Lyric Opera of Chicago

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Inside the BEL CANTO working sessions

The week of July 7, the creative team for Lyric's world premiere opera Bel Canto  (opening in 2015!), gathered in Chicago for several days of intensive work on the project. Read on to get a glimpse of this work-in-progress.

The week of July 7, the creative team for Lyric's world premiere opera Bel Canto (opening in December 2015!), gathered in Chicago for several days of intensive work on the project. Composer Jimmy López, librettist Nilo Cruz, and director Kevin Newbury were on hand to listen to the completed portions of the score in a version for two pianos and vocals, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.

This was the first time that any members of the team had heard the music sung. Almost the entire Ryan Opera Center ensemble participated in these working sessions, taking on not only the main roles but doubling the minor characters plus chorus parts as well.

The days of work culminated with a reading of four scenes (two from Act One and two from Act Two) that have been completed. The session was opened up to a small group of journalists and sponsors and was followed by a Q&A with the creative team and Lyric's general Director Anthony Freud.

Here are just a few of the fascinating details that were revealed:

  • A polyglot opera! The opera will be performed in seven languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Japanese, and Quechua—one of the indigenous languages of Peru, where the opera is set. Sir Andrew Davis noted that this could be the first opera to use Quechua!
  • Reinvention, not adaptation. Nilo Cruz talked about how he's not simply adapting the novel, but making something completely different. Anthony Freud added that the aim for the project is to make Bel Canto stand on its own terms as an opera, rather than just reproduce the book as a play set to music. 
  • Ann Patchett's positive reaction. Anthony Freud shared that author Ann Patchett, who was initially afraid to read the libretto when it was sent to her, has declared it even more beautiful than her original novel.
  • Bel Canto is the new black? Director Kevin Newbury says that the story is really about creating a community within captivity, and how he is excited to show the small private moments that can happen in the middle of a very public space. He drew a comparison to the hit TV show Orange is the New Black, which gives characters' background within the larger story of life in prison.
  • It will be crowdedon stage, at least! During the real-life captivity, all of the hostages were made to stay in the same space, which means that all cast members will be on stage together for virtually the entire opera.

Learn more about Bel Canto from the creative team:

 

Photo credits:

  • Bel Canto libretto (credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
  • The Bel Canto creative team: librettist Nilo Cruz, composer Jimmy López, and director Kevin Newbury (credit Andrew Cioffi / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
  • Ryan Opera Center members are conducted by Sir Andrew Davis during the workshop (credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago). For the workshop, Ryan Opera Center members Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi, J’nai Bridges, Jonathan Johnson, Bradley Smoak, Jesse Donner, and Anthony Clark Evans sang principal roles. Laura Wilde, Julie Anne Miller, John Irvin, Will Liverman, and Richard Ollarsaba sang multiple roles. Ensemble member Maureen Zoltek and Ryan Opera Center Music Director Craig Terry were pianists. 
  • Anthony Freud and Sir Andrew Davis during the discussion (credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
Subjects:

You can never get enough “Summertime”

Lyric's production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess might not open until November 17, but July is the perfect time to enjoy the opera's opening aria "Summertime," which has become one of the most beloved songs in American music. Here are just a few of our favorite covers that showcase its versatility from a sampling of diverse artists. 

Lyric's production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess  might not open until November 17, but July is the perfect time to enjoy the opera's opening aria "Summertime," which has become one of the most beloved songs in American music. Its popularity has grown far beyond the operatic world—it's been covered more than 25,000 times (according to the New York Times) by artists of all genres.

Billie Holiday released the first hit cover in 1936, one year after the opera opened. This started a trend of artists making their mark on this great song.  Here are just a few of our favorites that showcase its versatility from a sampling of diverse artists.  

Miles Davis and arranger Gil Evans created one of the most iconic versions on his 1959 album Porgy and Bess, which featured several selections from the opera.

 


The Ramsey Lewis Trio also did a more up-tempo jazz version in 1961. (You can see Ramsey Lewis here at Lyric at our 60th Anniversary Concert on November 1!)

 


R& B singer Billy Stewart arranged the song to accommodate his distinctive scat singing style in 1966.

 


Beninoise singer Angélique Kidjo completely transformed the song into a choral chant backed with percussion on her 2009 best-of collection.

 


British invasion favorites The Zombies, best known for "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season," covered the song in 1965.

 


Soul singer Sam Cooke recorded a cover as the B-side to his single "You Send Me," released in 1957.

 

 
The Doors covered the song in a way that only they can. It feels like it could morph into "Break on Through" at any moment. This live version is from a 1970 concert in Boston.

 


"Summertime" goes surf in this cover by The Ventures (an instrumental band known for "Hawaii Five-O") from 1963.

 

 
Sting covers the song live in concert with the Dutch Orchestra of the 21st Century in this clip from 1990.

 


Turkish pianist Fazil Say performs a solo piano version as an encore after a performance with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony in January 2013:

 


And finally, this is perhaps our favorite for the sheer novelty: Clara Rockmore covers the song on theremin with her sister on piano! (A theremin is an early electronic instrument, patented in 1928, that has been used by everyone from Shostakovich to Led Zeppelin.)

 

(Lyric Opera of Chicago does not own copyrights to any of the above videos.)

Opera 101: The mystery of the white marks

One of our readers noticed some white notations on the side of Lyric's stage when he was at The Second City Guide to the Opera. What do those names and numbers mean? Opera 101 is on the case!

If you came to the cabaret performances of The Second City Guide to the Opera in June 2013, you got a view of Lyric that few ever see. The performances happened on stage, with the audience looking out into the theater. While attending a cabaret performance, Marty R. (one of our eagle-eyed readers) noticed these markings on the side of stage of the opera house and asked what they meant:

These white marks depict names of operas, the years they were performed, and dimensions that detail how wide the proscenium opening will be for that production. The stagehands bring in the hard side of the stage based on the set design for a particular opera.

The marks go back years because a production always has the possibility of being revived. Plus, these notations provide a quick guide for stagehands who have to assemble sets quickly. Since Lyric has several different operas in the repertory at any one time or other special events going on within any week—there's something different happening almost every morning—these notations are a way for our stagehands to quickly reset to those dimensions. 

Do you have a question about something you've seen at Lyric or opera in general? Drop us a line at opera101@lyricopera.org and you might see the answer in this space!

  • Photo credit: Carrie Krol / Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

Jane Lynch—Double Emmy Nominee

Congratulations to Jane Lynch, who has received nominations in two categories for the 2014 Emmys. She is hosting Lyric's 60th Anniversary Concert on Saturday, November 1.

Congratulations to Jane Lynch, who received two nominations for the 2014 Emmy Awards: Outstanding Narrator for her work on Penguins: Waddle All the Way on the Discovery Channel and Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality Competition Series as host of the always-hilarious Hollywood Game Night on NBC. These are her fifth and sixth nominations. She was an Emmy winner in 2010 for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Sue Sylvester on Glee. This year's Emmys are on August 25, and we'll be hoping for a double win!

If you haven't heard the news, Lynch is hosting Lyric's star-studded 60th Anniversary Concert on Saturday, November 1. This one-night-only celebration features a Sir Andrew Davis leading the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus, a host of incredible operatic talent—plus jazz legend Ramsey Lewis and comedy from The Second City.

Do you have your tickets? Don't delay—they are going fast! Lyric's own Renée Fleming is performing and has a special invitation just for you:

 

Photo credit

  • Jane Lynch on Hollywood Game Night (courtesy NBC.com)

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