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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

An Insider's Guide to IL TROVATORE

Lyric's production of Verdi's Il Trovatore runs October 27 through November 29. Here is your complete insider's guide with articles, photos, audio previews, and more.

Everyone has heard the Anvil Chorus, but Verdi's epic Il Trovatore (on stage October 27-November 29) is so much more than its signature choral piece. Learn more about Lyric's monumental production, originally conceived by director Sir David McVicar and conducted by Asher Fisch.

A cruel curse separates two brothers at birth. One is the privileged Count di Luna (Quinn Kelsey), and the other, the troubadour Manrico (Yonghoon Lee), is raised by the revenge-obsessed gypsy Azucena (Stephanie Blythe). Now bitter enemies, they clash over the love of the same woman, the beautiful Leonora (Amber Wagner). And that's just Act One! Kidnapping, imprisonment, mistaken identities, gypsies, poisonings, witches burning at the stake, star-crossed lovers, revenge—this opera has everything, including some of Verdi's most irresistible music. 

Articles with insights from the cast and creative team

Il Trovatore: A Vocal Feast
Verdi fans have joked for decades that all you need for the composer’s Il Trovatore are the greatest voices in the world – but there’s actually some truth in that! And if you’ve got the right voices, then the feast offered by this opera is sumptuous indeed.  
READ MORE

Lyric’s Chorus delights in Il Trovatore and beyond
Il Trovatore is a choral feast and provides one of the biggest showpieces for the amazing Lyric Opera Chorus this season. Chorus Master Michael Black takes us through some of the many choral highlights in Verdi's masterpiece. READ MORE

Opera 101: Inside tech week
 Opera secrets revealed! What happens at Lyric during the summer? Each mainstage opera has a week-long summer tech period. Lighting cues are set, sets are repaired, and everything is made ready for performances later in the season. Read on to for a day-by-day breakdown of the preparations for Verdi's Il TrovatoreREAD MORE 

Il Trovatore: A Lyric Photo History
Il Trovatore was a hugely popular success when it premiered, and it today remains one of the 20 most-performed operas 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, including Maria Callas as Leonora and Jussi Björling as Manrico. READ MORE

Catching up with Chorus Master Michael Black
In this Lyric Lately exclusive, read more about Michael Black's history with Il Trovatore and how he keeps busy during the summer months away from Lyric. READ MORE

"Patter Up!" with Quinn Kelsey

Get to know Lyric's future Count di Luna as he answers rapid fire questions and sings a little Elvis!

 

 

Il Trovatore Audio Preview

Music director Sir Andrew Davis shares the synopsis and excerpts from Verdi's Il Trovatore. Recordings used by permission of EMI Classics.

Catching up with Chorus Master Michael Black

Even more Michael Black! Lyric's chorus master was featured in the August edition of Lyric Notes, and here is some bonus info from that interview.

In our August edition of Lyric Notes, Lyric's Chorus Master Michael Black takes us through some of the choral highlights of the 2014-15 season, including Lyric's mainstage production of Verdi's Il Trovatore and the two very special Chorus showcases at Chicago's Fourth Presbyterian Church on September 12 and Evanston's Alice Millar Chapel on November 22.

Here are some tidbits that we couldn't fit into the article, including his history with the opera, why he loves Sir David McVicar's productions, and what this Aussie has been doing over his Lyric vacation.

Il Trovatore is one of the standards of the operatic repertoire—what is your history with the piece?

I've prepared Trovatore perhaps five or six times on two different productions at Opera Australia. The first production was a delightful Elijah Moshinsky production and, a few years earlier, premiered with Dame Joan Sutherland as Leonore. Coincidentally when I first worked on the piece the conductor was Dame Joan's husband Richard Bonynge. I have also had the dubious distinction of being one of two anvil players at every performance of Trovatore I have been involved in. [Black will stay behind the scenes in Lyric's production. Watch for some talented supernumeraries to provide the signature anvil clash!]

Reading about Sir David McVicar's production of Trovatore, one of the advantages of moving the action to the early 1800s is that the gypsies in the Anvil Chorus are actually forging weapons.  How do you prepare the Chorus for this iconic scene?

Fortunately, as with all amazing directors, Sir David uses actors to give the illusion that the chorus is moving and performing strenuous moves. He lets the chorus sing! They just have to keep out of the way of the anvils!

How have you been keeping busy this summer? Can you let us in on some of your travels and the musical projects that keep you busy in the off-season?

I arrived back in Sydney the day of my son Liam's 18th birthday, and then took off to thaw out after the incredibly cold Chicago winter by relaxing by a pool in Bali with my Kindle catching up on some reading whilst getting some sun. Apart from the Bali trip I was in Sydney the entire time where I was lucky enough to do a short stint as répétiteur [rehearsal pianist and coach] on a terrific Harry Kupfer production of Otello at the Sydney Opera House. It was a treat listening to my old chorus from a distance and having absolutely no responsibility for them!

Photo credits:

  • Michael Black poses with Lyric Opera Chorus members backstage during various productions from last season: Otello, Madama Butterfly, and Parsifal. (Photos courtesy Michael Black.)

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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