Return to form: Fans rejoice in the return of live opera

  • Donizetti's romantic comedy "The Elixir of Love" returns to the Lyric Opera of Chicago in January 2021 in a new-to-Chicago production reset to the 20th century.

    Donizetti's romantic comedy "The Elixir of Love" returns to the Lyric Opera of Chicago in January 2021 in a new-to-Chicago production reset to the 20th century. Courtesy of David Bachman Photography

 
 
Updated 9/28/2021 9:44 AM

During the COVID-19 pandemic, opera could not live up to its four-century status as the "Total Art Form."

Sure, there were some online concerts and films created during the lockdown. But performers, artists and audiences couldn't safely share the music in the same space.

 

In recent months, live opera has been returning to the Windy City -- with COVID-19 protocols in place such as indoor mask requirements and proof of coronavirus vaccinations for audiences ages 12 and up. Here's a look at what local opera companies are offering this season:

Ana María Martínez is to star in the title role of "Florencia en el Amazonas" in its Lyric Opera of Chicago debut in November. The 1996 Spanish-language opera by composer Daniel Catán and librettist Marcela Fuentes-Berain is inspired by the work of Gabriel García Márquez.
Ana María Martínez is to star in the title role of "Florencia en el Amazonas" in its Lyric Opera of Chicago debut in November. The 1996 Spanish-language opera by composer Daniel Catán and librettist Marcela Fuentes-Berain is inspired by the work of Gabriel García Márquez. - Courtesy of Lynn Lane/Houston Grand Opera
Lyric Opera of Chicago

You could describe the 2021-22 season of Chicago's opera flagship as simultaneously cautious and adventurous.

Rather than a full slate of eight subscription operas, the Lyric is only staging six. Yet every opera features a new or new-to-Chicago physical production, and there are several Chicago premieres.

Returning Lyric audiences will experience a reconfigured auditorium promising better sightlines with new, roomier seats. This was a gesture to help accommodate the Joffrey Ballet, which is now the opera's house's other main tenant.

The Lyric also welcomes Italian conductor Enrique Mazzola this season as the company's new music director. Mazzola leads two 19th century Italian classics and a Chicago premiere.

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Verdi's operatic take on Shakespeare's "Macbeth" is nearing the end of its run in a new production helmed by Scottish director Sir David McVicar. Former St. Charles native Sondra Radvanovsky makes her role debut as the ambitious Lady Macbeth through Oct. 9.

Another singer with local roots is Elk Grove Village native Ailyn Pérez, who stars as the smart businesswoman Adina in Donizetti's romantic comedy "The Elixir of Love." This colorful production updates the action to the 1950s at an Italian seaside resort and runs through Oct. 8.

The globally popular 2012 Berlin production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" makes its Lyric Opera of Chicago debut for seven shows only in November. It's visually inspired by silent movies and is filled with projected animation.
The globally popular 2012 Berlin production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" makes its Lyric Opera of Chicago debut for seven shows only in November. It's visually inspired by silent movies and is filled with projected animation. - Courtesy of Cory Weaver/Los Angeles Opera

Mozart's fantasy opera "The Magic Flute" returns for seven performances in November in a dazzling 2012 Berlin production that ingeniously features projected animation throughout. The design aesthetic is influenced by German Expressionist silent movies from the 1920s. Conductor Karen Kamensek makes her Lyric debut.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

November also sees the local debut of "Florencia en al Amazonas," a 1996 opera by the late Mexican composer Daniel Catán for five performances. It's the Lyric's first Spanish-language main stage production, and stars Ana María Martínez in a magical realism tale of an opera singer hoping to reconnect with a former lover as she journeys along the Amazon River.

Puccini's political shocker "Tosca" returns for eight performances in March and April in a classic production designed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. Making their Lyric debuts are soprano Michelle Bradley in the title role, baritone Fabián Veloz as Baron Scarpia and San Francisco Opera music director Eun Sun Kim as conductor. Tenor Russell Thomas returns to the Lyric as Tosca's lover, Cavaradossi.

Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons' "Fire Shut Up in My Bones" makes its debut at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in March and April of 2022. The 2019 opera is based upon the memoir by New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow.
Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons' "Fire Shut Up in My Bones" makes its debut at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in March and April of 2022. The 2019 opera is based upon the memoir by New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow. - Courtesy of Eric Woolsey/Opera Theatre of St. Louis

The Chicago premiere of "Fire Shut Up in My Bones" closes out the season with five performances in March and April. This 2019 opera by composer Terence Blanchard and librettist Kasi Lemmons is adapted from the acclaimed memoir by New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow and explores his difficult childhood in Louisiana.

In addition to the regular season is the Chicago premiere of the chamber opera "Proving Up" at the Goodman Theatre. Enrique Mazzola conducts four January performances of composer Missy Mazzoli and librettists Royce Vavrek's tale of 1870s Nebraska homesteaders facing a supernatural crisis.

Former Lyric Opera of Chicago music director Sir Andrew Davis also returns on April 1 to conduct Beethoven's 9th Symphony and a new choral work composed by his son, Ed Frazier Davis. The performance is dedicated the memory of Lady Gianna Rolandi Davis.

Visit lyricopera.org.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago presents the 2018 chamber opera "Proving Up" by composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek in January 2022. This Lyric Unlimited presentation about Nebraska homesteaders will be staged at the Goodman Theatre.
The Lyric Opera of Chicago presents the 2018 chamber opera "Proving Up" by composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek in January 2022. This Lyric Unlimited presentation about Nebraska homesteaders will be staged at the Goodman Theatre. - Courtesy of Opera Omaha
Chicago Opera Theater

The city's second-largest opera company presents a local and world premiere at the Studebaker Theater to finish off its 2021-22 season.

"Becoming Santa Claus" by composer and librettist Mark Adamo makes its Chicago debut for three performances in December. This 2015 family-friendly opera is a fantasy-filled origin story, and features direction and choreography by Kyle Lang as Chicago Opera Theater music director Lidiya Yankovskaya conducts.

"Quamino's Map," a world premiere by composer Errollyn Wallen and librettist Deborah Brevoort, takes its inspiration from history as it follows a former colonial slave trying to build a new life in 18th century London. Jeri Lynne Johnson is the conductor, and Kimille Howard directs the production for three performances only in April and May.

Visit chicagooperatheater.org.

Emerging companies

Chicago Summer Opera and the newly formed Opera Festival of Chicago were among the first companies to bring back live opera in the past few months. Other companies including Chicago Fringe Opera, Third Eye Theatre Ensemble and Thompson Street Opera Company have also bounced back with rare or new chamber works.

Though exact dates have not been announced, Chicago Fringe Opera has plans for its postponed Chicago premiere of "Two Remain," a drama about Holocaust survivors by composer Jake Heggie ("Dead Man Walking," "Moby Dick") and librettist Gene Scheer.

And Thompson Street Opera Company has April 2022 plans for a double bill of "The Kamikaze Mind" by Nicole Murphy and Joshua Brown's absurdist comedy "Would You Eat Me?"

It also remains to be seen if Chamber Opera Chicago will return with its annual holiday production of Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors," or if Transgressive Theatre-Opera plans any live productions after its last season of online-only shows.

Online offerings

Opera fans who aren't quite ready to go back in person also have local productions to see virtually.

The baroque music specialist Haymarket Opera Company is in the midst of selling tickets to its filmed production of Handel's "Orlando," which stars famed countertenor Bejun Mehta now through Oct. 31. And the Lyric Opera of Chicago is still offering its filmed re-imagining of Leoncavallo's tragedy "Pagliacci" (reset to the backstage world of a 1950s sitcom) and "Twilight: Gods," the drive-through parking garage adaptation of Wagner's "Twilight of the Gods." Both productions are free to view, but advance registration is required to view the operas.

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