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Sir Andrew’s Busy Summer

Lyric's eminent music director, Sir Andrew Davis, is back in Chicago preparing for our spectacular season-opening production of Don Giovanni. But where has he been all summer? Learn about his incredibly busy summer of globetrotting. 

Lyric's eminent music director, Sir Andrew Davis, is back in Chicago preparing for our spectacular season-opening production of Don Giovanni. He's been in town since late August to start preparations for Giovanni and to lead the annual Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park on September 6. He ended last season with an acclaimed production of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito on March 23—but where has he been in between Mozart operas? Perhaps it's better to ask, "Where hasn't he been?"

In the span of a few short months, he's traveled from Chicago to Boston to London to New York to Toronto to Leipzig to Bergen to Manchester to Berlin back to Bergen to Melbourne back to Chicago back to London back to Melbourne to Edinburgh back to London back to Edinburgh to Amsterdam to Ulrichshusen to Copenhagen to Chicago! 3 continents, 14 cities, 34 performances, 2 recordings—all in 59 days…with a few precious moments in the middle for vacation.

Here are just three concert highlights from his incredible summer.

First Night of the Proms 

On July 18, Sir Andrew had the distinct honor of conducting the First Night of the BBC Proms. Davis was a familiar face on the podium in the 1990s as the former chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, so this season marked a triumphant return. The Proms are the largest classical music festival in the world, and the evening was a showcase for Sir Andrew and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, and the National Chorus of Wales. They performed Elgar's biblical oratorio The Kingdom with soloists Erin Wall (a Ryan Opera Center alumna!), Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Andrew Staples, and Christopher Purves

This was only the second time that this piece had been performed at the BBC Proms in its entirety (the first time also had Sir Andrew on the podium), and the result was magnificent. Here is just some of the praise from critics:

 "Once again balancing sumptuousness and transparency, he drew vivid playing from the orchestra, from the silvery violins down to the lowest depths of the Albert Hall organ, which was sometimes a big beast but often quiet enough merely to disturb the sweltering air in the hall." - Erica Jeal, The Guardian

"Andrew Davis made sure Elgar's amazingly colourful orchestration was touched in with a delicate chiaroscuro…. It would be easy to indulge the swirling harps and slithering chromatic basses, but by keeping the whole thing on a tight rein Davis ensured the integrity of the whole was preserved." Ivan Hewitt, The Telegraph

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Tour

In addition to his role here at Lyric, Sir Andrew is also Chief Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, a position he took on in 2013. This summer, he conducted a number of concerts in Melbourne, but he also lead the orchestra on an incredible European tour. Stops included the Edinburgh International Festival, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival at Ulrichshusen in Germany, and the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen. Here's a short preview of their appearance from the Edinburgh Festival:

 

In addition to these prestigious festivals, the tour opened with the orchestra's BBC Proms debut on August 19  at Royal Albert Hall in London. As John Allison pointed out in his interview with Sir Andrew in The Telegraph, "No orchestra making its  Proms debut could wish for a better guide to that institution's rituals than Sir Andrew Davis, one of the most familiar faces in recent Proms history and a particular favourite of Last Night  audiences."

Read more about this tour at MSO's Backstage Blog from reporter Michael Shmith.

The Dream of Gerontius in Berlin 

As if the BBC Proms and a triumphant tour weren't enough, Sir Andrew found time to pop over to Germany to lead another great Elgar composition, The Dream of Gerontius, at the  Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin on June 1. Joining them were the combined choruses of the Rundfunkchor Berlin and RIAS Kammerchor and featured soloists Sarah Connolly, Brindley Sherratt, and Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts.

 

The piece, which describes a dying man of faith reflecting on his life, is widely considered Elgar's greatest choral work-one that cemented his reputation as a great composer—and is a great favorite of Sir Andrew's. This performance in Berlin was part of what could be called a "summer of Elgar" for Sir Andrew. He also performed The Dream of Gerontius with the the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with whom he also performed The Kingdom (at the Proms) and The Apostles, thus performing all three of Elgar's oratorios in the span of just a few months!

But wait...there's more!

In addition to these highlights, Sir Andrew led concerts with the New York Philharmonic, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Bergen Philharmonic, and found time for recording sessions with the BBC Philharmonic and Bergen Philharmonic. Plus, he even managed to come back to Chicago for the working sessions for Bel Canto, the world premiere opera that is part of Lyric's 2015-16 season.

Photo credits:

  • Top L: Sir Andrew Davis puts on his shoes before a concert on the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra tour.  Courtesy Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
  • Top R: Sir Andrew leads the First Night of the Proms. Courtesy BBC.
  • Bottom: Melbourne Symphony Orchestra rehearses at Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Proms. Courtesy Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

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

Getting to know…Lyric Opera Chorus member Kimberly McCord

As a special season-opening treat this year, Lyric's magnificent Chorus will be featured in  two showcase concerts on September 12 and  November 22. Soprano Kimberly McCord is one of the featured singers, and she took the time to give us a bit of her background—and let us in on her own Lyric love story!

As a special season-opening treat this year, Lyric's magnificent Chorus will be featured in two showcase concerts on September 12 at Chicago's Fourth Presbyterian Church (right on Michigan Avenue) and on November 22 at Northwestern University's Millar Chapel in Evanston.

The concert features excerpts from operas featured in Lyric's 2014-15 Diamond Anniversary season,  plus some beloved choral favorites with solos from certain Chorus members. Soprano Kimberly McCord is one of the featured singers, and she took the time to give us a bit of her background—and let us in on her own Lyric love story!

When did you know you wanted to be a singer?

I always loved singing and as a child would spend hours singing along to the few but diverse LPs my parents had, such as Jo Stafford, The Sound of Music soundtrack, and The Fifth Dimension. My preschool teacher told my parents to get me piano lessons, which they did. I thought music would be a tough career, but, thanks to my parents' support, I decided to pursue singing as a career my junior year in high school. 

(McCord, back row fourth from left, poses with her fellow nuns and Jenn Gambatese, center / Maria, during Lyric's production of The Sound of Music.)

When did you join the Chorus? And what brought you to Lyric or Chicago?

I joined the chorus in 2008. I had been living in Europe for eight years, singing mostly Baroque music, giving recitals, and teaching privately. When I was ready to come back to the States, I thought Chicago would be a friendly, livable, culturally vibrant city. I was right!

What was your background before joining the Chorus?

I earned my Bachelor's of Music from Indiana University and then received a Fulbright grant to study Early Music with Dame Emma Kirkby. I was getting a lot of work singing Baroque music, but I felt that I needed to transition into opera in order to develop my voice and artistry more fully. This process led to a serious vocal crisis but I eventually learned how to integrate my vocal technique and emotional expression more fully. Now singing is even more artistically satisfying.

You're one of the featured singers in Lyric's upcoming Chorus concerts—what about the concerts is most exciting to you?

There is something truly cosmic about sublimating your individuality to express something in sync with 47 other people. It's a thrilling and visceral experience for us and the audience! I'm also excited about performing with Maestro Black conducting and our rehearsal pianist, Jerad Mosbey, accompanying. They prepare us in the crucial daily, behind-the-scenes rehearsal process. The public gets to experience this very intimate working relationship for the first time in these concerts. 

Can you talk a little bit about the piece that you're featured on during the concert: "Placido è il, mar"  from Mozart's Idomeneo?

On the surface, this piece seems like yet another graceful Mozart composition, but I hear real longing in the big vocal leaps upward and weariness in the short repeated phrases. Connecting with these deeper human emotions while performing technically difficult music is what Mozart demands of us. I hope I am able to do his genius justice! 

 

(Salzburg Festival 2006 production of Idomeneo)

What has been your most memorable experience at Lyric so far?

I met the love of my life at Lyric! Dan Pyne, a software salesman by day, supernumerary occasionally by night, walked into our first staging rehearsal of Lohengrin, and I was thrilled to be placed near him in the opening scene. It gave me the chance to strike up a conversation and we've been going strong ever since. (McCord and Pyne pictured right.)

What is the most outrageous costume you've worn on stage?

Probably the witches in Macbeth. In fact, the costumes were so crazy, with all these dangling pieces, that one chorister accidentally performed the first scene with a bra caught on her costume. No one noticed it until we were back up in the dressing room! We had a good laugh about that one!

(Kimberly McCord and her fellow witches having fun at Lyric, both on stage and off. Top photo: the witches on stage. McCord is third from left; Bottom left: Fire witches Laurie Seely Vassalli, McCord, Nina Heebink (the chorister with the "wardrobe malfunction") and Carla Janzen; Bottom right: The three types of witches, Snake, Earth, Fire. L-R Rachel Crim-Holzhausen, McCord, Desiree Hassler, and Pamela Williams.)

What do you enjoy most about being in the Chorus?

I consider it a great privilege to dedicate my energy to singing. Working diligently on giving fresh expression to classic stories of human experience is a deeply rewarding way to earn a living.

When you're not a Lyric, what are some of your hobbies or other projects?

 I enjoy creating things that are more concrete than sound waves! I am a serious cook, I do lots of different crafts, from sewing to embroidery to crochet, and I also love home renovation projects. 

What do you love most about living in Chicago?

The diversity of people.

And a few fun questions:

Do you have a go-to karaoke song?

Anything by Heart

 

("Barracuda" from 1977)

Who is your favorite singer?

Margaret Price

 

What is your favorite opera?

Don Giovanni

 

(Royal Opera House 2014 production of Don Giovanni)

And what is your favorite musical?

South Pacific

 

(Live performance from the 2008 Tony Awards of Lincoln Center Theater's production)

Photos courtesy Kimberly McCord

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

 

An Insider's Guide to PORGY AND BESS

Everything you need to know about Lyric's upcoming production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (on stage November 17-December 20): video and audio previews, articles, photos, and more.

"Summertime, and the livin' is easy …" With iconic songs that have become jazz and pop standards, Porgy and Bess (on stage from November 17-December 20) is filled with some of George Gershwin's most beloved music. See the iconic American opera in this sumptuous production that brings the colorful characters of Catfish Row to life. Eric Owens stars as Porgy, the good man with a heart of gold who would do anything for the troubled Bess (Adina Aaron). But, when tempted by a former love and her drug addiction, can she remain true to him?

Porgy and Bess also stars Jermaine Smith (Sportin' Life), Eric Greene (Crown), and Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi (Clara). The production is directed by Francesca Zambello and conducted by Ward Stare

Video previews featuring Porgy and Bess star Eric Owens

 

Get to know Eric Owens in this "Patter Up!"

 

Owens talks about his role as a Lyric Unlimited Community Ambassador.

 

Articles with insights from the cast and creative team

Joy in Singing: Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi debuts at Lyric in Porgy and Bess
First-year Ryan Opera Center member Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi makes her Lyric debut as Clara in Porgy and Bess. The character sings what is arguably the opera's most famous aria, "Summertime."  
READ MORE

Chorister Profile: Kenneth Nichols
Bass-baritone Kenneth Nichols has been a member of the Lyric Opera Chorus for 13 years. We caught up with Nichols this summer in between performances in the chorus of San Francisco Opera's Show Boat,  (a co-production with Lyric Opera, Houston Grand Opera and Washington National Opera), to talk about his experiences as a singer and his thoughts on Lyric's upcoming production of Porgy and Bess. READ MORE

You can never get enough “Summertime”
 "Summertime" has moved beyond the world of opera to become one of the most beloved songs in American music. It's been covered more than 25,000 times...and still counting! This post on our blog Lyric Lately gathered some of the most beautiful and unexpected covers of the song from artists like Miles Davis, The Doors, and Sting.  
READ MORE

Opera 101: One-hit wonders
Porgy and Bess was Gershwin's only opera, which puts him in the small but distinguished category of composers that only wrote one opera that became a major hit. Also on the list? Beethoven and Dvořák, among others. READ MORE

 

Porgy and Bess Audio Preview

Music director Sir Andrew Davis shares the synopsis and excerpts from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Recordings used by permission of EMI Classics.

Opera 101: Inside tech week

Opera secrets revealed! What happens at Lyric during the summer? Each opera has a week-long summer tech. Read on to for a day-by-day breakdown of the preparations for Verdi's Il Trovatore.

Lyric's opera season doesn't officially start until Saturday, September 27, when the eagerly anticipated new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni opens the Diamond Anniversary season. However, the staff is already busy behind the scenes. For Lyric's technical department, the most intensive period is the eight weeks of tech—one week for each mainstage opera.

Here's a day-by-day breakdown of the tech week for Verdi's Il Trovatore. Wondering what exactly tech week is? It's the period of time where the sets are assembled so that the lighting and automation cues can be programmed. One of the key elements of Trovatore that dominates the preparations: the giant turntable that houses almost the entire set. It rotates to change scenes and transition between acts without a break in the action.

(A look at ll Trovatore in performance)

Wednesday, July 23 and Thursday, July 24

The trucks carrying the sets for Il Trovatore arrived at Lyric for unloading.  As one of the largest shows being presented this year, it took two full days to unload. The sets for Porgy and Bess were still on Lyric's stage at the time, finishing up their tech week touches while Trovatore was delivered.

Friday, July 25

The Porgy and Bess set was dismantled starting at 8 a.m. It took the stage crew most of the day on Friday (and even part of the day Saturday!) to completely take apart and pack up Porgy.

(The scenery handling area backstage is always busy during tech.)

Saturday, July 26

As soon as the crew finished taking down Porgy, assembly of the Trovatore sets began. During any tech week, the crew first tackles anything that needs to be flown in (meaning items that will need to come in from above during the performance), while the stage is completely empty. For Trovatore, this includes the Goya-inspired show drop curtain that greets audience members when they arrive and the wraparound cyclorama—the half-cylinder show backdrop that is raised when not in use. There is also a gate and part of a wall that are brought in during part of the show—an impressive technical feat.

(These items need to fly! Clockwise from upper left: The Goya-inspired show curtain; the cyclorama from the stage looking up and from the top of the fly space, looking down.)

Sunday, July 27

The show deck was assembled. Very few operas actually take place on Lyric's real stage floor. A show either has a floor (any covering 0 to 2" in height) or a deck (anything over 2"). Because Trovatore's sets are on a rotating turntable, the show has a 12" deck so that the motorized elements can fit underneath. The deck for Trovatore is divided into pieces that are 6 ft x 6 ft and then assembled to cover most of the stage. Once the deck is built, the rest of the show's elements (walls, rocks, gates, etc.) are put into place. 

(One blueprint of the show's deck and a look at the turntable's motor on stage.)

Monday, July 28

Monday was completely devoted to lighting. The lighting crew comes in and figures out the various lights that need to be focused on stage.

Tuesday, July 29; Wednesday, July 30; and Thursday, July 31

Once the set was completely assembled. work began in earnest. The lighting cues and automation cues were written and programmed. The set was checked for improvements, with detailed notes on what needs to be repaired or retouched for when it is actually back on stage.

(On set repairs in progress)

Friday, August 1

Goodbye Trovatore, hello Tannhäuser. The sets were completely dismantled to make room for the next opera, and the cycle starts again. 

Where does it all go?

 After tech week,Il Trovatore's sets were divided up for storage. Some pieces are still here at Lyric in the cavernous space underneath the theater. Other pieces of the set were loaded into trucks and taken to Lyric's storage yard on the south side. Some portions of what went offsite were set aside in rehearsal trucks so that they can come back for the start of rehearsals and be assembled in Room 200, Lyric's main rehearsal space. The rest will come back about a week before onstage rehearsals begin.

Photo credits:

  • Il Trovatore production still credit Dan Rest / Lyric Opera of Chicago
  • Il Trovatore show curtain photo credit Robert Kusel / Lyric Opera of Chicago
  • Backstage photos by Carrie Krol / Lyric Opera of Chicago

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