Lyric Opera to offer a balanced, conservative lineup next season, with 11% fewer performances

Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 5:34 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Photo: Terrence McCarthy/San Francisco Opera.
Thomas Hampson as Macbeth. Photo: Terrence McCarthy/San Francisco Opera.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago announced its 2010-2011 lineup Tuesday, which adroitly mixes populist repertory with less-often-heard works by Wagner and Britten as well as a Handel opera new to the company stage.

The season will open October 1 with a new production of Verdi’s Macbeth starring Thomas Hampson as the murderous Scottish king, and soprano Nadja Michael as his equally homicidal spouse. Barbara Gaines, artistic director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, will make her opera directorial debut, with Renato Palumbo conducting.

Kate Aldrich as Carmen
Kate Aldrich as Carmen

Next up will be the company’s box-office season insurance with a double run of Bizet’s Carmen, opening Oct 13. Fast-rising mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich will make her Lyric debut, as will Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee as Don Jose, with Elaine Alvarez returning as Micaela. In the March performances Nadia Krasteva makes her Lyric bow as the Gypsy temptress, with Brandon Jovanovich as Don Jose and Nicole Cabell as Micaela. French conductor Alain Altinoglu will also make his Lyric debut with John Copley directing.

After the absence of a decade, Benjamin Britten’s music will return to the Lyric stage Nov. 5, with a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, starring David Daniels as Oberon, Anna Christy as Tytania, Peter Rose as Bottom and Kelley O’Connor (debut) as Hipployta. Rory Macdonald will debut in the pit with Neil Armfield as stage director.

More Verdi is up next with a new production of Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball) opening Nov. 15. Frank Lopardo will enter into heavier Verdi territory as Gustavo with Sondra Radvanovsky as Amelia, Mark Delavan as Renato and Stephanie Blythe as Ulrica. Asher Fisch will conduct, with Renata Scotto directing.

For better or worse, the Lyric will continue its annual operetta production with Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado with—amazingly—James Morris in the title role and Stephanie Blythe as Katisha, joined by Toby Spence (debut) as Nanki-Poo, Neil Davies as Ko-Ko and Andriana Chuchman as Yum-Yum. Sir Andrew Davis will conduct, with Gary Griffin directing the new production.

La fanciulla del west will be the Puccini offering for 2011, opening Jan. 22 with Deborah Voigt as Minnie, Marcello Giordani as Dick Johnson and Marco Vratogna (debut) as Rance. Davis will conduct with Vincent Liotta directing the celebrated Harold Prince production.

Wagner’s Lohengrin retruns to the Lyric boards Feb. 11 with Johan Botha as the mysterious knight, and Emily Magee and Amber Wagner, alternating as Elsa, with Michaela Schuster as Ortrud and Greer Grimsley as Telramund rounding out the cast. Davis conducts, and Elijah Moshinsky will direct the production.

The season will close with the sole work new to the Lyric repertory, Handel’s Hercules. Eric Owens will star with Alice Coote as Dejanira and David Daniels as Lichas, with Harry Bicket conducting and Peter Sellars directing a new production.

Renee Fleming, absent from the Lyric Opera stage in recent seasons, will return for a Subscriber Appreciation Concert Dec. 12.

Prime seats may be a harder commodity next season for single-ticket buyers. At Tuesday afternoon’s press conference, general director William Mason announced that the Lyric was reducing its total number of performances by 11%, from 77 to 68 in 2010-2011. “It’s purely an economic decision,” he said, adding that expenses need to be trimmed and the reduction in live nights at the Lyric reflects the national trend in mounting fewer performances to address slowing ticket sales and subscriptions.

Asked about the continuing absence of American operas and contemporary works from the Lyric stage, Mason held out little hope of that situation changing anytime soon, citing the current economic pressures the company is faced with. “The fact is those works do not sell as well as the more traditional operas,” he said. Ticket sales for the current season are running 13% behind last season.

In good news for subscribers, the Lyric Opera has held the line on subscription prices with a four-opera series still starting at $96 and a full eight-opera package starting at $192. Call 312-332-2244 or go online to

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2 Responses to “Lyric Opera to offer a balanced, conservative lineup next season, with 11% fewer performances”

  1. Posted Jan 27, 2010 at 4:55 pm by Greg Sarchet

    Over 17% less performances in 2010-11 season than in the late 1990’s.

  2. Posted Jan 29, 2010 at 1:52 pm by Lori Dana

    As a marketing professional and new subscriber (2009-2010 is my first season as a subscription holder), I understand the value of Lyric altering it’s schedule and diversifying it’s subscription offerings. Subscription marketing innovations allowed me to finally pursue the interest in opera that I have had for a number of years.

    I believe that Lyric is akin to a museum in that it not only preserves a classic musical genre for future generations, but it has a responsibility to educate it’s patrons and the public at large about exciting and innovative new works. In order to accomplish this goal (and ensure it’s survival by perpetuating it’s audience), Lyric must continually seek out compelling marketing strategies.

    A recent article on increased museum attendance in Crain’s Chicago Business pointed out the following:

    “The report also showed a significant increase in the number of people coming to the museum and zoos on free days. That was up 24% to just over 1.4 million in 2009.”

    In light of next year’s performance cuts, perhaps this is also a valid marketing idea for Lyric Opera. Do one free performance per season. Tickets for non-subscribers (or perhaps for potential patrons age 30 and under?) reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. THAT might cultivate a new, younger audience for the opera! I hope the administration and board at Lyric consider what similar increases in attendance could mean for the future of grand opera in Chicago…

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