June 30, 2021

Hail to the Scotsmen

McVicar and Macfarlane return to Lyric in 2021/22

The work of director Sir David McVicar and designer John Macfarlane has illuminated some of the most extraordinary productions in the history of Lyric Opera of Chicago. Perhaps just as much as their mutual artistic understanding, it's their common heritage that makes them such a united team and has ensured the success of their longtime collaboration.

They're both natives of Glasgow, Scotland, and each trained there — McVicar at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Macfarlane at the Glasgow School of Art. Ever since their careers took off internationally, they've relished every opportunity to work together, forging a working relationship that has produced hugely acclaimed new productions at major opera houses worldwide.

Lyric's 2012/13 production of Strauss's Elektra, directed by Sir David McVicar with set designs by John Macfarlane.

The first McVicar/Macfarlane collaboration at Lyric — with Macfarlane creating both sets and costumes — was Strauss's Elektra (2012/13, revived 2018/19). Seen and Heard hailed it as "stunning," an adjective echoed in every other review. Chicago on the Aisle found that its "magnificence...resides in the depth of its humanity." Everyone who's seen this Elektra will remember the blood pouring down the ruined palace stairs in the final scene ("there was something profoundly satisfying in watching Elektra dip her hands in it, as if relishing the spoils of the opera's denouement," said the Chicago Tribune). Stage and Cinema was impressed that "McVicar proves the timelessness of this ancient Greek tale as he fast-forwards his production to what feels like a dystopian future. John Macfarlane's costumes are reminiscent of Star Wars, Queen Elizabeth and a zombie apocalypse all rolled into one." Elektra gave audiences "a bloody good show" (Chicago Tribune) and "a powerful evening of memorable music-drama" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch).

Lyric's 2013/14 production of Dvořák's Rusalka, directed by Sir David McVicar with set designs by John Macfarlane.

Similarly unforgettable was the company premiere of Dvořák's Rusalka (2013/14), for which Macfarlane created the sets, with costumes by the brilliant German designer Moritz Junge (whose costume designs will be featured in this team's Macbeth this fall). Classical Voice North America found that the production "largely preserves the soaring magic and longing of its fairytale origin." For the Czech composer's variation on the tale of the water nymph in love with a human prince, Macfarlane created "one enchanting, surreal scene after another: a moonlit and magical (if already polluted) forest, a grossly scaled butcher shop of a kitchen...and a great Gothic castle hall studded with an alarming number of hunters' trophies...there's not an unmemorable visual moment in the whole three-and-a-half-hour show." (Chicago Reader). Seen and Heard found the production "triumphant," noting that it had "the vividness of film, with a realistic depiction of the woods and detailed sets for the castle scene plunging the audience into the opera's world of the late-nineteenth century."

Lyric's 2001/02 production of Britten's Billy Budd, directed by Sir David McVicar.

One of today's most celebrated directors, McVicar made his Lyric debut with other designers, creating a stupendous new Billy Budd (2001/02), setting a new standard for productions of Britten's opera. McVicar has since returned to Lyric for several hugely acclaimed productions without Macfarlane: Giulio Cesare (2007/08), Manon (2008/09), Il trovatore (2011/12), La clemenza di Tito (2013/14), and Wozzeck (2015/16). Macfarlane — internationally renowned as both a painter and a designer — debuted at Lyric without his Scottish colleague in a fabulously inventive 2007/08 production of Hansel and Gretel that originated at Welsh National Opera and has since traveled the world.

Design sketch for Lyric's 2021/22 production of Verdi's Macbeth by John Macfarlane.

Lyric's new music director, Enrique Mazzola opens the 2021/22 Season with a new production of Verdi's Macbeth — directed by Sir David McVicar with sets designed by John Macfarlane  on September 17.

September 17 – October 9, 2021



Lyric’s riveting season opener is the inaugural production of Music Director Enrique Mazzola's tenure, and a brand-new production from Sir David McVicar. Adapting one of the greatest tragedies written by his hero, Shakespeare, Verdi created a stunning portrait of the most power-hungry couple who ever trod a stage. Macbeth’s bloody ascent to the throne of Scotland — led and supported by his wife’s own consuming ambition — results in disaster for them both. Verdi brings them to blazing life in a score that bristles with energy and endless excitement. Grand-scale arias, hair-raising duets, stupendous ensembles — they’re all here, in the first genuine masterpiece of Verdi’s career.

Header photo: Ana María Martínez in the title role of Rusalka, 2013/14. Credit: Todd Rosenberg

All other photos: Robert Kusel, Todd Rosenberg, John Macfarlane