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Opera 101: Behind the scenes of TANNHÄUSER with August Tye

Wagner's Tannhäuser, which runs through March 6 at Lyric, has been earning rave reviews, especially for its epic opening dance sequence. August Tye, Lyric’s ballet mistress for more than 10 years, takes us through the process from auditions to rehearsals to opening night.

Wagner's Tannhäuser, which runs until March 6 at Lyric has been earning rave reviews, not the least for its epic opening dance sequence, choreographed to the overture and set in the sensual realm of Venusberg. It depicts the kind of libidinous lifestyle that anyone who succumbs to the goddess Venus's charms embraces. The Chicago Sun-Times said, "A high point of the production is the beginning bacchanal, which features a swirling, electrifying dance, smartly choreographed by Jasmin Vardimon" and the Chicago Tribune called it a "sexy and striking coup de theatre."

How does this amazing sequence become reality? August Tye, Lyric's ballet mistress for more than 10 years, takes us through the process from auditions to rehearsals to opening night—and reveals that her work at Lyric is truly a family affair!

Describe your role as ballet mistress. What does that mean and what are your general duties and responsibilities?

As mallet mistress at Lyric, I work closely with the choreographer and dancers to create movement or dance sequences for opera. I record all movement into personal notes and often bits and pieces into the musical score. I give the dancers a warm up class before rehearsals and performances begin. Once the choreographer leaves, often after the opening night, I am in charge of maintaining their work and making sure that the understudies are ready to jump in at any moment. 

What has been your specific role on Tannhäuser as both ballet mistress and movement director?

In Tannhäuser I have worked with the associate choreographer Mafalda Deville to restage earlier production of the Tannhäuser "ballet" choreographed by Jasmin Vardimon. When you see the ballet you notice it is intensely physical. We started working on it in early December in order to give the dancers the strength training and adequate rehearsals they would need to execute the movement. We worked 30 hours a week. We gave the dancers both ballet and pilates classes to prepare them for rehearsal. I spent much of rehearsal time taking notes on the movement and putting landmark movements into the score.

The U.K. Guardian's review of the production called out the "terrifically sexy" choreography. Why should someone come and see it?

From a dancer's perspective you should come see it because it is amazingly athletic, physical and sexy. The dance sequence is 15 minutes long and full of surprises that I am quite sure have not been seen before.


 Scenes from the opening dance of Tannhäuser 

Can you take us through the audition process? What were you specifically looking for in dancers for Tannhäuser? Was it the same as what you do for any other opera or did this opera in particular have special requests/requirements?

Every audition is unique to the work that the dancers have to do within the opera. Due to the physicality of this particular work the audition was two days long and extremely demanding.  We started with over 75 dancers the first day and narrowed it down to about 30 for the second day.  In the end we needed 12 dancers and two understudy dancers.  For the men we were looking for strong partnering skills and complete athleticism. For the women we were looking for very fluid and sensual movement along with excellent stamina. Both Jasmin Vardimon (pictured right) and Mafalda Deville were there to choose the dancers. 

Can you talk about the rehearsal process for Tannhäuser? How long have you been working with the dancers and what have been some of the joys and challenges of this very exhausting and complicated sequence?

We started working with the dancers December 1. We worked for three weeks before the rest of the production team arrived in January. After the holiday break we came back for another 4 weeks of rehearsal. The first three weeks were the most challenging simply because the work is so physically demanding.  It was a bit like dance boot camp getting everyone in shape to execute this movement. We had to work through several injuries during the first three weeks but I am happy to say everyone is healthy and fit to perform. When we resumed in January it went very smoothly because dancers had a chance to rest over the holiday and they knew exactly what they were coming back to do. They were all very excited to meet Ms. Vardimon when she arrived on January 27. At that point the piece was finished and the dancers had built up the stamina to run it two times a day. Ms. Vardimon took a couple days to work with the dancers on clarifying the movement and making a few minor adjustments to dancer placement and spacing.

How do you take the original choreography and translate it into the dancers? Can you describe the collaboration you have with them and with Jasmin Vardimon and Mafalda Deville?

I think there are challenges to re-creating any dance on another group of dancers.  All dancers have their strengths and weaknesses and those are rarely replicated when you move on to another group of dancers. Ms. Deville and Ms. Vardimon were very clear that they wanted our dancers to have their own version and that they should not worry about copying the original. They should feel as though they are part of a new creation for them. If one were to compare the performances they may not notice those subtle differences that made it unique to our Chicago dancers.  It is very much the same choreography as in previous production.  


Athleticism on display in Tannhäuser

Tannhäuser is a long opera, but is it a long night for the dancers?

People equate the name Wagner with long operas, and with Tannhäuser, they're correct; with 2 intermissions, it clocks in at roughly 4.5 hours! But every now and then in opera, there are roles which may occupy only a small length of time, and for the dancers, this is one of them! Our dance happens during the overture, and 30 minutes after the opera begins, our job will be over! Except for opening night (when everyone stays for the company bow at the opera's end), the dancers and I will be headed for home while the opera still has another four hours to go.

How long have you worked at Lyric? And what do you love most about working with the company?

I began working for Lyric when I was a dancer in the 93/94 season.  I danced on and off for several seasons. In 2004, I was asked to assist Pat Birch with the movement for Robert Altman's A Wedding.  I have been here ever since as a ballet mistress, movement director, or choreographer for the past 10 years. I really love working at Lyric because it is a place for me to learn and grow artistically by working with other fantastic artists whether it be choreographers—such as Jasmin Vardimon, Wayne McGregor, Philippe Giraudeau, Lucinda Childs, and Pat Birch—or directors like Robert Altman, Robert Carsen, Sir David McVicar, Francesca Zambello, and Bob Falls. 

Also, the support staff at Lyric is also the best in the business as far as I am concerned; from the administration, assistant directors, music staff to the rehearsal department, they are truly passionate about their work and their support of artists.  It is truly a gift to be so supported; it allows you to really focus on the creative aspects of the work.

What has your favorite experience or production been so far? 

It's really hard to pick a favorite production or experience after so many great ones.  I had the privilege to travel to Madrid in order to learn the movement for a Chicago production of Dialogues of the Carmelites. It was there that I met director Robert Carsen and choreographer Philippe Giraudeau which began a long term professional relationship in which I was trusted to assist and remount Mr. Giraudeau's work in operas in Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, and London. I was also asked to remount the dance for the Zambello production of Salome at the Saito Kinen Festival in Matsumoto, Japan.  These were very memorable experiences! 

 
Dialogues of the Carmelites at Lyric

I should also mention that I met my husband, Wilbur Pauley, while dancing in Lyric's production of Candide.  We have been married for 17 years and have three children together. Opera has definitely had a profound effect on my life!

 
The Pauley-Tye family at Soldier Field before Wilbur Pauley's performance of the National Anthem at a Bears game in fall 2014.

When you're not at Lyric, what are some of your other professional passions, such as Hyde Park School of Dance?

When I am not at Lyric I am very busy directing the Hyde Park School of Dance which I founded in 1993.  It is a not for profit dance school committed to making sure that dance is accessible to anyone who wants to dance.  I firmly believe that dance can have a profound effect on one's life.   Through the artistry, discipline, sense of self-confidence and teamwork a dancer experiences you gain a foundation for life skills that will stay with you no matter what field you chose as a career. 

Most people may not know that your son was in Madama Butterfly last season. Was that a fun experience for you as a family? Has he gotten the opera bug?

Having our son perform in Madama Butterfly was an amazing experience for him and of course we were very proud of our little guy.  He is always asking when he can work at the opera again.  Everyone treated him like royalty, he had a first floor private dressing room and he was paged to the stage as "Master Pauley." We also rode in a limousine to the opening-night party. Of course he got the opera bug! I'm afraid he will need to work on his singing voice to get that kind of treatment again!  He does like to sing…only time will tell.

 
Tye Oren Pauley as Sorrow, Butterfly's child, in Madama Butterfly with
Mary Ann McCormick (L) and Amanda Echalaz (C)

Photo credits:

  • August Tye portrait courtesy August Tye
  • Tannhäuser production photos credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago
  • Jasmin Vardimon portrait courtesy Jasmin Vardimon
  • Dialogues of the Carmelites production photo credit Robert Kusel / Lyric Opera of Chicago
  • Tye-Pauley family photo courtesy Wilbur Pauley
  • Madama Butterfly production photo credit Dan Rest / Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

Opera 101: Q&A with TOSCA Assistant Director Shawna Lucey

It takes a village to put together an opera, and one of the most important roles is the assistant director. Shawna Lucey, who is assistant director for Lyric's production of Puccini's Tosca  (on stage now through March 14) gives a quick overview of her linchpin role as keeper of the "opera playbook."

It takes a village to put together an opera, and one of the most important roles is the assistant director. Shawna Lucey, who is assistant director for Lyric's production of Puccini's Tosca (on stage now through March 14) gives a quick overview of her linchpin role—essentially acting as the translator for the director's desires to the rest of the company and the keeper of the "opera playbook."

Can you give a basic description of what an assistant director does? What is your role in the opera creation process?

An assistant director on an opera has many responsibilities—both assisting the director of the show as well as communicating the desires of the director to many departments of the opera company. The AD creates and maintains the blocking book—this has the entire score as well as pages with diagrams of the set to document the movement and motivation of every character onstage. This book is used as a reference tool when rehearsing understudies or when a production is shown at multiple theaters. It's almost like an NFL playbook!

 
The blocking book and production photo from Act 2 of Tosca with Tatiana Serjan (Tosca) and Evgeny Nikitin (Scarpia)

The AD is responsible for helping the director coordinate the schedule—making sure the correct people are called to rehearsal at the correct times. The AD communicates the director's desires to the chorus as well as to any supernumeraries in the show, making sure that they understand any notes given by the director. The AD also works closely with stage management and the technical staff to execute the necessary technical elements so crucial to the production.

 
The blocking book and production photo for the opening bars of Tosca with
Richard Ollarsaba as Angelotti

How does the assistant director collaborate with the director, in this case John Caird, before and during the rehearsal process?

It's been absolutely wonderful to work with John (pictured right). I think we've both enjoyed the collaboration on this show. John Caird was directing Bohème in San Francisco this fall, where I was assisting on productions of Norma and La Cenerentola, so we went out to dinner and had a great conversation—both about the production and his vision behind it as well as theater, politics, and football (we're both Packers fans). Before and after rehearsals we've discussed major ideas as well as truths about the characters. His patience, kindness, and cleverness have led to a delightful rehearsal process.

What do you find most exciting or thrilling about this production of Tosca?

John's directing is so detailed and so precise; this is a thrilling production of Tosca. He has put his heart and his mind to the text as well as the music, and what's resulted is a Tosca that hits deep in the audience's hearts and minds. I think the design is brilliant as well and welcomes us in. Each act is full of subtlety and excellent storytelling, so that when the opera reaches its tragic conclusion—which most people already know coming into the theater—John's directing creates the tragedy anew, having so delicately built the story to that irreversible point.

 
Scenes from Tosca starring Tatiana Serjan (Tosca), Brian Jagde (Cavaradossi), and Evgeny Nikitin (Scarpia)

What has drawn you to opera more generally? What is your educational background?

I majored in Italian at the University of Texas at Austin. I followed graduation with a post-baccalaureate semester at the Moscow Art Theater. After working in New York theater for two years, I decided to pursue an MFA (Master of Fine Arts). Not satisfied with the choices here in the U.S., I decided to move to Moscow and study there. I had heard that learning a third language is easier than learning your second. I didn't realize that didn't apply if the third language was Russian! While I was completing my MFA in directing at the Boris Schukin Theater Institute of the Vakhtangov Theater, my directing mentor said I should look into directing opera, since languages and music are two of my passions. I went to Santa Fe as a technical apprentice and fell deeply in love with opera. I haven't looked back since! 

Did your fluency in Russian help with this particular production of Tosca, which has several Russian artists? 

Yes—my Russian background did come in handy with this cast. Ms. Serjan speaks Russian & Italian, but not English. I was originally contacted by Lyric to work on this show because they knew they needed an assistant director who spoke Russian. I translated for Tatiana throughout the process. Evgeny Nikitin and Mo. [Dmitri] Jurowski both speak English, but it's been great to have an almost "secret" language that we can joke with each other in.

What's your favorite opera or what opera do you dream of directing one day?

My favorite opera changes all the time! It's so difficult to say because there are so many great operas to choose from.

This is your Lyric debutdo you have any observations about working with the company or being in Chicago so far?

This is my Lyric debut and I'm having a wonderful time. The staging staff, many of whom I knew from other houses, are some of the best in the country. That and the excellent crews here make for a fantastic first experience. The strength of these departments is reflected in the excellence of the productions here at Lyric. It's an honor to be here.

And what about when you're not workinghow do you enjoy Chicago?

I'm really enjoying the city! It seems like a lively place. I saw a puppet show by Blind Summit at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which was excellent, and I am looking forward to checking out the jazz scene here! 

Photo credits:

  • Shawney Lucey portrait courtesy Shawna Lucey
  • Blocking book photos courtesy Shawna Lucey
  • Production photos from Tosca at Lyric Opera of Chicago credit Michael Brosilow (first photo) and Todd Rosenberg (remaining photos)
  • John Caird portrait courtesy John Caird

 

Lyric U: Sopranos – how high can you go?

Get to know the soprano voice type with Renée Fleming, Anthony Freud, and Sir Andrew Davis in our latest Lyric U voice series installment. Plus hear examples of great soprano arias from some of the operas still on deck for this season: Anna Bolena, Tosca, Porgy and Bess, and Tannhäuser.

The soprano voice is one of the most recognizable in opera, with many famous arias and indelible images (Brünnhilde in a Viking hat, anyone?) that are immediately recognizable.

But what exactly is a soprano? And what kind of roles does that voice usually portray in opera? In our latest Lyric U video, Lyric's own Anthony Freud, Sir Andrew Davis, and Renée Fleming discuss the soprano with a few key musical excerpts sprinkled throughout.

 

Looking for some outstanding soprano roles at Lyric?  Here are just a few of the great arias featured this season.

Anna Bolena - "Coppia iniqua"

Donizetti's bel canto gem tells the story of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and Jane Seymour. Though it takes some historical license, all is forgiven when the singers' vocal fireworks are unleashed. Sondra Radanovsky takes on the role here at Lyric from December 6 through January 16. Here is Anna Netrebko performing "Coppia iniqua" from the Metropolitan Opera's 2011 production:

 

Tosca - "Vissi d'arte"

This season features one of the greatest soprano roles, the diva to end all divas: Tosca. Puccini's gut-wrenching story features a number of incredible musical moments, but none is quite so magical as "Vissi d'arte," Tosca's beautiful aria describing how she's lived for art and love, only to have fate turn against her. This season, you have two chances to hear this wonderful piece interpreted with Tatiana Serjan and Hui He both starring in the new-to-Lyric production from January 24 to March 14.

Here's Sondra Radvanovsky performing the aria in the Metropolitan Opera's production from 2011:

 

Porgy and Bess - "Summertime"

"Summertime" is arguably the most famous aria from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess—and it has become a popular tune outside the opera (here's ample evidence!). The great Kathleen Battle performs the opera's opening aria with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, led by Charles Dutoit:

 

Tannhäuser - "Dich, teure Halle"

Ryan Opera Center alumna Amber Wagner does double-duty this season; in addition to portraying Leonora in Il Trovatore, she comes back in February for Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser, which features some of the composer's most majestic music. If you missed Amber Wagner performing this at Lyric's 60th Anniversary Concert,  here is a historic recording of the incomparable Birgit Nilsson performing Elisabeth's greeting, "Dich, teure Halle":

 

Il Trovatore - "Tacea la notte placida"

Verdi's Il Trovatore is filled with show-stopping numbers, including the Anvil Chorus, but the character of Leonora has a beautiful aria in Act 2 describing the first time she heard the serenade of the troubadour Manrico. Amber Wagner took on the role at Lyric in October and November, and here is Barbara Frittoli in a production from La Scala in 2001:

 

Photo credits:

  • Sondra Radvanovsky in Anna Bolena (credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
  • Adina Aaron in Porgy and Bess (credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
  • Tatiana Serjan (credit Todd Rosenberg)
  • Hui He (courtesy Zemsky/Green Artist Managment)
  • Amber Wagner at Lyric's 60th Anniversary Concert (credit Michael Brosilow / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
  • Amber Wagner in Verdi's Il Trovatore (credit Michael Brosilow / Lyric Opera of Chicago)

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

Opera 101: Behind the scenes with assistant conductor Matthew Piatt

The extraordinary Matthew Piatt is in his sixth season at Lyric in the role of assistant conductor. For Porgy and Bess, he has been one of two pianists, which means he does everything from playing for rehearsals to fine-tuning diction. Read more about how he and Lyric's other backstage heroes work closely with the conductor and singers to get it right for every performance.

The extraordinary Matthew Piatt is in his sixth season at Lyric in the role of assistant conductor.  For Lyric's current production of Porgy and Bess he has been one of two pianists, which means he does everything from playing for rehearsals to fine-tuning diction to help with musical preparation for the show—including being able to do a little bit of singing himself! Read more about how he and Lyric's other backstage heroes work closely with the conductor and singers to get it right for every performance.

What exactly is an assistant conductor? 

All of the members of Lyric's music staff are called assistant conductors for logistical reasons, even though we each have our own area of musical specialization. Each mainstage conductor is assigned an understudy, who attends all rehearsals and is prepared to conduct if the principal conductor is occupied elsewhere. Depending on the particular opera, there is often a prompter present and finally there are two pianists per production. All of the above musicians fall under the title of assistant conductor.Personally, I work both as a prompter and a pianist at Lyric, but for Porgy specifically, I was one of the two pianists. (Read more about prompters at Lyric here.)

As a pianist, a majority of our time is spent playing for staging sessions in a rehearsal room. During those rehearsals, we both play the piano and also help communicate musical notes between the conductor and singers. Outside of stagings, we spend quite a bit of time coaching singers. This involves being in a room with a principal artist and working on their role, fine-tuning things like diction, musical style, technical challenges, etc. In these sessions, we try as much as possible to simulate a rehearsal by singing everyone else's parts, which is always a challenge. We all have to get past any self-consciousness about our singing voices, as most of the colleagues I know haven't studied to refine their own voices. Even though we may have a lot of advice to offer the incredible singers we encounter, it is still sometimes hard not to be vocally bashful in their presence! Finally, once we start rehearsing with the orchestra during the week before a show opens, we sit in the theater and serve as thoughtful listeners and problem solvers. We usually make long lists of details to relay to individual singers and to the conductor, in hopes that we have struck an appropriate balance with the orchestra and clarified any remaining details to make the production as musically excellent as possible.

Piatt peeks out of the prompter's box during rehearsals for Mozart's  La clemenza di Tito in the 2013-14 season.  

Can you describe your working process with a conductor—for example, Ward Stare in Porgy and Bess? 

We worked with Maestro Stare (pictured right) for Porgy and Bess in the same way we work with all conductors. The first days of the rehearsal process were spent focusing only on the music, without staging. We spent several hours going through the score with the principals and chorus. Porgy is a very complicated score to master, and as is usual in the opera business, some artists had performed it several times before, while others were doing it for the first time. So we were all working to get on the same page with respect to style, musical shape, individual characterizations, and unified diction. Whenever Ward offered an interpretative point of view, suggested certain musical nuances, or advocated for a certain tempo, it was our job to maintain those standards over the next few weeks. Once singers start to stage a piece, these sorts of details can get lost in the shuffle. The minute someone starts dealing with handfuls of props and has to stand on a piece of scenery 60 feet away from the conductor (often barely able to hear the piano or orchestra), it becomes so much harder to attend to every possible detail.

However, everyone wants to do his or her best, and we all work together to remind and assist each other in working towards the final product. Although I am privileged to work with excellent artists on a regular basis, I have to say that the principals and chorus in Porgy were notable for being so receptive and collaborative in working toward the final product. It is so satisfying to the music staff when you have that kind of "let's get it right" attitude in a rehearsal room, and I think that ended up shining through in their performances on stage.

From your perspective, is preparing for an opera like Porgy and Bess any different than other operas? Does the style of music or the fact that it's sung in English change anything for you?

I won't lie—I always appreciate the time I save when I don't have to translate something into English before I even start to practice the music! Of course I love the challenge and beauty of working in foreign languages and all musical styles. But there's something wonderful to me about the immediacy and directness of communication we can achieve when we are working in our vernacular. Stylistically, Porgy can be a challenge because Gershwin wasn't especially precise in notating what music should be swung (i.e. as a jazz musician would interpret it) versus straight (i.e. as a modern classical musician might interpret it, if he or she had no other stylistic information or limited experience with the jazz idiom). As a result, there was more stylistic discussion and refinement with this piece than we might encounter with other operatic repertoire. Finding the right balance between jazz and operatic idioms is definitely a challenge, but an enjoyable one because it's not something we encounter very often.

What is your favorite moment in Porgy and Bess? 

There are so many great moments in this opera, I would have a hard time choosing one.But I definitely won't forget the first time I heard the chorus's prayer sequences during the hurricane scene in Part Two.Whenever we learn new operas, we spend large amounts of time in a practice room by ourselves, imagining what something will sound like when sung by professional singers. Of course recordings are very valuable to stimulate our imagination. But after spending weeks at my own piano, I will never forget the first time I heard the chorus sing this music, which evokes human desperation and the unpredictability of Mother Nature. When I finally saw it in context with costumes, lighting, and full orchestra, I have to say that the result rather overwhelmed me. I think Francesca Zambello, Maestro Stare, and Michael Black really achieved an amazing theatrical moment, including the stunning mourning chorus that follows the storm. To me, that is what great opera is all about! I loved looking around the theater during opening night and seeing so many people around me caught up in the moment, many of them wiping away tears. I think it's safe to say this type of experience is why most of my colleagues are passionate about what we do for a living.

  

The storm scene in The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess

When do you get assigned your particular operas for the season? How much time do you need to prepare for an opera?

We usually get our assignments approximately six months in advance, both at Lyric and at San Francisco Opera, where I continue to work during Lyric's off-season. Depending on the piece, I often start preparation as much as six months in advance. Sight-reading is definitely a necessary skill to have, but at opera companies at this level, members of the music staff are expected to begin staging rehearsals with a rather exhaustive knowledge of the score. This usually entails hours of work translating the entire piece, being able to sing the vocal lines while playing the piano reduction, and knowing what the orchestration sounds like (i.e. what instruments are playing at any given moment in the score and whether any important musical lines have been omitted by the person who generated the piano reduction). Also, since operatic repertoire is so steeped in tradition, there is an expectation that we are familiar with reputable, historic recordings, which are an invaluable source of great interpretations of the past. The older I get, the more I try to allow myself increased time to learn new scores, since assimilating this much information often takes months of practice and study. Although it usually seems impossible to know everything about a piece, I find that the more I have studied a score, the more I can help singers and conductors during rehearsals.

What kind of musical training and background did you have before working at Lyric? What drew you to working for an opera company?

I have a bachelor's degree in piano performance from the University of Houston and a master's degree in collaborative piano from the University of Michigan. After completing my degree in Michigan, I moved to San Francisco, where I became the first coach/accompanist in the Adler Fellowship program. I spent two and a half years in that program, shortly after which I was offered a job at Lyric.

I'm from a very tiny town in western Kansas and had never encountered opera until I moved to Houston for college. I had always loved accompanying and working with singers. When I was 20 years old, I saw my first opera—Katya Kabanova at Houston Grand Opera. Although I knew nothing about the art form (nor that piece, in particular), I was immediately hooked. It was one of the most exciting things I had ever seen, and from that moment on, my educational and career path somehow led me through valuable professional experiences with remarkable mentors along the way. Even though working at this level can come with a tremendous amount of responsibility and stress, I sometimes still can't believe I get to do this type of work for a living.

Piatt has performed with Lyric's creative consultant Renée Fleming in support of arts education, including events at Symphony Center (top) and the Thompson Center (bottom left) with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and Perez Elementary School (bottom right) with dancer and arts advocate Damian Woetzel. 

What do you love most about working at Lyric?

The thing that makes me the happiest is seeing an artist, either in a public rehearsal or a private coaching, have some sort of breakthrough. The work that opera singers do continues to amaze and inspire me. They have to take an enormous amount of risks before they achieve exactly the right balance between technique and artistry, and they have to be vulnerable in front of very discriminating audiences their entire careers. In addition, they often aren't able to hear either themselves or the orchestra, and yet they are smart enough to integrate all the visual and aural cues to present what looks like an effortless performance. There are many unsung heroes backstage at Lyric, and each person clearly takes an enormous amount of pride in making what we put on stage as excellent as possible. I think I could speak for all of my backstage colleagues and say that when we see a great performance and can take a small sense of ownership in having achieved that product, we are deeply satisfied. In our field, there's something wonderful about the passing down of experiences and traditions—we are all at different points in our careers, but we get to encounter so many wise and generous people, and the combination of that energy in any rehearsal is a wonderful thing to observe and learn from.

When you're not at Lyric, what do you like to do in Chicago?

My husband and I get really excited about all things food-related, so we can't help but spend a lot of time checking out all the bars and restaurants this city has to offer. And when time allows, nothing makes me happier than throwing a multi-course dinner party! I always joke that if I didn't work in opera, I would need to work for Martha Stewart in some capacity. We are also impressed by the variety and quality of cultural offerings here. Tonight, for example, we will be attending the Barrel of Monkeys show ("That's Weird, Grandma"), which might be my favorite theatrical activity to do in any city! It's quite the change of pace from rehearsing grand opera all day. Although I don't get to attend often enough, I also love my brother's variety show, The Paper Machete, which takes place every Saturday at the Green Mill.

Matthew Piatt performs with Porgy and Bess stars Adina Aaron and Eric Owens on WTTW's Chicago Tonight: 

 

Photo credits:

  • Matthew Piatt portrait and onstage photos courtesy Matthew Piatt
  • Ward Stare portrait credit Halski Studios
  • Porgy and Bess production photos credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago
  • Renée Fleming events credit Todd Rosenberg (top and bottom right) and Charles Osgood (bottom left)

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