Lyric Opera of Chicago is one of the world's great opera companies. It is renowned internationally for its artistic excellence and financial strength. Founded in 1954, Lyric has always distinguished itself by presenting the finest international singers, conductors, directors, and designers in classic and less-familiar operatic repertoire and in world-premiere productions.

The company's mission is to express and promote the life-changing, transformational, revelatory power of great art and opera. Lyric exists to provide a broad, deep, and relevant cultural service to the Chicago region and the nation, and to advance opera's development by producing and performing consistently world-class opera, with a balanced repertoire encompassing core classics, less-known masterpieces, and new works; creating a diverse, innovative, wide-ranging program of community engagement and education activities that reaches the widest possible public; and developing exceptional emerging operatic talent.

Anthony Freud, Lyric's general director, began his tenure in 2011. Sir Andrew Davis has served as Lyric's music director since 2000. Renée Fleming became Lyric's first creative consultant in 2010.

Carol Fox, Lawrence V. Kelly, and Nicola Rescigno.

The company, originally known as The Lyric Theatre of Chicago, was formed in 1954 by Carol FoxLawrence V. Kelly, and Nicola Rescigno (pictured). The latter two founders withdrew after the 1955 season, and the company was renamed Lyric Opera of Chicago prior to the 1956 season. Carol Fox served as founding general manager (1954-80); she died in 1981. Fox was succeeded by Ardis Krainik, who had been with the company since its founding and served as general director from 1981 until her death in 1997. William Mason served as general director from 1997 until his retirement in 2011. He is Lyric’s first general director emeritus.

Bruno Bartoletti and Pino Donati were co-artistic directors from 1964 to 1974. Bartoletti served as sole artistic director from 1975 until retiring in 1999. He was artistic director emeritus until his death in 2013. Bartoletti made his American debut at Lyric in 1956 and conducted more than 600 performances of 55 operas at Lyric (1956-2007).  Matthew A. Epstein, who had been Lyric’s artistic adviser beginning in 1980, served as artistic director from 1999 to 2005. 

In addition to planning repertoire and productions for Lyric Opera of Chicago's recent and future seasons at the Lyric Opera House, in 2012 Anthony Freud launched Lyric Unlimited, a long-term, evolving initiative that encompasses company activities that are not part of Lyric's mainstage opera season. Under the leadership of Cayenne Harris, vice president, Lyric Unlimited has focused on introducing new audiences to opera, developing programming for young people, collaborating with community organizations, and commissioning and presenting new works and exploring new formats. On average, 100,000 people experience Lyric Unlimited programming each season.

In addition to planning repertoire and productions for Lyric Opera of Chicago’s recent and future seasons at the Lyric Opera House, in 2012 Anthony Freud launched Lyric Unlimited,a long-term, evolving initiative that encompasses company activities that are not part of Lyric’s mainstage opera season. Under the leadership of Cayenne Harris, vice president, Lyric Unlimited has focused on introducing new audiences to opera, developing programming for young people, collaborating with community organizations, and commissioning and presenting new works and exploring new formats. On average, 100,000 people experience Lyric Unlimited programming each season.

In addition to planning repertoire and productions for Lyric Opera of Chicago’s recent and future seasons at the Lyric Opera House, in 2012 Anthony Freud launched Lyric Unlimited,a long-term, evolving initiative that encompasses company activities that are not part of Lyric’s mainstage opera season. Under the leadership of Cayenne Harris, vice president, Lyric Unlimited has focused on introducing new audiences to opera, developing programming for young people, collaborating with community organizations, and commissioning and presenting new works and exploring new formats. On average, 100,000 people experience Lyric Unlimited programming each season.

Lyric Unlimited has commissioned and/or presented new works including Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, El Pasado Nunca se Termina, The Second City Guide to the Opera, The Property, Longer! Louder! Wagner!, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD, Cycles of My Being (song cycle), Fellow Travelers, and An American Dream; and shorter operas for young people: Second Nature, Jason and the Argonauts, The Scorpion’s Sting, and Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt. It has also created events enabling families to explore opera together, including seated performances (Popcorn & Pasquale, Family Barber, Magic Victrola) and an annual Family Day open house, all at the Lyric Opera House.

Additionally, Lyric Unlimited deepens and broadens relationships throughout the city through collaborative programs such as EmpowerYouth!, Caminos a la ópera, Caribe Classico, and Chicago Voices; creates access to opera for teachers and students through elementary and high-school residencies, Opera in the Neighborhoods, backstage tours, and performances for students; supports youth development through opera education in programs such as Youth Opera Council and the Vocal Partnership Program; introduces and grows adult audiences for opera; and more.

2012-13 saw the inauguration of Lyric’s American Musical Theater Initiative, which presents classic musicals each spring under the "Broadway at Lyric" banner: Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! (2013), The Sound of Music (2014), Carousel (2015, pictured), and The King and I (2016); Lerner & Loewe's My Fair Lady (2017); Webber & Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar (2018); Bernstein & Sondheim's West Side Story (2019), and Warren & Dubin's 42nd Street (2020).

Renée Fleming became Lyric Opera’s first-ever creative consultant in December 2010 and was elected to the Board of Directors as a vice president at that time. Fleming has an active leadership role in developing new projects designed to increase opera audiences and awareness of the art form, while sharing in the company’s artistic vision. 

The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center (originally the Apprentice Artist Program, subsequently The Lyric Opera School of Chicago and the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists) was established in 1973 as the professional artist-development program for Lyric Opera of Chicago. The Ryan Opera Center is recognized as one of the premier programs of its kind in the world. That standing is maintained by providing the finest up-and-coming singers with unparalleled training and experience. 

Pictured: Lyric Opera Center for American Artist' production of La cambiale di matrimonio, presented as The I.O.U. Wedding, 1996.

The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center (originally the Apprentice Artist Program, subsequently The Lyric Opera School of Chicago and the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists) was established in 1973 as the professional artist-development program for Lyric Opera of Chicago. The Ryan Opera Center is recognized as one of the premier programs of its kind in the world. That standing is maintained by providing the finest up-and-coming singers with unparalleled training and experience. 

Pictured: Lyric Opera Center for American Artist' production of La cambiale di matrimonio, presented as The I.O.U. Wedding, 1996.

The Civic Opera Building, at 20 North Wacker Drive on the east bank of the Chicago River between Washington and Madison streets, is the permanent home of Lyric Opera of Chicago. The 3,563-seat capacity of the theater makes it second only to New York’s Metropolitan Opera as the largest opera auditorium in North America. 

Lyric Opera purchased the Civic Opera House (now known as the Lyric Opera House) and adjacent backstage spaces from the building’s owner in 1993, the first time in the history of the opera house (built in 1929) that the resident opera company has actually owned the space. Lyric simultaneously launched a $100-million capital campaign: Building on Greatness...An Opera House for the 21st Century, to finance the purchase and renovation of the art-deco house. The renovation was completed in time for the 1996-97 season. In 1996 the Civic Opera House auditorium was named the Ardis Krainik Theatre for Lyric’s second general director.  

Lyric Opera of Chicago annually employs about 1,100 seasonal, part-time and full-time staff, including orchestra musicians, chorus members, stagehands, production and technical staff, stage management, ushers, etc. There are approximately 120 full-time year-round administration staff.  

In 1989 Lyric Opera of Chicago launched its Toward the 21st Century artistic initiative – the most important artistic initiative the company had undertaken to date, and one with far-reaching impact on American opera in North America as well as in the international opera community. Throughout the 1990s Lyric produced one 20th-century European and one 20th-century American opera each season as part of the regular subscription series. Within this initiative Lyric commissioned three new works: William Bolcom’s McTeague (1992-93); Anthony Davis’s Amistad (1997-98, pictured); and Bolcom’s A View from the Bridge (1999-00).  

In 1989 Lyric Opera of Chicago launched its Toward the 21st Century artistic initiative – the most important artistic initiative the company had undertaken to date, and one with far-reaching impact on American opera in North America as well as in the international opera community. Throughout the 1990s Lyric produced one 20th-century European and one 20th-century American opera each season as part of the regular subscription series. Within this initiative Lyric commissioned three new works: William Bolcom’s McTeague (1992-93); Anthony Davis’s Amistad (1997-98, pictured); and Bolcom’s A View from the Bridge (1999-00).  

Among other major artistic achievements is Lyric’s first presentation of Wagner’s Ring cycle in a single season within the span of a week, during the 1995-96 season. Sold out months in advance, the three cycles had a total economic impact of $34.7 million on the Chicago metropolitan area. The Ring again sold out when remounted for three cycles during the 2004-05 season. 

A new production of the Ring cycle commissioned by Anthony Freud will be presented in its entirely three times in April-May 2020, and is expected to sell out.

Over the course of the company’s 65-year history, Lyric Opera of Chicago has consistently offered its patrons a world-class roster of singers, conductors, directors, designers, choreographers, and dancers in a wide-ranging repertoire. 

Artists

Over the course of the company’s 60-year history, Lyric Opera of Chicago has consistently offered its patrons a world-class roster of singers, conductors, directors, designers, choreographers, and dancers in a wide-ranging repertoire. Browse below for a list of notable artists.

Major Events at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Major American Debuts and American Operatic Debuts* at Lyric Opera of Chicago

American and World Premieres at Lyric Opera of Chicago