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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). 

DON GIOVANNI: A Lyric Photo History

Did you know that Don Giovanni actually was Lyric Opera of Chicago's (then called the Lyric Theatre of Chicago) very first production in 1954? Here's a look at how this monumental opera has evolved throughout Lyric's history.  

Lyric's Diamond Anniversary season opens up in grand style on September 27 with a brand-new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni from the always-innovative directorial mind of Robert Falls, artistic director of Goodman Theatre. 

Did you know that Don Giovanni actually was Lyric Opera of Chicago's very first production in 1954? Here's a look at how this monumental opera has evolved over the years at Lyric. And what's in store for this year? Subscribe now to reserve your seat!

1954 

Lyric Theatre of Chicago's first season opens with Nicola Rossi-Lemeni and Eleanor Steber starring as Don Giovanni and Donna Anna in a production directed by William Wymetal and conducted by company co-founder Nicola Rescigno. Below is an ad proof from the Chicago Daily News and a costume photo of Nicola Rossi-Lemeni in character. Lyric would mount this same production with Rossi-Lemeni again in the title role in 1959, this time with Georg Solti (before he was music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) as conductor.

1961 & 1964 

In 1961, Lyric presented a new production of the opera from director Wolfgang Weber with Peter Maag as conductor.  Eberhard Waechter starred as Don Giovanni.  Pictured below (top left) are Walter Berry as Leporello and Lisa Della Casa as Donna Elvira. The company revived the production in 1964, this time with Nicolai Ghiaurov in the title role. Shown from this production are Ghiaurnov and Nicoletta Panni as Zerlina (top right) and a wide view of the stage during Act 2, when the Commendatore (Bruno Marangoni) confronts Giovanni.

1969 

The multitalented Tito Gobbi both starred as the Don and directed this production, which featured sets and costumes by the legendary designer Peter J. Hall. In this photo, Don Giovanni (Gobbi) seduces Zerlina (Judith Raskin).

Donna Anna (Claire Watson), Don Ottavio (Alfredo Kraus), and Donna Elvira (Ilva Ligabue) in disguise during the party at Don Giovanni's house.

1980, 1988-89, & 1995-96 

In 1980, Lyric mounted a new-to-Lyric production (originally from the Salzburg Festival) by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, one of the most celebrated directors and set designers in opera. Ponnelle wore many hats for this production as well, both directing and designing sets and costumes, characterized by their somber tone and death-haunted imagery.

The production proved to be so popular that it was revived twice: first with Samuel Ramey in the title role in the 1988-89 season, and then with James Morris as Don Giovanni and an up-and-coming Bryn Terfel as Leporello. Morris was appearing as Wotan in that same season as part of Lyric's first-ever Ring cycle.

Shown above (clockwise starting from top right) are Richard Stilwell as Don Giovanni and Stafford Dean as Leporello in the 1980 presentation; Samuel Ramey as the Don in 1988-89; Richard Stilwell's Don surrounded by his ladies of the night in 1980; Donna Elvira (Carol Vaness), Zerlina (Susanne Mentzer), Masetto (Roberto Scaltriti), Leporello (Terfel), Don Ottavio (Frank Lopardo), and Donna Anna (Luba Organasova) gesture towards the deceased Giovanni (James Morris) in 1988-89); and Leporello and Giovanni sing together (l-r Bryn Terfel and James Morris).

2004-05 

For Lyric's 50th anniversary season, Bryn Terfel returned—this time as Don Giovanni! This new Lyric Opera production from director Peter Stein featured Susan Graham in a role debut as Donna Elvira, Karita Mattila as Donna Anna (with recent Ryan Opera Center graduate Erin Wall filling in for an ill Mattila on opening night), Ildebrando D'Arcangelo as Leporello, and even a young Kyle Ketelsen as Masetto. Christoph Eschenbach made his podium debut, with Sir Andrew Davis stepping in for a few performances.  

(Clockwise from top left) - Graham as Donna Elvira; Leporello (D'Arcangelo) and Giovanni (Terfel) in the cemetery; Giovanni (Terfel) attempts to seduce Zerlina (Isabel Bayrakdarian); Leporello (D'Arcangelo), Masetto (Ketelsen), Zerlina (Bayrakdarian), Don Ottavio (Kurt Streit), Donna Anna (Mattila), and Donna Elvira (Graham) confront Giovanni (Terfel).

Photo credits:

  • 1954 - courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago archives
  • 1961 - credit Nancy Sorenson
  • 1964 & 1969 - credit David H. Fishman
  • 1980, 1988-89 - credit Tony Romero
  • 1995-96 and 2004-05 - credit Dan Rest

 

Remembering Maestro Bartoletti

Florentine-born, Chicago-beloved, and internationally-renowned Maestro Bruno Bartoletti has died in Italy. Maestro Bartoletti conducted over 600 performances of 55 operas at Lyric, and he served as Lyric's artistic director between 1964 and 1999. Maestro Bartoletti's colleagues and friends reflect on his musical legacy:  

Bruno Bartoletti

Bruno Bartoletti, Lyric Opera of Chicago's artistic director emeritus (June 10, 1926 - June 9, 2013)

Florentine-born, Chicago-beloved, and internationally-renowned Maestro Bruno Bartoletti has died in Italy, on the day before his 87th birthday. Maestro Bartoletti conducted nearly 600 performances of 55 operas at Lyric. He served as Lyric's co-artistic director 1964-74 and artistic director 1975-99. Maestro Bartoletti's colleagues and friends reflect on his musical legacy: 

• "Bruno was a mentor, colleague, and friend for more than 50 years. He was passionate about opera and singing. Italian opera was in his blood  there was no better interpreter of Puccini. Yet, he had a unique affinity for contemporary operas as well. He was a wonderful musician and human being, and he made a remarkable contribution to the musical life of Chicago."  William Mason, general director emeritus 

• "Bruno Bartoletti was a giant in Lyric's history, nurturing and developing the fledgling company when he first joined Lyric in 1956, and overseeing its artistic and musical growth. By the time he retired as artistic director in 1999, Lyric was recognized around the world as one of the great opera companies. He continued to actively enjoy the fruits of his achievements until 2007, when he conducted the company for the last time. Bruno’s contribution to Lyric was unique in its importance and longevity, and his death truly marks the end of an era."  Anthony Freud, general director 

• "Maestro Bartoletti represents virtually the whole history of Lyric Opera of Chicago. I have always had the greatest respect and admiration for the way he built the company into such a shining beacon in the musical landscape of America."  Sir Andrew Davis, music director 

• "How fortunate Lyric is to have had such a man as artistic director. Bruno Bartoletti has...been the musical impetus that drove this great company onward and upward, and created that special spirit which exists in Chicago....[A]n inspirational force with a sense of history and style that is so rare these days." –  tenor Plácido Domingo, who starred in several Lyric Opera productions conducted by Mo. Bartoletti.

• "Maestro Bartoletti had a special reverence for music. He really taught that to the orchestra through any score he conducted, especially in the Italian repertoire. I can’t tell you in how many of those pieces I refer back to everything he taught us about the sound, the pacing, everything in the music. I remember that so strongly about him on the podium. Maestro Bartoletti hired a great many people in the orchestra. I feel his hires are the legacy of the Lyric orchestra."  Charlene Zimmerman, principal clarinetist 

• "Though the gods of Verdi and Puccini and Donizetti were high in his personal pantheon, what made Bruno different from a lot of Italian conductors of his day was that this was a man who was fascinated by the music of his own time. One more thing to say about him: He had a wonderful marriage, wonderful children, a beautiful home. He was a happy man.”  Matthew Epstein, former artistic director 

Bruno Bartoletti is survived by his daughters, Chiara and Maria, and his five grandchildren. His wife Rosanna died in 2011.

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Remembering Maria Tallchief

Maria Tallchief Paschen (January 24, 1925- April 11, 2013) Lyric Opera joins the international performing-arts community in mourning the loss of legendary ballerina and Chicago choreographer Maria Tallchief, who has passed away at 88.    

Maria Tallchief, credit Victor Skrebneski

Maria Tallchief Paschen (January 24, 1925- April 11, 2013)

Lyric Opera joins the international performing-arts community in mourning the loss of legendary ballerina and Chicago choreographer Maria Tallchief, who has passed away at 88.  

Ms. Tallchief began her five-decade affiliation with Lyric as a principal dancer in the Ruth Page Chicago Opera Ballet, Lyric's resident ballet troupe during the 1950s and 1960s. 

In 1973, Lyric general manager Carol Fox hired Ms. Tallchief to teach a movement class for Lyric singers.  This class evolved into the Lyric Opera Ballet, which Ms. Tallchief led from its inception in 1973 until 1979.  From the 1970s through the first decade of the twenty-first century, Ms. Tallchief choreographed dances for more than fifty different Lyric productions.  In recognition of her pioneering artistic influence, Lyric Opera created the advisory position of Ballet Director for Ms. Tallchief in the 1970s.  She is the first and only person to hold the title.

Ms. Tallchief is survived by her daughter Elise Paschen, her two grandchildren, her sister, and generations of Chicago dancers she taught, choreographed, and inspired. Her husband, Henry Paschen, died in 2004.

Top photo: Victor Skrebneski.

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