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:

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

 

60th Anniversary Sneak Peek: Jeanne Gang Concert Shell Taking Shape

The new Jeanne Gang-designed concert shell is taking shape! The shell will debut at Lyric's 60th Anniversary Concert on November 1, and work is now well underway on the logistics of building the structure, including choosing materials.

The new Jeanne Gang-designed concert shell is taking shape! The shell will debut at Lyric's 60th Anniversary Concert on November 1, and work is now well underway on the logistics of building the structure, including choosing materials. Pictured above are different wood species, cuts, and stains that Lyric and Studio Gang have been considering for the finished surface. To test how the shell would take to light on stage, a small section of the ceiling of the shell was built, to show how the area with the tightest curves would look.

The winner? Jeanne Gang selected rift cut white oak with a natural clear-coat stain. Rift cut wood is manufactured by milling perpendicular to the log's growth rings, producing a linear grain pattern with no flecking. Rift sawn lumber is the most dimensionally stable cut of lumber available and has a unique linear appearance; both qualities are important for the project's design and construction. 

Here's a look at what the finished product will look like (on the right) with a view of the Ardis Krainik Theatre on the left.

Learn more about Jeanne Gang and this exciting project  

And don't miss out on this one-night-only event that features Jane Lynch, Renée Fleming, Ramsey Lewis, Christine Goerke, Ana María Martínez, Eric Owens, The Second City, and more. Get your seats before they are gone!

Photo credits:

  • New concert shell in progress (credit Carrie Krol / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
  • A view of Lyric's Ardis Krainik Theatre with a rendering of the concert shell design. (Courtesy of Studio Gang Architects, Original Photography - Jon Miller, Hedrich Blessing)

IL TROVATORE: A Lyric Photo History

Gypsies! Curses! Brothers switched at birth! A love triangle! Tragic deaths! Verdi's Il Trovatore truly has everything. The opera was a huge popular success when it first premiered, and it today remains one of the top 20 operas performed around the world. Learn more about the history of this work at Lyric.

Gypsies! Curses! Brothers switched at birth! A love triangle! Tragic deaths! Verdi's Il Trovatore truly has everything. The opera was a hugely popular success when it premiered, and it today remains one of the 20 most popular operas performed around the world.

Before you come and see Yonghoon Lee, Amber Wagner, Stephanie Blythe, and Quinn Kelsey in Sir David McVicar's production later this season, take a look at some past productions of this great opera throughout Lyric's history.

1955 

Il Trovatore had its company premiere in 1955, the second season of Lyric Theatre of Chicago. This production was conducted by company co-founder Nicola Rescigno and featured an all-star cast that included tenor Jussi Björling. Maria Callas—who had just made her American debut in Chicago in 1954—was making her second of three appearances in the 1955 season as Leonora. Callas had appeared in three productions in Lyric's inaugural season. Her sixth and final opera appearance at Lyric also came in 1955 when she played Cio-Cio San in her only staged performances of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. In the photo below, she is greeting Metropolitan Opera general manager Rudolf Bing after one of her Trovatore performances.

1956 & 1958 

Though there are no pictures of Lyric's 1956 production of Il Trovatore, it was notable in that it was the American debut of Bruno Bartoletti, Lyric's future artistic director and principal conductor. Replacing his mentor, Tullio Serafin, Bartoletti would win rave reviews and the admiration of Carol Fox, who would later appoint him co-artistic director with Pino Donati. 

The 1958 production was conducted by Lee Schaenen and featured Ettore Bastianini and Jussi Björling returning as di Luna and Manrico, with Elinor Ross as Leonora and the great Giulietta Simionato as Azucena.

Pictured below (clockwise from top left): Jussi Björling, Anna-Lisa Björling, and Ettore Bastianini read backstage; Leonora (Ross) and Manrico (Björling); Azucena (Simionato) confronts di Luna (Bastianini) as Leonora (Ross) lies dead.  

1964 

This new-to-Lyric production was imported from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where it had been performed a few years earlier. Lyric's stage director was Christopher West and the set and costumes were created by the design group Motley, whose sketches are below. 

Grace Bumbry portrayed Azucena, with Franco Corelli as Manrico (one of his signature roles), along with Ilva Ligabue (Leonora), and  Mario Zanasi (di Luna) completing the leading quartet. Bruno Bartoletti returned to conduct in his first season as co-artistic director.

Pictured above (clockwise from left): Azucena (Bumbry) and Manrico (Corelli); Manrico (Corelli) and Leonora (Ligabue); and di Luna (Zanasi) and Leonora (Ligabue).

This production is also notable for featuring in Count di Luna's army some supernumeraries from Chicago's Kelvyn Park High School, including a young Mike Gross. He would, of course, later go on to achieve huge success as Steven Keaton in Family Ties.

1987-88 

After more than a 20-year absence from Lyric's stage, ll Trovatore would return in a new production from director Sonja Frisell (designed by Nicola Benois) with Bruno Bartoletti on the podium. Pictured below (clockwise from top left) are Giuliano Ciannella as Manrico and Shirley Verrett as Azucena; a view of the set;  Leo Nucci as Count di Luna; and Anna Tomowa-Sintow as Leonora.

1993-94 

This was a revival of Frisell's production, last seen in 1987-88 (this time with conductor Richard Buckley), but these performances of Il Trovatore were notable for featuring the new Verdi critical edition that had just been released by the University of Chicago Press. Dolora Zajick portrayed Azucena—one of her most acclaimed roles—with Chris Merritt (Manrico), Paolo Gavanelli (di Luna), and Lyubov Kazarnovskaya (Leonora).

Pictured above (clockwise from top left): Manrico (Merritt) and Azucena (Zajick); Azucena (Zajick) confronts di Luna (Gavanelli); Leonora (Kazarnovskaya) and Manrico (Merritt); and Leonora (Kazarnovskaya), Manrico (Merritt), and di Luna (Gavanelli). 

2006-07 

A decade after its last Lyric performance, Sir David McVicar updated the action to Spain in the early 1800s, during the Peninsular Wars. The sets, designed by Charles Edwards, were inspired by the paintings of Goya and are grounded by an impenetrable castle wall. Due to the change in period, the gypsies actually have something to do during the Anvil Chorus—they are making weapons for the revolution!

Dolora Zajick reprised her 1993-94 role as Azucena, with Walter Fraccaro as Manrico, Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora, and Mark Delavan as Count di Luna. This production is also notable because it would be Bruno Bartoletti's second-to-last appearance on Lyric's podium. He would return to open the 2007-08 season with La Traviata, his final Lyric appearance.

Pictured above (clockwise from top left): Azucena (Zajick); the Anvil Chorus scene; Manrico (Fraccaro) and Leonora (Radvanovsky); di Luna (Delavan) and Manrico (Fraccaro) duel in front of Leonora (Radvanovsky).

 Photo credits:

  • 1955 - photo courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago Archives
  • 1958 - Björling/Bastianini backstage photo courtesy Chicago Daily News; production photos credit Nancy Sorensen.
  • 1964 - photos credit David H. Fishman; super photo courtesy Michael Gross
  • 1987-88 - photos credit Tony Romano
  • 1993-94 - photos credit Dan Rest
  • 2006-07 - photos credit Dan Rest, except Anvil Chorus (credit Robert Kusel). 

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