December 06, 2021

Opera of our times

By Enrique Mazzola

It was my honor and privilege to bring live music back to Lyric Opera of Chicago as music director and the conductor of Verdi’s Macbeth and Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love. I am deeply moved by the caring welcome I received from my new Lyric family. After more than 18 months of darkness, we needed our audiences to bring life back to our beloved theater.

Music Director Enrique Mazzola conducting Lyric's 2021/22 opening night performance

This season, we are cultivating and sharing several newer pieces that reflect modern stories with contemporary themes. Or as I like to call it: “opera of our times.”

These exciting operas attract new audiences, ensure the continued relevance of the art form, and expand the voice and narratives heard on our stage.

The history of opera is rooted in the creation of work that is politically and socially relevant to the people who fill the theater.

Lyric's 2021/22 production of Florencia en el Amazonas featuring Mario Rojas, Gabriella Reyes, Deborah Nansteel, and Levi Hernandez. 

For many, language can be a barrier to discovering opera. Some worry they might not enjoy the performance if they cannot understand the libretto. While Lyric does offer English-language superscript translations for each opera, nearly 18% of Chicago residents predominantly speak and read Spanish. This is why it was so important for Lyric to present its first mainstage Spanish-language opera, Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas, this season.

Opera Omaha's 2018 production of Proving Up

I am honored to conduct Missy Mazzoli’s Proving Up, which explores both sides of “The American Dream”: the promise of a better life for those who work to achieve it as well as the hardships for those who seek it and find that fate can be cruel. Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones is based on the memoir of the same name by New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow. This gripping opera — which premieres at Lyric in March 2022 —  truly reveals the Black experience in this country as few other operas have done.

Opera Theatre St. Louis's' 2019 production of Fire Shut Up in My Bones

Chicago has certainly earned its reputation as a city of modernity, ambition, and hard work. My heart is here, in Chicago. I love this city and its people. But I must ask: can Lyric claim its role in Chicago’s “ambitious” and “modern” story if we don’t present operas that reflect that progressive spirit and represent the diversity of its citizens?

To do this, we must champion the “opera of our times” alongside the treasured masterpieces of the past to keep opera relevant, exciting, and inclusive for our city. We must build pathways to opera for everyone who seeks it.

If you’d like to support Lyric’s mission as we take these steps forward, I hope you’ll consider making a donation that reflects the ambition of our artists in bringing the “opera of our times” to life at Lyric. Your gift helps provide the resources Lyric needs to make this happen.


Header image: Lyric's 2021/22 production of Florencia de el Amazonas

Photo credit: Cory Weaver, Kyle Flubacker, Opera Omaha, Eric Woolsey/Opera Theatre St. Louis