Lyric Opera of Chicago announces first woman board chair, Sylvia Neil

CHICAGO (9/17/2020)  Anthony Freud, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s general director, president & CEO, is pleased to announce the election of Sylvia Neil as chair of Lyric’s Board of Directors, the first woman board chair in Lyric’s history. Neil was elected unanimously during Lyric’s Annual Meeting of members and the Board of Directors’ Annual Meeting in early September, after holding the position of board chair-elect for the last year. In her acceptance speech Neil said, “I am honored to be the first woman chair of Lyric, and am humbled and inspired by Carol Fox and Ardis Krainik, the extraordinary groundbreaking women general directors of our past. These are the folks that light my path forward.” 

She succeeds former Board Chair David Ormesher, who establishes a new plan of succession for Lyric board chairs by stepping into the role of chair of the Executive Committee, effective immediately. Lester Crown, who was previously the chair of the Executive Committee, will transition into the role of Executive Committee chair emeritus in recognition of his 30 years as chair. Neil was also the first-ever chair-elect, holding that new position over the past tumultuous year.

In remarks to the attendees participating in the virtual Annual Meeting earlier this month, Neil said, “I have been deeply involved by David [Ormesher] and Anthony [Freud] in helping Lyric navigate this period of pandemic and darkness. I have not only witnessed the extraordinary generosity of our patrons and donors, but the extraordinary commitment of our staff and the heartbreaking needs of our employees and artists. The future of Lyric will in many ways be forged in these months. The seasons ahead will challenge us in ways we have never imagined, but I can assure you that already these challenges are being met with amazing creativity and energy and sensitivity. The future of Lyric is bright.“


Neil joined the Lyric Board of Directors in May of 2011 and has served as a member of Lyric’s Executive Committee, Lyric Unlimited Committee, IDEA Steering Committee, Nominating and Governance Committee, and chair of the Development Committee over the course of her Lyric tenure. Neil and her husband, Dan Fischel, have sponsored many Lyric productions, most recently ElektraMadama Butterfly, and The Marriage of Figaro. Following the cancellation of our 2020 Ring cycle, Sylvia and Dan jumped into action by organizing and sponsoring The Heroes’ Fund to help mitigate the financial losses suffered due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Lyric is thrilled to welcome Sylvia as our new board chair,” said Freud. “In her time as chair-elect, she has already proven to be a tremendous leader for the company, establishing Lyric’s Heroes’ Fund that raised more than 10 million dollars to help offset the very serious financial consequences of performance cancellations. Sylvia’s background and commitment to equity and the arts come at a critical juncture for Lyric. Her work will be challenging and I am confident in her abilities to find smart solutions to complex issues.”

“I am very pleased to pass the torch to Sylvia Neil,” said Ormesher. “Sylvia’s passion and enthusiasm are contagious. She is devoted to creating opportunities for women and is a champion for social justice. She and her husband are long-time subscribers and donors, so I know this work is both in her heart and in her soul.”

Neil has had a distinguished career in civil liberties advocacy and academia. She is a lecturer in law at the University of Chicago Law School, where she was former associate dean. She founded and chaired the Project on Gender, Culture, Religion and Law at Brandeis University (Boston, MA) and co-edits its book series. Neil was an adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law and taught at DePaul School of Law and Roosevelt University. She began her career in poverty law litigation and served as legal counsel and Midwest region executive director of the American Jewish Congress. She has been a consultant to several not-for-profit institutions, including the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, where she initiated the prototype Jewish Women’s Foundation. Neil was appointed to both the Illinois and Cook County Human Rights Commissions and among other honors received the Rabbi Robert J. Marx Social Justice Award from the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.

Neil has had leadership roles in many cultural, civil rights, and academic institutions. Currently she is a vice chair of the Art Institute of Chicago and sits on the boards of Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago High School for the Arts, Chicago Public Media, and Brandeis University, where she chairs the Board of Fellows. She also sits on the advisory board of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. Neil is lifetime director and former chair of the Grand Teton Music Festival, and trustee emeritus and former vice chair at the Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. At the University of Chicago she serves on the Council for the Humanities and was recently appointed to the initial councils for the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge.

Neil has a Bachelor of Arts degree with high distinction from the University of Michigan, a Master of Arts in Jewish Studies from the University of Chicago, and a Juris Doctor degree Cum Laude from Northwestern University. Sylvia Markowicz Neil is originally from Toledo, Ohio. She and her husband, Dan Fischel, proudly make Chicago their home base and share a close-knit extended family of children and grandchildren across the country.

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: Todd Rosenberg