August 11, 2021

Stepping back onto the Lyric podium

During a joyful afternoon at the Lyric Opera House in the fall of 2019, with red glasses on those present, Anthony Freud, Lyric's general director, president and CEO announced that Maestro Enrique Mazzola would be stepping into the role of music director starting with the 2021/22 Season. Immediately following his appointment, the Maestro kicked off Lyric's Early Verdi series with Luisa Miller and began settling in to his new home in Chicago. When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe the following spring, Mazzola was quick to embrace the possibilities of the virtual operatic world, partnering with Lyric on multiple digital programs and concerts. Now that he is preparing to take the podium for Verdi's Macbeth and Donizetti's The Elixir of Love in a new Lyric season — the first live performances in the Lyric Opera House in 19 months — we caught up with Maestro Mazzola to hear what he's been up to and how he's preparing.

LYRIC: I don't know if we ever could have imagined what your time as music director designate would look like - mostly virtual, in a global pandemic. Looking back, what were your top priorities during Lyric's virtual season and why were your projects (Sole e AmoreThe Sonata Sessions, Breaking Down the Score, and Attila Highlights in Concert) important to you?

MAZZOLA: Yes, I would have never expected to be a real "virtual" Music Director Designate. The pandemic period was difficult throughout the arts world, and artists reacted in different ways. With silence, or with new ideas. I decided to be part of the latter group, creating new shows which could be streamed and that would not put engaged artists at risk, in the full respect of safety protocols (masks, disinfecting/cleaning, COVID tests, and so on). Attila was one of the centers of my attention: originally being an opera of Lyric's Early Verdi Series, I didn't want to "lose" this title. Therefore, I started to create a series of videos at home about how we can read this marvelous score. And then we also recorded the highlights of this magnificent opera with some incredible artists. I also wanted to create events for the other artistic groups of Lyric, such as the Lyric Opera Orchestra, Lyric Opera Chorus and Ryan Opera Center Ensemble, and so I imagined The Sonata Sessions, The Verdi Chorus Showdown and Sole e Amore. All projects which reached a really impressive number of audiences online!

Maestro Mazzola during the filming of Attila Highlights in Concert in Lyric's 2020/21 Season.

LYRIC: What are you most looking forward to about getting back on the podium at the Lyric Opera House in front of a live audience?

MAZZOLA: In some way, I feel I am the connection between the audience (behind me) and the artists (in front of me), and I can't wait to be back at the Lyric Opera to inspire both after such a long time in which artists and audience had to be separated!


LYRIC: Macbeth is a huge moment for you, as you kick-off your tenure as music director, and for Lyric, as the company invites audiences back for in-person performances in brand new seats. Tell us a little bit about what excites you about Verdi's music and what this opera means to you.

MAZZOLA: Macbeth is one of the first operas I sang when I was a kid at Teatro alla Scala in Milano. I was singing the Third Apparition, under the baton of Claudio Abbado and in the staging of Giorgio Strehler. I was there, in the theatre, for hours and hours just to sing one phrase  yes, a ghostly, scary, long phrase, but just one! And at the same time, I was in a way "absorbing" so much of this music. So it's not difficult for me to say that Macbeth is important to my personal life, my artistic life, my language, my overall opera experience. And I am so happy to present this title that is so special to me to our audiences in Chicago!

Sketch of Macbeth set by set designer John Macfarlane.

LYRIC: You'll be conducting Donizetti's The Elixir of Love in tandem with Macbeth this fall at Lyric. How do you prepare to conduct two very different scores and styles of music with the Lyric Opera Orchestra at the same time?

MAZZOLA: These are two very different scores, basically a comedy and a tragedy written by two different composers. But at the same time we know that Verdi and Donizetti knew each other very well, and in the end, there are only 15 years between Elixir and Macbeth. Of course the style is different  but not SO different, because in all tragedy we can find funny moments, and in all comedies we can find tragic moments. And if you really think carefully, when you listen to one of the most famous arias in the history of the music, "Una furtiva lagrima," you'll hear something quite serious, sad, lonely, which could perfectly belong to a tragic opera. With the Lyric Opera Orchestra, we will work on all the common points between these two composers, and underline the "leggerezza" and joy of Elixir, and the dark side of the Macbeth score.

The Elixir of Love performed at Pittsburgh Opera.

LYRIC: How does conducting these fall titles differ from your experience filming Lyric's Pagliacci project? What was that experience like and do you see room for projects like these in the future of the art form?

MAZZOLA: Well, now that we are back in the orchestra pit, we all will feel "at home" in the fall. The Pagliacci project was an exceptional idea  to recreate this opera in a natural setting, on and around the Lyric stage, backstage, hallways, etc. And of course the project itself was extremely complicated and difficult  recording, filming, editing, and so on. In the future? I am absolutely convinced that we must learn from our experiences during the pandemic period and be aware of all the potential that streaming may offer to classical music. There's a lot of potential!

Maestro Mazzola conducting the Lyric Opera Orchestra for Lyric's film of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci.

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.

September 26 – October 8, 2021

The Elixir of Love

The Elixir of Love

No operatic hero is more endearing than Nemorino, who pines for the flirtatious Adina. She’s the owner of the town’s hotel, he’s her delightfully naive waiter. His only hope to win her is the “elixir” sold by the quack, Dr. Dulcamara — little does he know that it’s just Bordeaux wine! From start to finish we root for Nemorino, as Adina toys with him until she finally lets him know how she really feels. Elixir is opera’s most heartwarming comedy, filled with Donizetti’s delectable music that brings nonstop smiles.

Header: Enrique Mazzola during the filming of Sole e Amore in Lyric's 2020/21 Season; credit: Kyle Flubacker.

Other images: Kyle Flubaker, John Macfarlane, David Bachman