Opera at its best takes the universal themes of humanity and brings them to life in the space and time of a live performance.
Although Gaetano Donizetti never thought of his three operas about Tudor queens as a trilogy, they have been joined together ever since Beverly Sills sang them at New York City Opera in the 1970s. Each of these operas has as its protagonist one of the most important women in English and Scottish history. All three possessed immense charisma, acute intelligence, and above all, an essential courage that enabled them to fearlessly confront one harrowing life event after another. Two of them, Anne Boleyn and Mary Stuart, met their fates on the executioner’s block, but the third, Elizabeth I, survived to conquer her enemies – both abroad and at home – and became a monarch to rank with the greatest of any era. Anne, Mary, and Elizabeth are presented by Donizetti and his librettists in music of extraordinary beauty and expressive power, but also abounding with technical challenges for its interpreter – particularly in the finales that are the central focus of “The Three Queens” at Lyric.
Donizetti composed these works during a period when opera in Italian houses centered exclusively on singers. It was their talents, desires, and availability that governed an opera company’s major repertoire decisions. Known today as bel canto, this style of repertoire, popular throughout the prime of Donizetti in the 1830s, was written as a vehicle to showcase the stupendous abilities of stars – certainly tenors, but more frequently star sopranos. Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux exemplify the wish of Donizetti (and the opera houses for which he composed) to produce works that would offer memorable vehicles for truly great singing actresses.
American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, a longtime favorite of Lyric audiences, is internationally acknowledged as today’s foremost exponent of these operas, due to her phenomenal vocalism, immaculate sense of style, and abundant gifts as an operatic tragedienne. We’re deeply fortunate to have her as the raison d’être of “The Three Queens.” We’re excited, too, to witness her collaboration with internationally celebrated bel canto specialist Riccardo Frizza (who conducted Sondra in Lyric’s triumphant Norma in 2016|17), director Matthew Ozawa, artists of the Ryan Opera Center, and the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus.
As we present ”The Three Queens,” we’re midway through a season of exciting transition and transformation. Like so many arts organizations nationwide, Lyric is addressing the growing competition for audience attention and donor investment. We’re working diligently, and creatively, to expand our audience base, grow ticket sales, secure new sources of revenue, and engage the communities we serve – and we’ve seen significant success from these endeavors. Our ability to fill the house for grand-opera performances is, in fact, unusually high among large American opera companies, which we help accomplish through our season-planning process and adoption of innovative marketing strategies. Our community programs devoted to learning and creative engagement now reach more than 100,000 people each season in schools and neighborhoods throughout Chicago and the suburbs.
As we look ahead, all of us at Lyric, onstage and behind the scenes, will continue to build on this progress. We’re confident that we’re on the right path, and we thank you for your support of everything we do. In closing, we welcome you to “The Three Queens.” We know it will be a memorable highlight of your operagoing this season.
Anthony Freud General Director, President & CEO The Women’s Board Endowed Chair