Lyric Opera of Chicago

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THE PASSENGER is “virtually flawless” and “profoundly moving”

The Midwest premiere of Weinberg's The Passenger is onstage at Lyric through March 15. The Chicago Tribune gives this production a perfect four stars and deems it "an experience in the theater that is not to be missed." Read more critical praise for this haunting and powerful opera.

 

The Midwest premiere of Weinberg's The Passenger  is onstage at Lyric through March 15. The Chicago Tribune  gives this production a perfect four stars and deems it "an experience in the theater that is not to be missed." Here is more critical praise for this haunting and powerful opera.

"A virtually flawless performance and [David] Pountney's definitive production justify the decision of Lyric general director Anthony Freud to bring 'The Passenger' to Chicago….If this is a harbinger of fresh directions at Freud's Lyric Opera, then bring them on, I say." - Chicago Tribune

"With a faultless large cast and striking and imaginative production, one can't imagine Weinberg's dark yet hopeful opera receiving stronger advocacy." - Chicago Classical Review

The Passenger is "a compelling opera that manages the nearly impossible task of shedding meaningful light on the horror of Auschwitz." - Chicago Sun-Times

"Pountney's staging sweeps us from present to past with the fluidity of film, using an ingenious unit set the late designer Johan Engels based on Medvedev's original concept." - Chicago Tribune

The Passenger "stunningly powerful" and a "tasteful testimony to the courage and heroism of the human spirit." - Chicago Critic

"stunning" -  Chicago on the Aisle

Sir Andrew Davis and the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus 

Sir Andrew Davis "conducted with searing authority" - Chicago on the Aisle

"Davis harnesses the power and sensitivity of his instrumental forces to undergird the emotional trajectory of the work." - Chicago Tribune

"The crisp rhythmic definition and propulsive energy Davis brings to Weinberg's sometimes spiky, sometimes nostalgically jazzy orchestra reminds us he is as much a master of 20th century music as he is of Mozart and Strauss. He secures admirable work from the orchestra and the Michael Black-trained chorus, at the top of their game at the end of a demanding 60th anniversary season." - Chicago Tribune

"The level of scrupulous preparation was manifest in every bar, with Davis's acute balancing bringing out every quirky detail of the score from the haunting celesta tones to the sardonic xylophone writing." - Chicago Classical Review

The impressive cast 

"Lyric has assembled an impressive array of singers who managed to make every Auschwitz inmate and prison guard a vivid, individual character."  - Chicago Sun-Times

 "Amanda Majeski is already on a fast track to a major career, but as Marta, the former Ryan Opera Center member delivered a shattering, star-making performance. " - Chicago Classical Review

 "Her ringing soprano glistened like Waterford crystal, combining transparent fragility with soulful strength." - Chicago Sun-Times

Amanda Majeski's "singing is pure, shining and true.  She has done nothing finer at the company that launched her international career." - Chicago Tribune

"Mezzo-soprano Daveda Karanas, who last season sang Kundry in Wagner's Parsifal, is riveting as the panicked woman Liese" - Chicago on the Aisle

Karanas  "delivered a superbly rounded performance, singing with a big tone and proved credible as both the frightened wife and scarily sadistic Auschwitz guard." - Chicago Classical Review

"The soft edges of Karanas's rich mezzo-soprano conveyed Liese's terror, but her tone became appropriately commanding in her scenes as a manipulative SS guard. " - Chicago Sun-Times

"With his powerful heldentenor Brandon Jovanovich brought daunting vocal strength to the somewhat thankless role of Walter, Liese's diplomat husband." - Chicago Classical Review

"A fine singer with real acting chops, Jovanovich is convincing as a mostly good guy, with a propped-up image of himself that he is keen to defend." - Chicago on the Aisle

 "As Tadeusz, Marta's fiancé, Joshua Hopkins used his rich baritone to create a calm, moral center amid the madness of Auschwitz." -Chicago Sun-Times

"Notable among Marta's richly individualized community of barrack companions are soprano Kelly Kaduce as the tough-minded Russian freedom fighter Katya, who can't quite remember all the words to the old folk song her grandmother used to sing; dramatic soprano Nina Warren as a crazed older woman who's the only survivor from her group of arrivals, and mezzo-soprano Liuba Sokolova as determinedly faithful Bronka, who lights candles to God and insists He will not forget even the ones who have given themselves up utterly to the idea that they are forsaken." - Chicago on the Aisle

Photo credits:

  • The Passenger at Lyric Opera of Chicago production photos credit Michael Brosilow and Robert Kusel

The reviews are in: TANNHÄUSER is “sexy and striking” with “powerhouse voices”

Wagner's Tannhäuser is a bucket-list opera, full of some of the composer's most dramatic and moving music, from the opening overture to the Pilgrim's Chorus. This opera has not been seen at Lyric since the 1988-89 season, and critics are calling this epic production (on stage through March 6) a must-see event.

Wagner's Tannhäuser is a bucket-list opera, full of some of the composer's most dramatic and moving music, from the opening overture to the Pilgrim's Chorus. This opera has not been seen at Lyric since the 1988-89 season, and critics are calling this epic production (on stage through March 6) a must-see event.

Chicago on the Aisle  gave it four (out of five stars), calling it "potent, sensual and yet strikingly unromanticized production." The Chicago Tribune  says that "the musical performance is glorious." The Chicago Sun-Times says this production "conveys the opera's compelling drama and transcendent vocal beauty."

Chicago Splash  simply says, "Lyric's current production is about as strong a case as you're ever going to hear for [Tannhäuser], a reminder of Wagner's ability to provide us with the same delights his title character experiences in his hedonistic paradise. Too bad we have to return to the real world."

Sir Andrew Davis and the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus 

"[Tannhäuser's] true hero way well be music director Andrew Davis, drawing floods of sumptuous sound and deep-piled lyricism from the admirable Lyric Opera Orchestra. The no less demanding choral writing found Michael Black's finely disciplined chorus singing its collective heart out." - Chicago Tribune

" Lyric music director Andrew Davis conducts Tannhäuser for the first time with the dramatic conviction, musical assurance and fluent lyricism of one whose knows his Wagner inside out. The Lyric Opera Orchestra delivers at a very high level, indeed." - Chicago on the Aisle

"Longtime Lyric music director Andrew Davis, who is conducting Tannhäuser for the first time, adroitly shapes the complex, unfolding drama, paying due attention to the all-important balances in this opera and highlighting its many intimate musical moments." - Chicago Sun-Times

The Glorious Cast 

"Johan Botha offered his finest Lyric performance to date" - Chicago Classical Review

"Botha is today's definitive Tannhäuser, and he has the vocal heft, lung power and stamina to make it through to the end of a very long opera without a hint of strain." - Chicago Tribune

"Tannhäuser is one of the most difficult Wagner roles to sing, yet Johan Botha is a revelation in the role" - Chicago Splash

"The vocal pillar of this production is soprano Amber Wagner, with her commanding stage presence and forceful, affecting voice." - Chicago Sun-Times

"With her impressive performance as Elisabeth, Amber Wagner showed that she is coming into her own as a complete, major artist." - Chicago Classical Review

"A Ryan Opera Center breakout star, [Amber Wagner] produced a gleaming, ample and effortless sound that also was warm and womanly when it needed to be" - Chicago Tribune

"Gerald Finley…possesses a wonderfully expressive bass-baritone voice with surprising lightness and grace" - Chicago Sun-Times

Gerald Finley's "Wolfram was a masterful work of dramatic singing" - Chicago Classical Review

"As Wolfram, Gerald Finley threatened to run away with the show. His vocal strength was complimented by a dramatic sense that shaded the facets of the character hopelessly in love with Elisabeth, a moral paragon whose goodness is essentially unrewarded." - Chicago Splash 

Michaela Schuster "swathed in a slinky, sequined black gown, threw herself into this ungrateful role with riveting intensity and panache" - Chicago Tribune

 "John Relyea anchored the ensemble at the low end with his sonorous bass" - Chicago Classical Review

The Sensual Opening Dance 

"a sexy and striking coup de theatre" - Chicago Tribune

"A high point of the production is the beginning bacchanal, which features a swirling, electrifying dance, smartly choreographed by Jasmin Vardimon." - Chicago Sun-Times

"Vardimon perfectly captures an all-consuming love in her erotic spectacle." - The Fourth Walsh

 

Photo credits

  • Tannhäuser production photos credit Robert Kusel and Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

An Insider's Guide to THE PASSENGER

The Chicago premiere of Weinberg's The Passenger is on stage at Lyric from February 24 through March 15. Discover this poignant, gripping, and intimate 20th-century masterpiece, which portrays the story of the Holocaust from the perspectives of both victim and perpetrator, through interviews with the cast and creative team, audio previews, and more. 

 

The final opera of Lyric's 60th Anniversary season is the Chicago premiere of Mieczysław Weinberg's The Passenger, on stage from February 24 through March 15. This poignant and gripping 20th-century masterpiece portrays the story of the Holocaust from the perspectives of both victim and perpetrator, and was only recently rediscovered after more than 40 years of suppression.

In the early 1960s, Liese (Daveda Karanas) travels aboard an ocean liner bound for Brazil with her diplomat husband Walter (Brandon Jovanovich) while hiding a terrible secret: she was once an SS officer at Auschwitz. When she thinks she recognizes a fellow passenger as Marta (Amanda Majeski), one of her former inmates, she is forced to confront the truth about her past. The story moves back and forth from the ship to the camp, focusing on key events including Marta's reunion with her lover, Tadeusz (Joshua Hopkins), and Marta's friendships with Katya (Kelly Kaduce) and Bronka (Liuba Sokolova).

The Passenger is conducted by Sir Andrew Davis and directed by David Pountney, with set designs by the late Johan Engels, costumes by Marie-Jeanne Lecca, and lighting by Fabrice Kebour.

To supplement the mainstage performances of The Passenger, Lyric also presents "Memory and Reckoning," a confluence of activities that will add resonance and perspective to the themes and messages in Weinberg's opera through musical performances, a film screening, exploratory discussions, and the world premiere of The Property, a newly commissioned klezmer opera. Click here to learn more about these supplemental events, which run January through March.

Click here to read the plot synopsis, director's note, and more
in the complete program book for The Passenger.
 

Learn more about the world of The Passenger with this opera companion
 

Click here to learn more about The Property in the complete program book. 

Articles with insights from the cast and creative team:

Pathways to Discovery: Exploring The Passenger and The Property
Lyric's general director Anthony Freud discusses the importance of presenting The Passenger and "Memory and Reckoning" events in this article from Lyric Opera News: "As the son of a Holocaust survivor, Freud notes that he can 'be rather cynical about works of art that have been inspired by the Holocaust. However, The Passenger is different from most. It's not sentimental or simplistic or melodramatic. It's a complex, very moving, very human story.'" READ MORE  

In the Footsteps of Evil: Daveda Karanas visits Auschwitz
When Daveda Karanas appears in the Lyric premiere of The Passenger, she'll perform with a special perspective on the opera. Her portrayal of Liese—a former overseer of inmates at Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II—will be significantly influenced by the American mezzo-soprano's recent visit to Auschwitz itself. READ MORE

Backstage Look: Creating Hair and Makeup for The Passenger
Lyric's wigmaster Sarah Hatten, now entering her fourth season as the head of this crucial department, takes us inside the process for creating the hair and makeup for Weinberg’s The Passenger. With an opera based on historical events, the challenge is to make every aspect of the production look as realistic as possible. And as surprising as it might seem, recreating real life on stage is usually more difficult than creating whimsical or fantastic wigs and makeup. READ MORE

The Passenger Audio Preview

Music director Sir Andrew Davis shares the synopsis and excerpts from Weinberg's The Passenger. Recordings used by permission of EMI Classics and Peermusic Classical.

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An Insider's Guide to TANNHÄUSER

Wagner's magnificent Tannhäuser is an epic tale of sin and redemption that is truly a monumental experience. Learn more about this new-to-Chicago production conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, directed by Tim Albery, and starring Johan Botha with interviews, audio previews, and more.

 

Wagner's magnificent Tannhäuser is on stage at Lyric February 9 through March 6. In this tale of sin and redemption, a wandering musician (Johan Botha) is lured into the erotic realm of the goddess Venus (Michaela Schuster). When he grows tired of her sensual delights, he returns home to his saintly beloved Elisabeth (Amber Wagner). However, he soon learns that true forgiveness is not so easily won. 

Sir Andrew Davis conducts this monumental vocal, choral, and orchestral feast that also stars Gerald Finley as Wolfram and John Relyea as the Landgrave in a new-to-Chicago production from director Tim Albery, who makes his Lyric debut. 

Click here to read the full plot synopsis, director's note, and more
in the complete Tannhäuser program book
.

Articles with insights from the cast and creative team

Closing the Circle: Sir Andrew Davis conducts Tannhäuser
Musically, stylistically, dramatically, and intellectually, there's no greater challenge for an opera conductor than the works of Richard Wagner. Sir Andrew Davis knows this very well—he waited to take them on until he became Lyric's music director in 2000. "The prospect of doing the Wagner operas was one of the most exciting things about coming to Lyric," he recalls. Fourteen years into his tenure—after The Flying Dutchman, Parsifal, the Ring, Tristan und Isolde, Lohengrin, and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg—only one of Wagner's mature operas was left to tackle: Tannhäuser, which returns to Lyric's stage this season for the first time since 1988-89, from February 9 through March 6. READ MORE

The reviews are in: Tannhäuser is “sexy and striking” with “powerhouse voices”
Wagner's Tannhäuser is a bucket-list opera, full of some of the composer's most dramatic and moving music, from the opening overture to the Pilgrim's Chorus. This opera has not been seen at Lyric since the 1988-89 season, and critics are calling this epic production (on stage through March 6) a must-see event. Chicago on the Aisle   gave it four (out of five stars), calling it "potent, sensual and yet strikingly unromanticized production." READ MORE

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 of creating this sensuous depiction of Venusburg from auditions to rehearsals to opening night. READ MORE 

Tannhäuser Tweets: Why fans love this opera
Lyric's new-to-Chicago production of Wagner's Tannhäuser is the talk of Chicago. Read these tweets and posts from attendees to see why this is a can't-miss event. Our fan Miriam Scott says it best: it's a "veritable Wagner music hit parade and it's not even that long. Don't miss it." READ MORE 

Chorus member Jeffrey Taylor on Tannhäuser
As a bass with the Lyric Opera Chorus since 1981, Jeffrey Taylor has experienced countless thrilling performances firsthand. He's enthusiastic about this season's biggest choral challenge, Wagner's Tannhäuser, and why Lyric audiences should be excited to experience this massive masterpiece, unheard here since 1988. READ MORE 

Who is your Tannhäuser Valentine?
Wagner's Tannhäuser runs February 9 through March 6 at Lyric, including a performance on February 14! The hero of the opera must choose between the sensual goddess Venus and his saintly beloved Elisabeth. Who is your Tannhäuser Valentine? Take this quiz and find out! READ MORE 


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 this Lyric U voice series installment. Plus hear examples of great soprano arias from some of the operas still on deck for this season, including "Dich, teure Halle" from Tannhäuser. READ MORE

 

Lyric U: Baritones in opera
Have you tuned into Lyric U? Check out our new video library, which starts with an in-depth exploration of the baritone in opera with Sir Andrew Davis, Anthony Freud, and Renée Fleming. Plus, check out some video highlights of the greatest baritone arias on stage this season, including Wolfram's beautiful aria "O du mein holder Abendstern" (Song of the Evening Star) from Tannhäuser. READ MORE

 "Patter Up!" with Amber Wagner

Get to know the lighter side of Tannhäuser star and Ryan Opera Center alumna Amber Wagner, who also triumphed earlier this season in Verdi's Il Trovatore

 

Tannhäuser Audio Preview

Music director Sir Andrew Davis shares the synopsis and excerpts from Wagner's Tannhäuser. Recordings used by permission of EMI Classics.

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