip David Morehead is head of music staff.

Production history

In addition to the standard operatic repertoire, Lyric also presents contemporary works. Recent productions have included Harbison’s The Great Gatsby (2000–2001), Weill’s Street Scene (2001–2002), and Floyd’s Susannah and Sondheim’sSweeney Todd (2002–2003), and John Adams‘ Doctor Atomic directed by Peter Sellars.

Composer William Bolcom wrote his most recent opera for Lyric, A Wedding, based on the 1978 film of the same name directed by Robert Altman. It premiered during Lyric’s 50th-anniversary season.

The Lyric Opera productions were broadcast and nationally syndicated by WFMT Radio Network, from 1971 until 2001. The broadcasts ceased then because of a labor dispute with the Chicago Federation of Musicians, American Guild Musical Artists and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, over broadcast fees for musicians. The dispute was resolved at the 11th hour for the October 21, 2006 premiere of Richard Strauss‘s opera Salome starring Deborah Voigt.

Syndicated broadcast of the Lyric Opera resumed in May 2007 on the WFMT network, which includes XM Satellite Radio.

Civic Opera House

250px-Lyric_Opera_of_Chicago_interiorThe Ardis Krainik Theatre – Civic Opera House

The company’s permanent home is the Civic Opera House, a building which it rented from 1954 until after the 1993 renovations. It is a 1929 structure with an Art Deco interior. Its 3,563-seat capacity makes it the second-largest opera auditorium in North America after the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. The interior was named The Ardis Krainik Theatrein 1996 in honor of Ardis Krainik, the former General Director, who was responsible for its renovation from 1993 onwards.

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