May 07, 2024

A year in Chicago schools

Lyric has concluded its exciting 2023/24 Season — but the action wasn’t just limited to the opera house. All over the city, the company’s Lyric Unlimited, Learning and Civic Engagement division brought opera and the arts to students throughout Chicago and nearby suburbs. Programs like Opera in the Neighborhoods and Opera Residencies continue Lyric’s ongoing commitment to making opera an exciting and accessible experience for younger generations. About 100,000 students in Chicago experience this innovative programming annually, and the 2023/24 Season provided a host of exciting events and productions across Chicago.

Merit School of Music Partnership

Music Director Enrique Mazzola added new layers to Lyric’s long-time partnership with the Merit School of Music, a downtown organization dedicated to equitable music education. Taking place as a part of Merit’s Artist Residencies program, the partnership allowed students opportunities like coaching sessions in technique, seminars, and master classes. Mazzola led rehearsals with Merit’s philharmonic and previewed Aida as a guest in Merit’s Live from Gottlieb series, in addition to making numerous class visits throughout the school year.

Maestro Mazzola guides Merit students through rehearsal.

EmpowerYouth! Final Presentation

Lyric Opera of Chicago, alongside Chicago Urban League, kicked off the seventh year of EmpowerYouth! in the 2023/24 Season. Students worked year-round to create, compose, and stage their own production. Entitled The Future Teller, this season’s piece is a science-fiction narrative that investigates the past, present, and future. The story takes place in a very different Chicago — one surrounded by a futuristic bio dome. A group of “out-of-domers,” also referred to as ALT DLT, are attempting to save the city from the Appazon corporation; the final conflict between the two groups causes a computer glitch that releases the Future Teller, an omniscient and multidimensional being. The students’ hard work throughout the year culminated in a final presentation at Lyric in the William Mason Rehearsal Room.


Lyric Teaching Mentor Tanji Harper (at left) leads the group in an exercise.

Opera in the Neighborhoods

Lyric’s Opera in the Neighborhoods program started the 2023/24 Season with a multi-venue tour of Jason and the Argonauts, for more than 3,000 students throughout the city and suburbs. The production’s run culminated with two public performances for families to enjoy. Opera in the Neighborhoods will return in the 2024/25 Season with Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World, a story about facing your fears, learning new things, and the power of friendship.


Chicago families enjoy a public performance of Jason and the Argonauts.

Teacher & Teaching Artist Testimonials

Many Lyric Unlimited programs — such as the Elementary Opera Residency, the Opera Discovery Project, and the High School Choir Residency — rely on collaboration between Chicago educators and Lyric teaching artists. Teachers and teaching artists first meet at Lyric professional development workshops, where they get the opportunity to be students for the day and learn from one another. Lyric teaching artists then make year-round visits to classrooms, during which they will work with teachers to create an expansive and relevant curriculum based on the needs of the classroom or group. 

Choir students at Senn High School await further instruction. 

“I feel like I have a much better understanding of the human voice and singing because of this program,” says Da’Sean Wilson, the choir director at Walter H. Dyett High School for the Arts. Wilson was paired with Lyric teaching artist Taylor Ott through the High School Choir Residency program. Their curriculum for the year focused on exposure to different types of music and vocal styles, and Wilson’s class completed the Opera Discovery Project by attending the Lyric dress rehearsal of Champion. Through the High School Choir Residency alone, Lyric Opera of Chicago partnered with five schools and reached over 360 students in the 2023/24 Season. 

Whether they're collaborating with Chicago’s high school choirs or helping elementary students create an original performance, the passion and hard work of teaching artists, educators, and Lyric administrators brings music into the lives of countless children and students across Chicagoland. Stay tuned for more exciting Lyric Unlimited programming in the 2024/25 Season!

Photos: Jaclyn Simpson, Kyle Flubacker, Todd Rosenberg