March 06, 2019

What's Up in the Basement?

Breaking New Ground for Major Improvements

When the Lyric Opera House was built in 1929, it was the most state-of-the-art theater of its time. Work was done to shore up the aging stage in the early 1990s, but was never completed, and conditions have steadily deteriorated over the years. We now grapple with the challenges of a performance space that is woefully ill-equipped. Rather than relying on modern technology and mechanics to create, move, and change over sets during and between performances, Lyric still uses sheer manpower. 

This spring into early summer, thanks to the generosity of key Lyric donors, things are beginning to change. As you read this, demolition work in Lyric’s sub-basement, below the level of the Chicago River, has begun to clear out the space and ready it for construction. After a few weeks of careful preparation, the basement areas will be ready to receive equipment later this summer.

Onstage, new construction of a modular motorized turntable will begin midsummer, after all the elements undergo careful preparation and testing off-site at the manufacturer’s warehouse. Also during this exciting time, Lyric is working 12 stories above the stage to revamp the upper catwalk, installing new steel and gridwork. Lyric will receive 16 new hoists this season, and is looking ahead as the stage will undergo much-needed modifications and upgrades in staging capacity in the future. This work will also prepare Lyric to present major new productions next season, beginning with the October 1 opening of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, Berlioz's epic Les Troyens, and Mozart’s The Magic Flute. None of these productions could be staged at the level now imagined and planned without this structural work and the implementation of new machinery and technologies.

Right now, every production decision that Lyric makes when evaluating if we can rent or coproduce works with companies including the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, or San Francisco Opera is dictated by the technological capabilities of our theater space. That constraint is changing and you can be a real part of it.  Lyric is now “going public” with a fundraising effort to raise $16 million to pay for these critical enhancements. The Breaking New Ground campaign enables Lyric supporters to make an immediate impact on the backstage capabilities at the opera house and ensure that Lyric’s current time-consuming, physically demanding, and expensive processes are replaced by efficiency, safety, and fiscal responsibility.

The work and the outcomes are incredibly exciting. We hope that you will consider becoming part of Lyric’s stage wizardry, with a gift of any amount, to the Breaking New Ground campaign. Donate now.

You can learn more by calling Leslie Mastroianni 312/827-5723 for additional information, including naming opportunities in the Lyric Opera House. 

We’ll be posting updates on the renovation and construction work in next month’s issue and bring you more over the summer.

Breaking New Ground Campaign