Opera News: Lyric's Ring Cycle season and COT's all-female executive suite | Performing Arts Feature | Chicago Reader

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Opera News: Lyric's Ring Cycle season and COT's all-female executive suite

Lyric Opera announces its next season, and Chicago Opera Theater's put the women in charge.

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Don't piss him off: Eric Owens as an angry and powerful dad in Lyric's Die Walküre - CORY WEAVER
  • Cory Weaver
  • Don't piss him off: Eric Owens as an angry and powerful dad in Lyric's Die Walküre

On Thursday, in the massive William Mason Rehearsal Room named for his predecessor, Lyric Opera general director Anthony Freud announced what is sure to be a memorable upcoming season. In 2019-2020, Lyric will top off its regular offerings with three complete postseason Ring Cycles.

This is binge watching, 19th-century style. Or, as music director Andrew Davis put it, "one of the greatest musical achievements in Western culture."

The four Wagnerian operas that make up this magnum opus—Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung—will run on successive days over a three-week period beginning April 13, 2020.

Lyric has been producing the Ring at the rate of one opera per year since the 2016-2017 season in original productions directed by David Pountney. The big orgiastic final mashup, bringing back each production with its original cast, is expected to draw an international audience of devoted Ringheads along with plenty of locals.

The logistics for that are a hugely complicated jigsaw puzzle, Freud said, and are the reason the regular opera season for 2019-2020 has been reduced to seven operas (from eight). And that's counting two performances of Gotterdammerung as the seventh.

Still, there are some intriguing offerings: the Lyric premiere of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, with Patricia Racette and Susan Graham (November 2-22); Verdi’s Luisa Miller (October 12-31), which, Freud noted, hasn’t been seen at Lyric for nearly 40 years and which will initiate an exploration of early Verdi works, one each year for five or six seasons; and Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, with Brandon Jovanovich and Sondra Radvanovsky (February 15-March 1).

The rest are the warhorses: Don Giovanni (November 14-December 8); Madama Butterfly (February 6-March 8); and the season opener, The Barber of Seville (September 28-October 27).

There’ll also be Sondra Radvanovsky singing semistaged “greatest hits” from Donizetti’s Three Queens trilogy (December 1-7) and what promises to be an interesting experiment: a Lyric Unlimited collaboration with Chicago Shakespeare Theater on a new opera, Blue, by composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson. It'll be presented at one of Chicago Shakes's Navy Pier venues in June 2020.

Other good news: Freud said that going forward, Lyric's committed to producing at least one new or recent opera on the main stage every season, in addition to a new or contemporary chamber opera. New commissions are in the works for the 2021-'22 and 2022-'23 seasons.

And, oh yes, the postseason musical next year will be 42nd Street, which is scheduled for 25 performances from May 29 through June 21. Freud said the annual musicals are bringing in new audiences and contributing to the bottom line. Exactly how much are they contributing? He said it depends on the show but didn't offer any numbers.

This season will also mark Davis’s 20th as music director and the 32nd anniversary of his first appearance at Lyric. In that time, he’s conducted 674 performances of 58 operas.

Ashley Magnus is Chicago Opera Theater's new general director. - LAYNE DIXON
  • Layne Dixon
  • Ashley Magnus is Chicago Opera Theater's new general director.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s significantly smaller but second-biggest opera company, Chicago Opera Theater, announced last week that general director Douglas Clayton has stepped down "to pursue other opportunities," and been replaced by former managing director Ashley Magnus.

Clayton joined COT in 2015, and became general director when Andreas Mitisek left that job in 2017. Magnus has managed fund-raising at COT since 2015; she's a University of Utah MBA and an alum of Opera America's Leadership Intensive program.

The change will make COT—where the music director is Lidiya Yankovskaya and the board chair is Susan Irion—one of few comparable or larger opera companies with women in all of the top leadership positions.

Word is that communications director Chris Thoren will move up to the managing director slot.

With its own increased focus on new and contemporary opera, COT's presenting the first full concert performance of The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing by Justine Chen and David Simpatico, Friday, February 15, at DePaul’s Gannon Concert Hall. The culmination of a weeklong workshop on this new opera, the performance will include Northwestern University's Bienen Contemporary and Early Vocal Ensemble; Yankovskaya will conduct.

And COT's second opera of this season, The Scarlet Ibis by Stefan Weisman and David Cote, based on a short story by James Hurst and in its first full production ever, opens the next night, Saturday,February 16, at the Studebaker Theater. That’s also opening night for Lyric’s La Traviata, which feels like an embarrassment of Chicago opera riches but might just have been a scheduling snafu.   v

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