Perhaps Lyric Opera's most ambitious undertaking since it premiered Penderecki's Paradise Lost 14 years ago, its new commission McTeague boasts an impressive all-American pedigree. Chicago writer Frank Norris's 1899 jeremiad against duplicity and greed is the source material, and the production's visual look is inspired by Greed, the painstakingly detailed 1924 film adaptation by Erich von Stroheim considered a mordant masterpiece of the silent era. William Bolcom, whose ability to juxtapose myriad musical idooms seem natural for the stage, composed the score, and Robert Altman, the veteran filmmaker whose own sagging career was revitalized by The Player, directs. Altman may be an off choice, but his inventive staging of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress in Ann Arbor ten years ago convinced Bolcom that he had the right sensibility to handle a genuine American tragedy. Set at the turn of the century, this McTeague, with text by Arnold Weinstein and Altman, is essentially a set of variations on how the lust for gold defines its four main characters. At the very least, Altman's cynicism and feel for the macabre should pervade. Singing the role of McTeague, the lonely dentist, is the strapping Canadian tenor Ben Heppner; soprano Catherine Malfitano sings the role of his waiflike wife Trina. The cast also includes Timothy Nolen and mezzo Emily Golden. Dennis Russell Davies, a longtime Bolcom collaborator, conducts. Saturday, 7:30 PM (with seven more performances in November), Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 332-2244.