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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."  
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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.  
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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.

Ryan Opera Center’s Busy Summer

The members of Lyric's Ryan Opera Center are keeping busy this summer. Read more about what they've been up to, plus two opportunities to see these talented young musicians in performance. 

Though the stage at Lyric might be dark until September, The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center 2014-15 ensemble has already been hard at work. Summer activities have included voice lessons and coachings, as well as instruction and classes in languages, movement, and acting--including improv with The Second City. Ensemble members have also performed a concert with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and a workshop production of Don Giovanni. They most recently participated in a weeklong working session for Bel Canto, the new Lyric commission that has its world premiere in December 2015. Read more about the Bel Canto creative process

Want to see the fruits of their labors? Here are two opportunities to watch the ensemble members perform live this summer:

Lyric Shorts - Rush Hour Concerts Summer Music Series
Tuesday, July 29 at 5:45pm
St. James Cathedral (65 E. Huron St., Chicago)

The popular ongoing Lyric Shorts program, a staple of Rush Hour's summer series, returns with excerpts from Mozart's Don Giovanni, which opens Lyric's 2014-15 season on Saturday, September 27. Ensemble members Anthony Clark Evans, John Irvin, Will Liverman, Julie Anne Miller, Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi, Richard Ollarsaba, Laura Wilde, and Maureen Zoltek (piano) perform selections with narration by Roger Pines, Lyric's dramaturg. This presentation is free and open to the public, and will also be broadcast live on 98.7WFMT and streamed online at wfmt.com

Bolcom and Mozart - Grant Park Music Festival
Wednesday, August 13 at 6:30pm
Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park

J'nai Bridges, Julie Anne Miller, Anthony Clark Evans and Will Liverman will join the Grant Park Orchestra in a performance of a collection of William Bolcom's Cabaret Songs, conducted by Carlos Kalmar. Mozart's Symphony No. 25 and Piston's Suite from The Incredible Flutist are also on the program. Bolcom is a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer; Lyric commissioned and premiered three of his operas: A Wedding (2004-05), A View from the Bridge (1999-2000), and  McTeague (1992-93).

To reserve a seat in the Pritzker Pavilion for $25, call 312-742-7638 or visit gpmf.org. Seating on the lawn is free and open to the public. This concert will also be broadcast live on 98.7WFMT and streamed online at wfmt.com.

Photo credit: 

  • The 2014-15 Ryan Opera Center Ensemble. Bottom row: J'nai Bridges, Maureen Zoltek, Will Liverman; Middle row: Laura Wilde, Tracy Cantin, Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi, Julie Anne Miller; Top row: Richard Ollarsaba, Bradley Smoak, Jesse Donner, Anthony Clark Evans, John Irvin, Jonathan Johnson (credit Dan Rest / 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)
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Ryan Opera Center’s Talented Alums!

Lyric's own Ryan Opera Center  has a long roster of incredibly talented alumni. Here's what some of the singers affiliated with Lyric's prestigious training program have been up to this past season and where you can see them next season in Chicago and beyond!

The Ryan Opera Center's annual Rising Stars in Concert celebration is coming up this Saturday, March 29. It's not too late to donate $75 to Lyric and receive two complimentary tickets to this showcase of opera's future superstars.

The Ryan Opera Center has a long roster of incredibly talented alumni. Lyric's production of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, which closed out the 2013-14 season, is just one example. ALL of the cast members had connections to the Ryan Opera Center. Matthew Polenzani (Tito), Amanda Majeski (Vitellia), Christian van Horn (Publio), and Cecelia Hall (Annio) are all alumni of the program, and Emily Birsan (Servilia) is a current member. And Joyce DiDonato (Sesto) was just inducted as an honorary Ryan Opera Center member in a short ceremony after the Clemenza dress rehearsal.  

Here's what some of the other singers affiliated with Lyric's prestigious training program have been up to this past season and where you can see them next season in Chicago and beyond!

Elizabeth Futral 
(Ryan Opera Center member from 1989 to 1991) 

Past season   Highlights of Elizabeth's busy 2013-14 season include her role debut as Desiree Armfeldt in Houston Grand Opera's production of Sondheim's A Little Night Music , a role debut as Zdenka in Minnesota Opera's production of Strauss's Arabella, and a performance of one of her signature roles, Lucia di Lammermoor, for Portland Opera.

Coming soon! — Catch Elizabeth as Elsa Schraeder in Lyric's upcoming all-new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music  opening on April 25 right here at the beautiful Civic Opera House.   

Andriana Chuchman
(Ryan Opera Center member from 2007 to 2010)
 

Past season — Andriana had an amazing 2013-14 season. Already slated to debut with the Metropolitan Opera in February 2014 in The Enchanted Island, her debut came a month earlier as Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore when Anna Netrebko was ill for opening night. Andriana stepped in and wowed the New York critics!  

Coming soon! — Andriana is part of the amazing cast that makes up Lyric's new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni  that opens the 2014-15 season, with Robert Falls directing and Sir Andrew Davis conducting. She will also appear with Vancouver Opera in Sondheim's Sweeney Todd in April 2015.

Quinn Kelsey
(Ryan Opera Center member from 2003 to 2006)
 

Past season — Quinn made his role debut as Germont in Lyric's new production of Verdi's La Traviata in October 2013. He also performed the title role in Verdi's Rigoletto for English National Opera and in I vespri siciliani at Oper Frankfurt.

Coming soon! — Catch him at Lyric as Count di Luna in Verdi's Il Trovatore in October 2014. He will also perform as Marcello in the Metropolitan Opera's La Bohème in September 2014.  

Amber Wagner
(Ryan Opera Center member from 2007 to 2010)
 

Past season — In addition to welcoming her first child in summer 2013, Amber performed Verdi's Requiem with Sir Andrew Davis and the Melbourne Symphony in September 2013 and made her Washington National Opera debut in Verdi's La Forza del Destino in October 2013.

Coming soon! — Like Quinn Kelsey, Amber comes home to Lyric next season in Il Trovatore  as Leonora from October 27 to November 29. Then she's back just a few months later, starring in Tannhäuser  as Elisabeth from February 9 to March 6, 2015.

Amanda Majeski 
(Ryan Opera Center member from 2009 to 2011) 

Past season — Amanda was part of the dream cast of La Clemenza di Tito  that wrapped up Lyric's 2013-14 season. She also made her role debut as Donna Elvira in Mozart's Don Giovanni at Opera Philadelphia, as well as making her Carnegie Hall solo recital debut at Weill Recital Hall. 

Coming soon! — This Gurnee native will be back in her hometown to conclude another Lyric season. This time, she stars as Marta in Weinberg's The Passenger  from February 24 to March 15, 2015. She will also make her Metropolitan Opera debut as Countess Almaviva in the Met's new production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro in December 2014. 

Photo credits: Elizabeth Futral (credit Karli Cadel), Andriana Chuchman (credit Chia Messina), Quinn Kelsey (credit Dan Rest), Amanda Majeski (credit Dario Acosta).

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