March 06, 2023
Speaking of the present
The great opera houses of the world have fostered new work for as long as the art form has existed — taking risks and making investments, cultivating emerging talent and expanding audiences. Our treasured repertory did not exist until a risk was taken to commission a work, thereby unlocking and unearthing the creative talents of librettist and composer. At Lyric, it is our great honor and, we believe, our duty to participate in this vital tradition. This season, for the first time in the company's 68-year history, we are presenting two commissioned world premieres on the heels of one another: The Factotum and Proximity. While they differ in musical style and dramatic form, they share a profoundly contemporary viewpoint, centered in Chicago and on urgent issues of our time. One can't help but feel history in the making as we witness these new operas take shape and come to life. The invisible is becoming visible.
Proximity brings together a collaborative complement of some of the most creative minds of our time — winners of the Pulitzer Prize, Grammy Awards, and Emmy Awards, as well as MacArthur "Genius" Grant winner Yuval Sharon, here making his mainstage directorial debut, after having brought us the shimmering Twilight: Gods during the darkest days of the pandemic. The trio of operas could each stand on its own, but Sharon has fused the three works together, creating a wholly new experience. This opera explores themes of yearning for connection in a world driven by technology, the devastating impact of gun violence on cities and communities, and the need to respect and protect our natural resources. Innovative in form, creative process, style, and casting, the work's title highlights the proximal nature of these societal issues to our everyday lives.
One can’t help but feel history in the making as we witness these new operas take shape and come to life.”
The Walkers, composed by Emmy-award winner Daniel Bernard Roumain with a libretto by acclaimed playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith, is an impactful work in all its aspects. For the past several decades, Smith has created "documentary theater" works derived from the recorded words of living people. This libretto, created at the invitation of Lyric's Special Projects Advisor Renée Fleming, is the result of an extensive series of interviews facilitated by Chicago CRED (Create Real Economic Destiny), an organization focused on reducing gun violence in Chicago that was founded by Arne Duncan, a former U.S. Secretary of Education, and Laurene Powell Jobs. Several of the characters in this opera (some of them composites) are based on real people whose lives and work have been profoundly affected by gun violence. Their language, harvested from interviews with Smith, became the bedrock of much of The Walkers' sung text, all artistically curated by Smith. We are grateful for the partnership with Chicago CRED and for the candid words from members of our community.
Composer John Luther Adams lit up the cultural world a decade ago with the premiere of his orchestral composition Become Ocean, which went on to win the 2014 Pulitzer Prize. This work, Night, set to a poem by his longtime friend the late poet John Haines, takes on a kind of oratorio form, with a soloist and chorus leading us through meditations on the cosmos and our fragile Earth's place within it.
Caroline Shaw is one of the most innovative composers of our time, the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in Music and a prolific collaborator with many other kinds of artists. Four Portraits, with a libretto by the versatile dramaturg Jocelyn Clarke, current Theatre Advisor to the Arts Council of Ireland, features music that not only brings the contemporary world to life onstage, but incorporates innovative musical techniques to depict a GPS system and cell phone calls. The result is a meditation on how technology both unites and separates us.
We are all united at this performance, hearing this world premiere for the very first time. As Sharon's intertwining of the works demonstrates, the value of human connection and how we engage with others is the core theme of Proximity. Human connection is one of the main functions of great art — and one of our main responsibilities at Lyric. Through innovative storytelling coupled with musical diversification, I believe we open the door to possibility. By speaking directly to our current experiences, we give voice to so many stories that haven't been heard or seen on an opera stage, thereby reaching an even broader array of humanity. At Lyric Opera of Chicago, we are evolving the art form. We are pushing the boundaries of what opera can be.