W(h)ither American opera?

Sun Jul 03, 2011 at 6:08 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

The Lyric Opera’s move into Broadway musicals — and away from American opera — raises questions of artistic vision

Lauren Flanigan (l) and Cynthia Lawrence in Marvin David Levy’s “Mourning Becomes Electra” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1998. Photo: Dan Rest

The appointment last April of Anthony Freud as the next general director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago was received positively by the local press as well as most informed observers. The 53-year old Englishman is a genial and engaging presence and was the clear choice of outgoing general director William Mason. Indeed, Mason made it clear at the press conference introducing Freud that he has been grooming his younger colleague to succeed him as chief on North Wacker Drive.

Perhaps most importantly for the Lyric Opera board that approved him, Freud has raised a staggering boatload of money in his tenure as general director of Houston Grand Opera, even more impressive in a city that was still reeling from the fallout of the Enron debacle.

Mason has left the Lyric in solid financial shape considering the extraordinarily difficult economic times (though the company had to dip into its reserves once again to balance its books, this year to the tune of $4.4 million). There’s little doubt that Freud seems well equipped to keep a firm hand on the fiscal tiller and steer the Lyric financially through the next decade.

But in addition to economic management, there is one crucial element necessary for successful leadership of an American opera company — a strong, acutely focused artistic vision and the means to go about realizing it. And, at this significant transitional time for the Lyric Opera’s leadership that vision remains very much an open question.

There’s no doubt that Bill Mason has maintained the high artistic standards that have long been a hallmark of the Chicago company under his predecessor and mentor Ardis Krainik. One can take issue with this or that production and quibble about some voices, but on the whole when one enters the Civic Opera House, you know you’re going to hear opera with music and production values on the highest international level. (Even if the 2011-2012 lineup offers the fewest big-name singers of any Lyric season in memory.)

Anthony Freud (left) and Bill Mason, the incoming and outgoing general directors of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo: Dan Rest

But there are two troubling elements of Mason’s tenure that raise crucial questions for his successor and the future artistic health of the Lyric Opera: the aggressive venture into Broadway musicals and the virtual abandonment of the company’s previous dedication to presenting American opera.

The Lyric’s production of Show Boat, scheduled to open next February, is the first fruit of its new populist initiative. With Nathan Gunn leading a strong cast, John DeMain conducting and Francesca Zambello directing, it will likely prove an excellent show (provided Zambello avoids the trendy revisionism that marred her Ring cycle in San Francisco this summer).

But the fact is that the Lyric Opera of Chicago is an opera company with a storied history of unwavering artistic integrity in presenting the greatest works on the highest level. And by venturing down the road of Broadway musicals in the search for “new” audiences, the Lyric is turning away from its principal mission and diverting its focus, risking damage to its reputation and turning off scores of longtime subscribers in the process.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Show Boat or (most) Broadway musicals. The genre remains one of America’s greatest contributions to the arts and a key part of our cultural heritage. In addition to providing a host of song standards, Jerome Kern’s ground-breaking work paved the way for later classics of the genre like Oklahoma, Carousel, West Side Story and Rent, demonstrating that musical theater can be a form for something deeper and more profound than college hi-jinx and flappers in spangly dresses.

But Show Boat is manifestly not an opera. The fact is there are dozens of theaters in the greater Chicago area that are presenting the great American musicals and doing a fine job of it. There is — or was — only one organization devoted exclusively to presenting the world’s finest operas on the grand scale.

Perhaps Show Boat will draw in the desired new audience members but at what cost? Does anyone seriously think that if a new patron buys a ticket to Show Boat that means they will buy a ticket for Tannhäuser the following season? More crucially, I have yet to meet any regular Lyric subscriber who is happy about Show Boat being on the subscription slate next season; I know several who are turned off by the move, and a few who have canceled their Lyric subscriptions because of it.

Presenting Broadway musicals is a rash decision taken in tough economic times; watering down the repertoire is not the future road for a truly great opera company. Among the three top American companies, only the Lyric Opera has ventured down this path, with both the Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera remaining fully and exclusively committed to the operatic literature.

The American musical is a rich, vibrant art form, bounteous with masterpieces that deserve to be treasured and performed over and over.

But so is American opera.

And this ill-advised turn toward musical theater will likely serve to accelerate the disappearance of our own operatic heritage at the Lyric. The company will now have a useful if rather lame response for any criticism of the lack of American rep since they can now say, “Yes, but we’re doing Oklahoma.”

Counting the forthcoming 2011-12 season, the Lyric Opera will have gone four years without presenting an American opera, since Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in 2008, the first great homegrown work in the genre. (The Lyric is presenting a one-off concert performance of Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire in 2012, starring the company’s creative consultant Renée Fleming in a work written for her, but that’s not a regular staged production.)

One can appreciate that in dire economic times musical organizations will be expected to program conservatively, and that Bohemes, Butterflys and Lucias will dominate the seasonal lineup of most opera companies.

But it’s still a depressing state of affairs both nationally and locally, especially for a company that carried the banner high for American repertoire less than a decade ago.

Sean Anderson and Heather Johnson in Sarasota Opera’s 2011 production of Robert Ward’s “The Crucible.”

There is a vast richness and remarkable variety in our own literally unsung operas and their continued neglect by the very America opera companies that should be staging them is nothing short of scandalous. A few regional companies have picked up the banner like Sarasota Opera, which launched a new American Classics series this year with Robert Ward’s The Crucible. Barber’s Vanessa will follow in 2012 and Floyd’s Of Mice and Men in 2013. If Sarasota can make an annual commitment to American opera, surely a company with the resources and institutional talent of the Lyric can do half as much.

In the 1990s under Ardis Krainik, the Lyric Opera launched a project to present a contemporary or American opera every season, an initiative that received both critical acclaim and popular success. Among the works performed were Marvin David Levy’s revised version of Mourning Becomes Electra, and several premieres including Dominick Argento’s The Voyage of Edgar Allen Poe, Anthony Davis’s Amistad and the triptych of William Bolcom commissions: McTeague, A View from the Bridge and A Wedding (the last debuting later in 2004).

The era also saw the Lyric delivering the Chicago premieres of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul, John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, and Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah. That doesn’t even count several works commissioned by the Ryan Opera Center (then the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists).

Yes, Amistad was a turkey, but the other works were all outstanding efforts, richly deserving revival. Levy’s Mourning Becomes Electra is among the finest of all American operas.

William Bolcom’s “A VIew from the Bridge” was commissioned by the Lyric Opera and premiered in 1999.

If a company can inflict a lousy British work like Sir Michael Tippett’s turgid The Midsummer Marriage on Chicago audiences why not revive great American operas deserving of advocacy, like Levy’s Mourning or Bolcom’s McTeague or A View from the Bridge — not to mention long-neglected works from previous generations like Howard Hanson’s Merry Mount or Deems Taylor’s Peter Ibbetson. How about offering the Chicago premieres of Floyd’s Cold Sassy Tree, Anton Coppola’s Sacco and Vanzetti, David Carlson’s Anna Karenina or Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick, the last very well received at its world premiere in Dallas last year.

In the past, Mason has countered questions about the Lyric’s sharply reduced commitment to American repertoire by saying that such “unusual” works are not cost-effective since they can’t sell enough tickets to pay for the cost of production or running the house.

Then why not do fewer performances at smaller, less expensive off-site venues like the Harris Theater and offer it as an extra-subscription spring event — as they plan to do with musicals? Why not start thinking creatively and imaginatively about ways to present our own neglected operatic heritage? As one of the top national opera companies, the Lyric has a responsibility to find a way to promote American opera and not to search for excuses to avoid doing so.

Sir Andrew Davis’s superb conducting has meant a great deal to the Lyric Opera’s success in the Mason era, but the British musician doesn’t appear to have much interest in or sympathy for American opera. So, how about bringing in guest conductors like Richard Buckley, Patrick Summers and Dennis Russell Davies, all proven and impassioned advocates for this repertoire?

If the Lyric Opera continues to evince little interest in bringing American opera to local audiences, that provides a choice opportunity for Chicago Opera Theater and Brian Dickie’s yet-to-be announced successor. COT could fill the void and create its own admirable niche by offering an American work every season, which would be a more worthy venture than drudging through the lesser efforts of Benjamin Britten. (We really do not need to hear Paul Bunyan.) It was Chicago Opera Theater, after all, that gave the local premiere of John Adams’ Nixon in China.

Perhaps Anthony Freud, who takes the reins at the Lyric Opera October 1, will eventually prove to be his own man and rethink the ill-advised musical theater initiative as well as spark a revival of American opera. But early indications are not promising. At his first press conference Freud endorsed unequivocally the Lyric’s move toward Broadway musicals. He also pointedly passed up an easy opportunity to say something encouraging about the future of American opera at the Lyric, instead merely acknowledging the company’s history of presenting domestic repertoire in the past.

Here’s hoping on this Fourth of July weekend that the Lyric’s new chief will demonstrate some creative independence and invest the Lyric Opera of Chicago with a fresh sense of purpose and vision — one that will build on the company’s history of artistic success while providing a renewed commitment to contemporary works and American opera, past and present.

The late Ardis Krainik’s project that did so much for American opera in the 1990s was titled “Towards the 21st Century.” It would be ironic indeed if in the second decade of that century American opera largely vanished from the Lyric Opera of Chicago stage.

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29 Responses to “W(h)ither American opera?”

  1. Posted Jul 03, 2011 at 7:09 pm by Norm Gates

    I disagree most strongly with this post. I am renewing my Lyric subscription mainly because of the production of Showboat. Get you nose out of the air and accept the full expanse of musical theatre.

  2. Posted Jul 04, 2011 at 6:22 am by Francesca Zambello

    Thank you to Mr. Norm Gates for speaking up in a constructive and positive fashion. Sadly Mr. Johnson is the kind of writer that will keep opera in the mothballs and away from any hope of seeing it in a 21st century context. (BTW, this does not mean I am advocating updating, rather a chance to for artists and audiences alike to keep discovering the incredible power of the art form and all its descendants!)

  3. Posted Jul 04, 2011 at 12:35 pm by Leslie Evans

    Lawrence Johnson makes good points. It’s not a question of “nose in the air” but of genre -American musicals are not the same as American opera. The Lyric is superbly equipped to do opera and that’s what they stick with rather than competing with the commercial theater.

  4. Posted Jul 04, 2011 at 2:11 pm by Daniel Kessler

    I read with interest the comment on the unfortunate turn the Lyric Opera is taking.

    I live in Manhattan…but occasionally travel to Chicago to witness works that the Met is not doing or has not done.

    For instance, I traveled to see the Lyric’s “Cunning Little Vixen” which I enjoyed and the Met has yet to offer it.

    Before that…I was in attendance for “Der Rosenkavalier” and Anne Schwanewilms’s Marschallin which has yet to appear at the Met.

    The announced Chicago Lyric lineup for me is a big turn-off…musicals…really when there are so many interesting operas that the Lyric could be exploring to greater effect.

    Don’t expect me to travel to Chicago for American musicals.

    Dan Kessler
    New York City

  5. Posted Jul 04, 2011 at 2:43 pm by Lawrence A. Johnson

    Anyone who’s familiar with my writing knows that I’m hardly a hidebound absolutist set against directors updating operas or presenting them in a fresh context. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t. Often, as with Peter Sellars’ Hercules at Lyric last season, they work for half of the evening and not the other half.

    There are two key issues with updating operas: 1. Is the production generally faithful to the composer’s intent? and 2. Does it work? While I thought the first two operas in Ms. Zambello’s San Francisco Ring cycle were largely successful, I had issues with some staging elements in Siegfried and felt the Gotterdammerung failed on both counts. I’m happy to continue that discussion on the relevant Ring review pages on The Classical Review.

    The point of this column is that American musicals are not exactly withering on the vine for lack of performances. American opera, unfortunately, is. There is no richer nor more neglected part of our cultural heritage. These important works deserve to be promoted and performed regularly by all our leading opera companies–not just because they are written by American composers but because the best of them are damn good works—vital, alive, deep, and indigenously American in their melodic contour and comfort in the populist vernacular.

    Audiences do respond positively to American operas as did Chicagoans to the operas premiered at the Lyric in the 1990s — provided a company has the fortitude to present them. You couldn’t buy a ticket for the Met’s sold-out Nixon in China last season. And San Francisco Opera is opening its season this fall with the world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis’ Heart of a Soldier (also to be directed by Zambello).

    If anything, it is an opera company’s apparent reversion to Broadway musicals in the hope of better box office at the expense of American and/or contemporary opera that is more likely to “keep opera in the mothballs and away from any hope of seeing it in a 21st-century context.”

  6. Posted Jul 04, 2011 at 4:38 pm by Francis

    There is no question that repertory has been shrinking in Chicago and elsewhere in America. It is a dismal trend where even Janacek is now “challenging.” A vital role of an opera company is to broaden the artistic vision of the public. Any organization who seeks only the “comfort zone” of its public has no artistic soul and is doomed to extinction.

  7. Posted Jul 05, 2011 at 1:01 pm by Peter van de Graaff

    Hear, hear. Well said, Larry. I agree with each and every point you make.

  8. Posted Jul 05, 2011 at 1:46 pm by tep

    What about Baby Doe? and if we’re going to do musicals, Most Happy Fella.

  9. Posted Jul 05, 2011 at 2:44 pm by Craig Cruz

    I’m glad to see some mention of the situation in cities other than Chicago. I try to see every American opera I can in San Francisco (where I live) and have already bought tickets to 2 performances of “Heart of a Soldier.”

    There are so many American operas out there, screaming for revival. I’d love to see another production of “Appomattox,” and would travel to another city to do so, if necessary. Too many new operas are premiered and discarded. To be fair, that has been the case in the US for at least 100 years, but it’s a situation I think is well overdue for changing.

    I do put the blame squarely on the leaders of opera companies. I understand that world premieres are costly and a gamble. Co-productions/co-commissions are one solution, I believe (optimistically), as evidenced by “Moby Dick.” Four productions in 3 years! “The Golden Ticket” seems to be getting a lot of interest and multiple stagings, too. Share the commission and share the costs. Please.

    Re: the point about musical theater in the opera house: I’m not a big fan and I hope it’s a trend that doesn’t reach San Francisco. I’d love to see “Showboat,” but think there are other venues — many other venues — where it could be staged. Stage it in the opera house, even, just not under the auspices of the opera company (i.e., during a dark month when the Company isn’t using the house).

  10. Posted Jul 05, 2011 at 2:47 pm by Craig Cruz

    I wanted to mention that I LOVED the recent SF Opera “Ring,” including the updating of the setting. I’ll make any more comment I have on this production on the blog thread devoted to the cycle, but I wanted to respond here, too, since Mr. Johnson brought it up in his original post.

  11. Posted Jul 05, 2011 at 4:40 pm by Starving Artist

    Thank you Mr. Johnson for proving that you are not on the Lyric’s payroll as some of the other critics appear to be that are associated with other publications in the City of Chicago.

    This is a great concern as the Lyric consistently over the past 3 to 4 years has “dumbed down” not only its season with the addition of musical theater but the lack of quality casts.

    The reason people aren’t renewing subscriptions and tickets aren’t because of lack of interest, it is because of lack of quality and vision. Why see Lyric when you can go to see a Met broadcast with all the stars you want to see for a fraction of the cost? Lyric has no new marketing ideas, no new American premieres, and no idea of where they want to go. Sure keeping costs low for a viable future is important,but with less rehearsal time, employing more and more Apprentice artists and alumni, and incorporating American Musical theater is jeopardizing the reputation it took so long to establish.

    It would be as if a Lexus Dealership sold you a base model Toyota, slapped the Lexus logo on it, and charged Lexus prices. They hope you are either too dumb to notice the changes, or just accept that these are tough times for the arts and blindly keep writing checks.

    I hope Mr. Freud has the strength to stand up to a very controlling board and has the strength and vision to lead this company to the future. The patrons deserve the best when they pay the best prices…..

  12. Posted Jul 05, 2011 at 7:51 pm by Stefan Westerhoff

    I wholeheartedly agree with this article. Over the years, the number of performances per year that I attend at Lyric has steadily gone down, and next season, it’s probably going to hit zero. It’s not just that the 21st century is missing in action – the 20th century is represented by Ariadne and Showboat! This can’t be serious. It is amazing that someone like Davis doesn’t seem to be interested in promoting new operas or even “modern classics.” I understand that Lyric needs to play it safe in the current climate, but there is a fine line between playing it safe and becoming irrelevant.

    Regarding the trend towards Broadway, let me add that playing a show like Showboat in the vast 3500-seat Civic Opera House sounds like a recipe for disaster.

  13. Posted Jul 05, 2011 at 8:51 pm by Kristen

    With all due respect to Ms Zambello, I hardly think that presenting musicals written over 50 years ago is a way to keep opera out of “mothballs.” I wholeheartedly agree that musical theater should be presented regularly – but not by the Lyric. The Lyric has the standing and the resources to do opera as well as any house in the country, if not better; why not delve deeper into the incredible art form for which the house was intended, rather than falling back on an easy way to sell tickets? In addition, other companies in the area (Light Opera Works, for example) already present the musical theater repertoire extremely well; the Lyric risks hurting these other companies by presenting similar rep, and reducing the overall arts offering in the area in the long run.

  14. Posted Jul 05, 2011 at 11:07 pm by Frustrated Patron

    Thank you Mr. Johnson for writing this article. I hope that someone in the Ivory Towers at Lyric reads this article, and the comments, and re-thinks, or begins to think, about what is going on at Chicago Lyric Opera. If they were to leave the closed circles that surrounds them and walk out of the opera house with the patrons they would hear that people are less and less satisfied with the product that Lyric is presenting. I do not think that artistic vision has anything to do with the push for Musical Theater. Someone at Lyric has read statistics and graphs and found that opera attendance has gone down while musical theater is drawing more people into its houses. They hope to sell more tickets to a broader base. The problem is that they are losing the faithful opera goers by watering down the quality of what they are supposed to be doing, OPERA.

    It used to be that artists had to practice their trade in many different houses and earn a reputation before singing a lead role at Lyric. That is no longer the case. Lyric’s casts are quickly going from a “who’s who of opera” to a “who’s that of opera”. Costs could be some of the reason but a “that’s good enough” attitude is the main cause. I hope that the new General Manager is able to recognize this and change the attitudes from within. Someone needs to run Lyric that actually loves the art form. Someone that knows the history of the art form and is able to make it relevant to today’s audience.

  15. Posted Jul 06, 2011 at 11:01 am by Paul Cohan

    I both enjoy and value Mr. Johnson’s criticism and this web site. I agree with the thrust of his original article.

    I do have one comment on his reply

    “The point of this column is that American musicals are not exactly withering on the vine for lack of performances. American opera, unfortunately, is. There is no richer nor more neglected part of our cultural heritage.”

    What about jazz?

  16. Posted Jul 06, 2011 at 12:05 pm by Lawrence A. Johnson

    There are plenty of clubs where one can go to hear jazz in Chicago. Not sure where one would go to hear an American opera.

  17. Posted Jul 06, 2011 at 12:10 pm by jizungu

    An anecdote that some may find suggestive:

    Last month my mate & I decided to treat ourselves to a trip to the Opera Theater of St. Louis. Three operas were on offer during our visit: Daughter of the Regiment; Don Giovanni; The Death of Klinghoffer. Guess which one had the fewest seats available?

    With the money I’ve saved by no longer attending the boring rep at LOC, my annual trip to St Louis is an affordable luxury.

  18. Posted Jul 06, 2011 at 12:16 pm by Corliss Phillabaum

    90 miles to the north, Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera has been including an American opera in its THREE OPERA season remarkably often in recent years, including Elmer Gantry two years ago, Rio de Sangre (a world premiere of an American opera despite the title) last year, and Susannah in the coming season. In addition, Milwaukee’s Skylight Opera Theatre will premiere a new opera by Kirk Mechem based on The Rivals to open their season.

    I’m still a Lyric Opera subscriber, but the long trip south is getting less attractive as Lyric’s seasons keep getting watered down. Musicals are a wonderful art form, but they are no substitute for operas at the Lyric–and in addition, presenting them in a 3500 seat opera house doesn’t do justice to their distinctive qualities.

  19. Posted Jul 06, 2011 at 1:10 pm by Craig Brown

    I would also like to point out that both the Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera are in DIRE financial straights. Both are running VERY low on cash. Yes, they may be presenting new works, but it’s at the cost of their long-term viability and stability. Yes, also Mr. Mason’s programming choices are on the conservative side, but he’s retiring now. Why insult the man on his way out? I’m looking forward to Mr. Freud’s leadership and pledge to give him a fair chance to succeed.

  20. Posted Jul 06, 2011 at 1:48 pm by Annette McMullen

    Although San Francisco Opera’s repertoire is often adventuresome, the Metropolitan’s is decidedly not. How many years has it taken Nixon in China to be presented at the Met? Can anyone name a premiere of a work other than The Last Emperor or Ghosts of Versailles at the Met in the last twenty years? I have to travel hours to get to an opera house. I don’t do that to see a musical.

  21. Posted Jul 07, 2011 at 9:12 am by Robert Kolt

    The comments concerning the recent Sarasota Opera production of Robert Ward’s “The Crucible” are the best argument in this article as to the fallacy of believing that Broadway musicals can ever replace good American operas.

    I accompanied the composer, Robert Ward, to that production in Sarasota, and we both thought it was absolutely superb in every respect. And the capacity audiences were extremely appreciative!

    If a good regional company like Sarasota can make American operas a success, there is no reason the Chicago Lyric can’t do it.

    I think that the Lyric will find that its audience base, as a whole, will prefer good productions of American operas, rather than Broadway musicals. And Sarasota is the proof!

  22. Posted Jul 08, 2011 at 12:15 pm by Lawrence A. Johnson

    On the same topic, check out Anthony Tommasini’s thoughtful New York Times article on the essential genre differences between opera and musicals.

  23. Posted Jul 09, 2011 at 12:19 am by Andrew Patner

    Dear “Starving Artist”: You wrote to me at *my* website but jiggered your e-mail address so that I could not respond to you, even while preserving your anonymity. Some of your points and questions to me and raised here were and are good ones, but hiding behind anonymous names and suggesting here that I and the critic for the Chicago Tribune “appear to be” “on the Lyric’s payroll” is not a very effective or nice way to get your points across. Thanks and apologies for the use of your real estate, Larry!

  24. Posted Jul 11, 2011 at 11:10 am by Marcus Overton

    I’m not sure what you mean by “Chicago premiere”, but if you mean the first performance of a given opera in Chicago, then you may not realize that SUSANNAH was given its Chicago premiere by the short-lived Metropolitan Opera Studio, during its first touring season. The performance took place in the Civic Opera House (in September or October – it was a long time ago) in 1967, the year that there was no Lyric Opera season due to an unresolved labor dispute between company founder – and Ardis Krainik’s then-boss, Carol Fox and Local 10-208, AFM. I hope I recall accurately that the Susannah was Maralin Niska. And it was a terrific evening in the theatre.
    The rest of Mr.Johnson’s post is interesting, but lacks perspective for those of us who may have greater age and longer memories.

  25. Posted Jul 18, 2011 at 2:21 pm by Nikolas Tribe

    Very valid and well-made points. I appreciate your perspective and consider it to be of great importance.
    As a college student in 1986, when LA Opera was just getting off the ground, I attended a production of “Oklahoma” with Jean Stapleton(!) as Aunt Eller. However, the great singing combined with the American classic was pure magic, and made me want to come back and enjoy many more opera productions over the years. Having Domingo also helped, but they never went back to producing musicals, at least that I can recall. Oklahoma probably helped build up a base of fans as well as a fledgling opera company. While not a marriage made in heaven, musicals can be a gateway to those who are intrigued by the “seriousness” of opera and want to see what it is all about. In the end, it will hopefully help to pay the bills for the lesser attended operas, and that is the bottom line. It is sad to see it as a sell-out, so let’s promote it as the needed revenue producer it is. If successful enough, it will once again no longer be needed.
    I wish you all much success in your efforts in Chicago to produce American operas and the classics.

  26. Posted Jul 20, 2011 at 9:15 am by Bruce Gober

    I agree with the article. Moreover, I don’t need to pay these prices for a musical that will be more appropriately seen in a traditional playhouse. Finally, Phillip Glass works are quite popular . . . Lyric has done one and essentially sold out.

  27. Posted Jul 24, 2011 at 10:18 am by Jason McVicker

    For years, Lyric has solicited feedback from subscribers about repertoire and our openness to having Broadway musicals and operettas included in the season lineup. I have forcefully and vociferously voiced my opposition to this idea and think it seriously undermines LOC’s mission and reputation as a major opera company.

    Unlike the Metropolitan Opera or Wiener Staatsoper, Lyric is limited to 8 works per season and should use every available resource to produce works that are truly representative of the vast operatic literature. I do not believe that producing SHOW BOAT and OKLAHOMA is consistent with the aims of a serious opera company. In the meantime, many important operatic works await their Lyric Opera premiere, including GUILLAUME TELL, RUSALKA, LES TROYENS and WAR AND PEACE. Furthermore, there are organizations in the Chicago area that do specialize in Broadway musicals and Lyric is undermining their unique contribution to the artistic life of the city.

    Over time, I have come to feel profoundly unheard by the management of Lyric Opera. Its current policies, combined with apologetic rhetoric for how “intimidating” opera as art form is and the “patronizing” manner in which education is offered, have only served to alienate and frustrate me as a dedicated patron.

    For the reasons cited above, I did not renew my season subscription. I will invest my time and money in opera companies that can adapt to “21st century realities” without ‘dumbing down’ and throwing its loyal subscriber base under the bus.

  28. Posted Aug 10, 2011 at 12:13 pm by Katherine Abelson

    The mounting of a new Francesca Zambello directed Showboat with luxury operatic casting is hardly an attempt to destroy American Opera, but an opportunity to celebrate the great American Songbook with great operatic voices. Think of it as the way the Volksoper of Vienna presents lighter operas in tandem with great musicals to the audiences delight.

  29. Posted Aug 12, 2011 at 10:08 am by Jason McVicker

    “Luxury operatic casting?” Huh? Ashley Brown, LOC’s choice for Magnolia, is a Broadway star. And the rest is not what I’d call ‘luxe.’ The analogy to the Volksoper is all wrong. The Volksoper is meant to compliment the work of the Wiener Staatsoper, where the focus is exclusively on performing opera. If Lyric would like to cede its role as a serious opera company in Chicago to some other entity that is dedicated to strictly opera and continue to specialize in Broadway musicals and operettas, then you might have an argument. Mounting SHOWBOAT may not be the ultimate salvo that sinks opera as art form in this country but it is definitely a nail in the coffin. And now LOC is inviting a strike by threatening already beleaguered union members with further cuts and reductions.

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