Lyric Opera must be “relevant” and reach new audiences, says director

Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 11:18 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Anthony Freud made his first public appearance as the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s incoming general director Thursday afternoon. Photo: Dan Rest

In his first public appearance Thursday afternoon, the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s incoming general director praised his predecessor William Mason, said that opera should be provocative and indicated that Broadway musicals are here to stay at 20 N. Wacker Drive.

Thursday’s planned announcement that Freud would be leaving Houston Grand Opera  to take the top job in Chicago was leaked in Houston late Wednesday, leading to a flurry of overnight internet stories and postings. Still the 53-year-old administrator was the picture of unflappable English courtesy  in his spoken remarks and informal conversation with the press before Thursday afternoon’s press conference.

Not much news came out of the tightly scripted remarks, apart from outgoing general director William Mason indicating that Freud had been his choice all along and that he had served as a mentor of sorts to his British colleague, even before he left Welsh National Opera to become general director in Houston in 2005.

No specifics were offered or expected on programming or new initiatives Thursday, but Freud’s comments may be telling for the direction he plans to take the company.

Comparing Houston Grand Opera’s long history in commissioning and performing American operas  — a commitment less in evidence at Lyric Opera in recent seasons — Freud was asked if Chicago could expect a revival of American repertoire.

He responded that the Lyric also has a history of commissioning and supporting American works and that such repertoire “is part of  the national fabric,” while remaining noncommittal about any resurgence of  contemporary or American rep under his watch.

Still, while he promised no broadening of the repertoire, Freud spoke enthusiastically of the positive audience reaction to the Houston premiere of Dead Man Walking this past January — the acclaimed Jake Heggie opera that has been performed in most major cities across the country except Chicago. The engaging 53-year-old Englishman also said the Lyric should present “thought-provoking and even provocative” productions.

Freud repeatedly stressed the need for the Lyric Opera to appeal to a broader nontraditional audience and to not be a “generic” opera company. “In order to thrive,” he said, “the Lyric must be relevant and accessible to a wider public.”

Also, befitting his status as Mason’s chosen successor, Freud said that the Lyric Opera’s venture into presenting American musicals was “something to be celebrated” and that he fully  supports that initiative.

Earlier Thursday, Freud received a unanimous vote of support for the new position by the Lyric Opera board of directors.  He will take up his position Oct. 1, opening night of the company’s 2011-2012 season.

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2 Responses to “Lyric Opera must be “relevant” and reach new audiences, says director”

  1. Posted Apr 22, 2011 at 9:37 am by Eddie Lew

    Yes, bring on new operas, even experiment, but do not try to reinvent the wheel: Opera’s four-hundred-year history is the proof, great voices sell.

    I hope this article isn’t a panicked, knee jerk-reaction by the Lyric Opera to dumb down opera for the increasing musically uneducated audience. Mr. Freud must lead and educate, not pander. The Lyric has a glorious history (as a “generic” opera house?) of great singing; I hope Mr. Freud’s plans do not erase it with novelty. The way to bring people into the opera house is to nurture and present great voices. Beware the over-educated directors (and general managers) who question the “relevence” of the form and cast by dress size, instead of vocal qualification.

  2. Posted Apr 23, 2011 at 4:09 pm by Andy

    He is a good choice. Now bring The Fly and Moby Dick to Chicago. Stop booking Voigt.

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