“Bel Canto” premiere, “Wozzeck” and Fleming’s “Merry Widow’ on tap for Lyric Opera in 2015-16

Mon Feb 09, 2015 at 12:00 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Renee Fleming and Thomas Hampson wil star in Franz Lehar's "The Merry Widow" in the Lyric Opera's 2015-16 season.
Renée Fleming and Thomas Hampson will star in Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” in the Lyric Opera’s 2015-16 season.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago will enter its seventh decade with a world premiere, a Strauss evergreen, an Alban Berg tragedy, and Renée Fleming in a Lehar operetta.

“In designing a new Lyric season, our aim is to enthrall, entertain, excite, and stimulate, and to invite audiences to experience the unique magic of our art form,” said Lyric Opera general director Anthony Freud in a released statement. “Our 61st season offers the opportunity to be swept away by nine sensational productions, all of which are new to Chicago.”

Much interest has focused on the 2015-16 since it is the first season fully planned by general director Freud, who took the company reins in 2012. While the lineup is largely conservative—once again, no American opera is slated—the balance of repertory in the company’s 61st season, planned by Freud in conjunction with music director Sir Andrew Davis, is an adroit mix for the most part and bodes well for future seasons under the current leadership.

Most attention will, of course, be focused on the previously announced world premiere of Bel Canto by Peruvian composer Jimmy Lopez with a libretto by Nilo Cruz, based upon the best-selling novel by Ann Patchett. The story, about an opera singer held among hostages in a terrorist incident is, if anything, even more timely now then when the commission was announced three years ago. Curated by artistic advisor Fleming, the opera will open December 7 with Danielle de Niese leading a large cast that includes Jeongcheol Cha, Andrew Stenson, J’nai Bridges, Rafael Davila, William Burden and Anthony Roth Costanzo. Sir Andrew Davis will conduct the Lyric production, which will be directed by Kevin Newbury and designed by David Korins.

The season proper will open September 26 with Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Barbara Gaines, artistic director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, will direct, her second Lyric assignment after her well-received staging of Verdi’s Macbeth in 2010. The cast includes Luca Pisaroni as the Count, Amanda Majeski as the Countess, Adam Plachetka as Figaro, Christiane Karg as Susanna, and Rachel Frenkel as Cherubino. Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási will make his Lyric debut in the pit in a production deisgne by James Noone.

Rossini’s La Cenerentola will return to the Lyric boards October 4, with Isabel Leonard in the title role of Cinderella. Acclaimed Rossini tenor Lawrence Brownlee will make his house debut as Prince Ramiro, and Alessandro Corbelli sings Don Magnifico. Sir Andrew Davis will conduct this opera for the first time, in a Joan Guillen Houston-Cardiff staging overseen by general director Freud.

Alban Berg’s Wozzeck opens November 1 with Tomasz Konieczny in the title role of the psychologically damaged title soldier, with Angela Denoke as Marie, Gerhard Siegel as the Captain, and Stefan Vinke as the Drum Major. Davis conducts the David McVicar production.

Operetta returns to the Civic Opera House November 14 with a high-wattage cast for Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow, starring Renée Fleming in the title role and Thomas Hampson as her commitment-shy ex-lover Danilo. Susan Stroman’s production received a rough reception when unveiled at the Met on New Year’s Eve, but the star power and popularity of the music will likely make this show a hot ticket. The cast includes Heidi Stober and Michael Spyres as the secondary couple Valencienne and Camile, with Elizabeth Futral taking over the title role for the final three performances. Davis conducts, as he did in the recent Met premiere of the same production.

Verdi’s Nabucco will open the new year January 23 with Željko Lučić in the title role and Tatiana Serjan—who just completed her acclaimed Lyric run in Tosca—as Abigaille. Elizabeth DeShong, Sergey Skorokhodov and Dmitry Belosselskiy round out the cast. Carlo Rizzi conducts in an updated Alison Chitty production.

Richard Strauss’s sumptuous Viennese romance Der Rosenkavalier will open February 8 starring Amanda Majeski as the Marschallin, Christina Landshamer as Sophie, Matthew Rose as Baron Ochs, and Sophie Koch and Alice Coote alternating in the title ole of Octavian. Edward Gardner conducts the elegant, well-traveled Otto Schenk production.

Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette will close the Lyric Opera season in March. Susanna Phillips stars as Juliet with Joseph Calleja and Eric Cutler alternating in the role of Romeo, with the supporting cast of Marianne Crebassa, Joshua Hopkins and Christian Van Horn. Emmanuel Villaume conducts with Bartlett Sher directing the Michael Yeargan-Catherine Zuber production.

Placido Domingo and Ana Maria Martinez will join forces for a Lyric Opera concert January 9. And Dmitri Hvorostovsky returns for a solo recital February 26.

Lyric’s spring musical will be Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, opening April 29. All casting details are to be announced.

The season announcement was made at a Monday morning press conference at the Civic Opera House in which Anthony Freud and Andrew Davis took a wide range of questions from the assembled press. Freud said that he hoped Renee Fleming would continue in her current role as Lyric’s artistic advisor after her tenure expires and that they are in the early discussion phase of a renewal.

He also indicated that Baroque opera will not be neglected at Lyric despite its recent absence, hinting that one may be on the horizon in 2016-17.

Subscriptions for Lyric Opera’s 2015-16 season are now on sale. lyricopera.org; 312-827-5600.

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3 Responses to ““Bel Canto” premiere, “Wozzeck” and Fleming’s “Merry Widow’ on tap for Lyric Opera in 2015-16”

  1. Posted Feb 09, 2015 at 12:51 pm by Rick

    Sorry to counter what will be breathless enthusiasm from the fans, but I find little beyond Wozzeck and Bel Canto that brings opera into the 21st century. (Or for that matter the 20th century.) In Dublin there is a museum of natural history where all the specimens are stuffed or preserved in formaldehyde. It is known informally as, “The Dead Zoo.” I am feeling a connection here.

  2. Posted Feb 09, 2015 at 4:05 pm by Anne-Marie

    I beg to differ from Rick’s rather gloomy reaction to the Lyric 2015-16 season via a paraphrase of Abraham Lincoln, ” You cannot please all of the people all of the time, etc.” The roster strikes me as quite interesting. Not only does one get to revisit known and loved operas, some of them in entirely new productions or interpretations, but also experience a world premiere in “Bel Canto” and an infrequently produced work in “Wozzeck,” plus we have not seen “Nabucco” in over 20 years. With respect to the lament about the absence of American opera, did we not just have one in “Porgy and Bess”?

    Before banishing the classic works such as Mozart, Verdi, Strauss, into the realm of the “Dead Zoo” let us consider that if the long-term goal is to develop a new audience and potentially new contributors among the younger generation, then this demographic needs to be introduced to the repertoire that has survived the test of time.

    Are we to stop reading Shakespeare and focus only on 20th and 21st century works? Shall we abandon Beethoven and Brahms in favor of electronic works? I say, balance is called for along with innovation. Personally, I would not subscribe to a $1,000 season for some esoteric experiment in post-modern opera!

    Thus, I say bravo Lyric for the 2015-16 season. I would have loved to see Ildar, Anna, and Jonas on the list of artists but one can’t have everything in one year! There is enough ear and eye candy for every beholder.

  3. Posted Feb 10, 2015 at 1:44 pm by Jerry

    What will it take to bring a Heggie opera to Lyric? I’ve always wanted them to bring Dead Man Walking here. And although it’s near impossible, with Maestro Muti conducting just across town, how hard has Lyric tried to bring arguably the greatest Verdi interpreter alive to conduct a Verdi opera?

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