October 15, 2021

Spotlight on Francesca Zambello

It’s always exciting when Lyric can bring a new-to-chicago work like Florencia en el Amazonas to our audiences, but it’s even more compelling when it’s being led by one of the world’s most highly respected directors, Francesca Zambello. She began her journey with Lyric back in 1999 and we are delighted to welcome her back to direct the first Spanish-language work to be presented as part of our mainstage opera season.

Zambello has been the General Director of the Glimmerglass Festival since 2010 and Artistic Director of Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center since 2012.  Both organizations have thrived artistically and financially while increasing their national and international profiles as a result of her vision and leadership. Zambello’s U.S. directorial debut took place at Houston Grand Opera in 1984, and just a few years later, she debuted in Europe at Venice’s Teatro La Fenice. Since then, she has worked at more than 50 international opera houses, and has staged new productions at major theaters and opera houses in Europe, Asia, Australia, Russia and the USA.

Before Zambello ever stepped foot in the rehearsal room at Lyric, her work was presented in the 1999/2000 Season with a revival of her acclaimed production of Tristan und Isolde. Her first in person appearance at Lyric followed 8 year later when she came to direct our debut production of Porgy and Bess, which she vibrantly revived in 2015.

Lyric's 1999 production of Tristan und Isolde.

One of the most anticipated shows of Lyric’s 2006/07 Season was a new production of Richard Strauss’s Salome, of which The Chicago Tribune praised “Francesca Zambello's visually striking and dramatically rich staging.” With Zambello’s direction and soprano Deborah Voigt making her much-anticipated first staged appearance in the title role, the production was a smash hit.

Lyric's 2021/22 production of Daniel Catán's Florencia en el Amazonas.

In addition to being known for her work directing opera, Zambello also has a rich history of working on musicals on Broadway and internationally. At Lyric, Zambello led our 2012 co-production of Show Boat which then traveled to Houston Grand Opera, Washington National Opera and San Francisco Opera. In 2019, Zambello returned to direct our acclaimed production of West Side Story — Lyric’s most popular musical theater presentation to date! Chicago Classical Review said that “the singing, dancing and musical values were consistently outstanding” and that the “dance sequences were glorious.”

Mikaela Bennett and Corey Cott in Lyric 2018/19 production of West Side Story.

Most recently, Zambello tackled our 2019/20 production of Verdi’s Luisa Miller. In an interview, she said, Verdi is “painting with bold strokes, and I wanted to do the same thing with this production, contrasting the pastoral, idyllic world of Luisa and her father with the noble world. I think people move differently in these kinds of environments. In our production, the peasants are very real, but when we move into the world of the Count [Rodolfo’s father], it’s a series of postures, as if everyone is always striking a pose. It is a world where Luisa is completely at sea.“

Christain Van Horn, Krassimira Stoyanova and Quinn Kelsey in Lyric's 2019/20 production of Luisa Miller.

We're excited to welcome Francesca Zambello back to Lyric to direct Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas. Zambello has been closely associated with the piece since its 1996 world premiere, having developed the opera alongside the late composer. Following its triumphant debut, she has directed the title numerous times across Latin and North America. Set sail on a magical adventure, November 13-28, with Francesca Zambello’s stunning production of Florencia en el Amazonas.

November 13 - 28

Florencia en el Amazonas

Florencia en el Amazonas

Lyric’s first Spanish-language work to be presented as part of the mainstage opera season, this story about a glamorous diva on a life-changing adventure on the Amazon is suffused by the entrancing allure of magical realism. Florencia and her fellow passengers are all intensely memorable characters, and they’re illuminated by the magnificent, sumptuous romantic music created by a true musical genius — Mexico’s finest opera composer, Daniel Catán.

Photos: Marc Hom, Dan Rest, Cory Weaver, Todd Rosenberg