Lyric Opera of Chicago names dynamic Italian conductor Enrique Mazzola as Lyric’s next music director

Mazzola is only the third person to serve in this role at Lyric following Sir Andrew Davis, who celebrates his 20th year at the helm and will complete his tenure with Lyric’s 2020|21 season, formally “passing the baton” to Mazzola for the 2021|22 season

CHICAGO (9/12/19) – As general director, president & CEO Anthony Freud announced today, big changes are underway at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Acclaimed and beloved music director Sir Andrew Davis plans to conclude his two-decade-long tenure at the end of the 2020|21 season. Eminent Italian conductor Enrique Mazzola has been named as Lyric’s music director designate, effective immediately, and will become Lyric’s music director beginning with the 2021|22 season. As Davis continues his substantial responsibilities while overseeing the transition, Mazzola looks forward to his role in leading Lyric through the next, dynamic chapter of the iconic company’s journey.

Mazzola and Davis joined Freud in the theater for the announcement at the Lyric Opera House. Meanwhile, Davis is preparing to conduct Rossini’s The Barber of Seville to open Lyric’s 65th season on Sept. 28, and Mazzola will begin rehearsals next week for Verdi’s early masterpiece, Luisa Miller, which opens Oct. 12. 

“I am thrilled that Enrique Mazzola has accepted Lyric’s invitation to become our next music director,” Freud says. “He has accrued a wealth of international experience in his career to date, and he is tremendously well liked and respected by the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus. I am confident that our audiences and the people of Chicago will be captivated by his artistry, his charm and personality, as has certainly been the case during his initial engagements here in the past few years. I look forward with great excitement to working very closely with Enrique. Our artistic partnership has already started, and is proving both very fruitful and extremely enjoyable.”

As Sir Andrew Davis enters his 20th season as Lyric’s music director and principal conductor, Freud notes, “Sir Andrew is on the podium for an astonishing six operas: The Barber of Seville, Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, and the four operas of our new Ring cycle. Since I came to Lyric in 2011, we have collaborated on an incredible two-dozen operas, nearly half of them new productions including one world premiere, not to mention several outstanding concerts. 

Andrew’s contribution to opera in Chicago, and internationally, is immeasurable, and we all have much to anticipate over the next two years. I look forward to continuing our collaboration in the future.” 

Says Davis, “I had actually intended to leave after the Ring cycles next spring, until Anthony persuaded me to stay for one more season! It will be hard to leave, but the timing is right for me and I am confident that Enrique will be a splendid music director for Lyric. I am greatly looking forward to working closely with him over the next two years. He’s a fine musician and someone who will continue the tradition of the Lyric Opera family. It’s fantastic to have two years together for our transition.  

“Lyric has been my artistic and personal home for more than two decades, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities that I have enjoyed here, professionally and personally. It continues to be a joy to work with our magnificent orchestra and chorus on such a wide range of repertoire, and to join forces with so many brilliant singers and directors in bringing great opera to the Lyric stage.” 

Just prior to returning to Chicago in late August, Davis led a triumphant performance of Götterdämmerung at the Edinburgh Festival (with the stars of Lyric’s upcoming new production, Christine Goerke and Burkhard Fritz, in the leading roles).

Over the course of more than three decades, to date Davis has conducted 674 opera performances at Lyric, plus nine special concerts at the opera house, and the majority of Lyric’s free concerts in Millennium Park. The vast repertoire that he has led at Lyric encompasses operas by Berg, Berlioz, Bizet, Britten, Dvořák, Gilbert & Sullivan, Gounod, Janáček, Lehár, López, Massenet, Mozart, Mussorgsky, Poulenc, Puccini, Rossini, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Wagner, and Weinberg.

Chief conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and conductor laureate of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (he was previously that ensemble's principal conductor), Davis is also conductor laureate of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conductor emeritus of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and former music director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera. He has led performances at many of the world's most important opera houses, among them the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Covent Garden, the Bayreuth Festival, and the major companies of Munich, Paris, San Francisco, and Santa Fe. In addition to those ensembles previously mentioned, he has appeared with virtually every other internationally prominent orchestra including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, and all the major British orchestras. Recent engagements include the Last Night of the BBC Proms at London’s Royal Albert Hall and concerts with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

A vast discography documents Sir Andrew’s artistry, with recent releases including programs of Berlioz and Ives, as well as his orchestration of Messiah. In 1992 Davis was created a Commander of the British Empire, and in 1999 he was made a Knight Bachelor in the New Year Honours List. He has been awarded an honorary doctorate by Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.

Widely recognized as one of today’s foremost interpreters and champions of bel canto opera and a leading specialist in French repertoire and early Verdi, Enrique Mazzola is in high demand worldwide as both an operatic and symphonic conductor. He is principal guest conductor at Deutsche Oper Berlin, and until recently served as artistic and music director of the Orchestre National d’Île-de-France (ONDIF) in Paris. In recognition of his significant contribution to musical life in France, Mazzola was made a Chevalier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in October 2018. 

His arrival in Chicago follows his recent return to New York’s Metropolitan Opera for a spring production of La fille du régiment and his back-to-back summer engagements in Austria. He led a “phenomenal, monumental” Rigoletto (Opern magazine, Germany) at the Bregenz Festival and made his Salzburg Festival debut in August, conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in a new staging of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld that marked his first collaboration with director Barrie Kosky.

Following the performances of Luisa Miller at Lyric Oct. 12-31, Mazzola’s 2019|20 season includes his return to the Zurich Opera House (Don Pasquale, new production), Vienna Symphony Orchestra for concerts at the Musikverein and Bregenz Festival, Deusche Oper Berlin (Meyerbeer’s Le prophète and Dinorah), Orchestre Symphonique de Québec, Glyndebourne Festival Opera (L’elisir d’amore), Taiwan Philharmonic, and symphonic concerts in Germany. Future plans include his return to London Philharmonic, both in London and on tour in Europe. 

In addition to his extensive conducting roster, Mazzola is the first international brand ambassador of Tuscany’s Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, promoting the culture of Vino Nobile and the surrounding Montepulciano wine region in Italy and abroad. It’s an area he knows well, having served as artistic director of Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte in Montepulciano from 1999 to 2003. As Mazzola told Chicago Wine Journal in 2016, “The life of an ambassador is never being at home. That’s basically true of a conductor, as well.” Mazzola has promoted Vino Nobile whenever the opportunity arises, offering insights into the region, its history, and its wine production.

Lyric audiences first experienced Mazzola’s artistry when he conducted Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor here in 2016|17. The Chicago Tribune praised “the gifted young Italian conductor Enrique Mazzola, a first-rate bel canto opera stylist making an impressive company debut…Mazzola was ever at the ready to support the vocal lines with shapely, refined orchestral playing that soared along with the singers, but also delivered firm dramatic urgency and tension when so required. This conductor is a discovery indeed.” Mazzola’s return to Lyric for Bellini’s I Puritani inspired similarly heartfelt praise in 2017|18.

“I am so looking forward to working closely with Anthony in my new role as music director at Lyric starting in 2021, and to working with both Anthony and Sir Andrew as music director designate during the transition period,” says Mazzola.  “Anthony has made me feel very much like part of the Lyric Opera family from the beginning, and our working relationship is always an excellent collaboration.”

Mazzola says he felt “love at first sight for Chicago – amore a prima vista, as we say in Italian,” and has enjoyed exploring the city’s neighborhoods, restaurants, and cultural attractions. “I got to know everything you can discover by walking through the Loop, the Gold Coast, Chinatown, what remains of Little Italy,” he recalls. “I did what every tourist should do — the architectural tour, the Art Institute, the Chicago Symphony, and some rooftop bars after some shows.

“I’ve also had some important experiences which made me a little closer to the city,” Mazzola notes. “The first of course was my invitation to Lyric,” which provided the opportunity “to get to know a lot of people” and to get a sense for the audience here. Also, “when I come to Chicago, I rent an apartment, so for that month and a half I become a Chicago citizen and live a real Chicago life. The days between performances are perfect for me to walk and to feel and to see and to enjoy the city in a different way.” He finds Chicagoans “ready to listen, ready to explain, ready to show, ready to accompany you.”

He describes Lyric as “an opera house where all the artists are warmly welcomed, where there is enough time to rehearse and to express personal and artistic ideas. I found in Chicago a very attentive and prepared audience, fantastic orchestra and chorus, and a wonderful organization.”

Mazzola intends to make Chicago his principal residence. 

Read Enrique Mazzola’s full bio here

Read Sir Andrew Davis’s full bio here

About Lyric

About Lyric

Lyric Opera of Chicago is committed to redefining what it means to experience great opera. The company is driven to deliver consistently excellent artistry through innovative, relevant, celebratory programming that engages and energizes new and traditional audiences.

Under the leadership of General Director, President & CEO Anthony Freud, Music Director Sir Andrew Davis, Music Director Designate Enrique Mazzola, and Special Project Advisor Renée Fleming, Lyric is dedicated to reflecting, and drawing strength from, the diversity of Chicago. Lyric offers, through innovation, collaboration, and evolving learning opportunities, ever-more exciting, accessible, and thought-provoking audience and community experiences. We also stand committed to training the artists of the future, through The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center; and to becoming increasingly diverse across our audiences, staff, programming, and artists—magnifying the welcoming pull of our art form, our company, and our city.

Through the timeless power of voice, the splendor of a great orchestra and chorus, theater, dance, design, and truly magnificent stagecraft, Lyric is devoted to immersing audiences in worlds both familiar and unexpected, creating shared experiences that resonate long after the curtain comes down.

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Photo: Rick Aguilar