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Wack on Wacker

The announcement of the 2013-2014 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago is not good news at all.

The repertoire is drab and stodgy, with the most recent opera on the program that 1904 novelty Madama Butterfly. The casting is generally uninspired. Since, by my reckoning, it’s no longer 1998, Nathan Gunn‘s Figaro, Bo Skovhus‘ Eisenstein, Johan Botha‘s Otello, Thomas Hampson‘s Amfortas, and—God knows!—Patricia Racette‘s Butterfly are not exactly news of the day. The prospect of Paul Groves‘ Parsifal is, to put it mildly, underwhelming. The one really interesting bit of star casting all season long is Joyce DiDonato‘s Sesto, in an otherwise dire-sounding Clemenza.

One of the “major debuting directors,” Michael Grandage, won’t even be in town to supervise the revival of his Houston Butterfly. One of the few born Yanks on the roster is  Rob Ashford, best known locally for mucking up what is usually thought of as a director-proof play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  Following a series of musical productions in (where else?) London, he’ll make his standard opera directing debut with Barbiere.  Thus LOC will attempt to imitate the worst of Peter Gelb‘s failures in New York, assigning trendy Broadway directors to opera projects they don’t understand.

Creative consultant Renée Fleming will appear with the company exactly once, for a subscribers-only duo concert with Jonas Kaufmann, another A-list name notable for its absence from the company’s staged productions next season.

And how dire is the international opera situation? Well, let’s put it this way: Joseph Calleja, who is arguably one of the five top tenor names in the world today, accepted an engagement singing Alfredo in Chicago for most of the fall. So that’s the best offer his management could drum up for the busy month of November: a part most tenors abandon as soon as they can, in a city off the beaten path, and in the company of what might best be described as a less than intuitive cast (Marina Rebeka and Quinn Kelsey?)

And, finally, if money is so obviously tight, what earthly reason would LOC have for commissioning a new production of Rusalka, a piece that just might possibly merit another viewing five or seven years down the road? There are a dozen fine productions of this opera in various theaters in Europe that could have been borrowed, so why create an entirely new one? The only reason I can think of is that somewhere in the mission statement for the company there is a clause about helping to keep the McVicar/George household solvent. After all, what is the purpose of any American opera company but to provide employment for Brits and their boyfriends?

Speaking of which, Anthony Freud disavowed Chicago’s current season as “titles I inherited.” I wonder if he’s willing to take ownership of the cowardly mishmash he’s putting on next year.

160 comments

  • guy pacifica says:

    In other regional houses, at least out in the distant PNW, the repertoire for next year’s season is a bit more interesting. At Seattle Opera we get a couple chestnuts with Rigoletto and Tales of Hoffman, but also the rather more unusual Daughter of the Regiment and a rarity with The Consul. In Portland, it’s better with Salome and Midsummer Night’s Dream and the now seemingly mandatory operetta entry, Pirates of Penzance, all balancing Lucia. So in Portland and Seattle, a bit of more unusual programming amongst the chestnuts.

  • operaassport says:

    The number of excuses being made for LOC is astonishing. Who knew there were that many flaks on here.

    Des Moines is doing Romeo, Grimes, and Elektra. Sounds more interesting.

    • bassoprofundo says:

      It is kind of weird. I wonder how many shills they have on their payroll.

      • Bosah says:

        Some people see the negative, some see the positive and would rather give the benefit of the doubt.

        Since none of us, as far as I know, has any inside information, none of us has an opinion any more valid than the others.

        And Chicago did Elektra this season already.

  • armerjacquino says:

    Rob Ashford has directed precisely one musical production in London. Crowbar much?

  • Dominatrix says:

    I haven’t always agreed with Bill Mason’s decisions. There are singers I would have wanted to see, like the superb Willard White, and would have liked to see more of Ruggero Raimondi (athough he and Ramey did a Nozze that had people cheering in the aisles), I wished I could have seen more of Thomas Allen, who did a Barber here, and I was annoyed at the dust-up of Angela G. when she arbitrarily left without permission to see her hubbie in NY (for someone of her stature, he could have let her go to NY and still perform, but she wasn’t a Lyric “regular”, so no favors were given). Don’t know the problem with Anna N — suspect she just prefers living in Vienna and getting those high profile glam first nights in Vienna, (as well as high profile events with Gergiev everywhere he conducts). Not much incentive for her to come to Lyric. Things have really changed for opera singers — it used to be that European singers would routinely perform at the Met, San Francisco & Lyric, but with the poor economy and low value of the dollar (not to mention immigration & TSA hassles), there’s not as much incentive to come here. Yes, the crowds in Chicago are conservative and you can’t program Gloriana, which I personally would like to see. But there have been premiers — A View from the Bridge, Amistad, McTeague, Satyagraha, an Edgar Allen Poe opera, etc. The one glaring omission has been conductors — Davis is a very good jack of all trades — but not a Wagner expert. We don’t have Muti or Abbado or Pappano. Christian Thielemann isn’t engaged for some mysterious reason. With Mason gone, I’m hoping they can bring the Lyric into the computer age. But most of the singers now being hired are Russians and East Europeans that I have never heard of. To be fair, the Met does the same thing. I never heard of Ekaterina Gubanova before she got the plum role in Bolena & the broadcast. I suspect that was a “request” from Anna. Otherwise, why hire her instead of an American artist? Plus she was too matronly for the role.

  • bassoprofundo says:

    When a staunch apologist of LOC’s season calls something matronly, you KNOW it’s matronly!

  • We seem to be forgetting that Chicaho is a 2-house city (something not even NYC can say these days, with NYCO now being more or less a touring company. With COT’s seasons being more diverse and their productions being more imaginative, I would not be surprised if LOC feels that their niche is being a more conservative house.

    I am not making excuses for the House, the season is what the season is and some of the criticism is well directed. But I think crying foul because the house is not doing this or that should be seeing through the glass of the sister company and the fact that having both ends of the spectrum available to the Chicago public might work for both companies. (and the public)

    Those who find the LOC season drab can walk the 7 blocks to Millennium Park and catch some up-and-comer and those who want “stars” and safe can go to the LOC. Are there any other cities in the USA that can say the same thing, to have 2 viable opera house 7 blocks from each other; in this economy?

    • bassoprofundo says:

      They’re not in direct competition, every season prior to this one COT has intentionally scheduled its entire season to begin after the end of LOC’s.

      • And how does that contradict anything I said in my comment? And I never said they were in competition, as a matter of fact, I think I called COT LOC “sister company”

  • lorenzo.venezia says:

    Lyric Opera and acoustics is something of an oxymoron. Having survived years of regular Lyric attendance (73-81, 93-96), I don’t understand how anyone can think that theater has good acoustics unless a) they have only been a couple times and never sat in the dead zones or b) have never been in a theater with a great acoustic.

    • opera_fanatic says:

      Does anyone know what are the dead zones in Lyric? I’m planning to go next month and I’ve never been to the Civic Opera House. I just don’t want to get a seat similar to the Met under an overhang. Thanks for any advice/tips in choosing seats.

      • Buster says:

        I always found upper balcony A -- H a very good deal, or J-R, in case it is full. Very far away, but the orchestra, and the voices come through very clear there, and mix well. Main floor has the disadvantage you look into the neck of the person in front of you. First 22 rows are good, though. I alwasy tried an aisle seat, not much leg room…. Main floor further back is useless. Avoid anything under an overhang, and the boxes. First five rows of the first balcony are great, nothing else there.

    • Buster says:

      They should move back to their old building. It is even more beautiful, slightly bigger, but with excellent acoustics, and better sightlines.

      http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3619/3648338696_7383b3b80e_z.jpg

  • doktorlehar says:

    An idea this intelligent is bound to be ignored by everyone who could make such a change happen.

    Seriously, the Civic Opera House’s acoustical problems are not a secret. Singers talk about them, the opera press does, and it comes up regularly on blogs and listserves, including Parterre. Is some sort of acoustical retrofit so costly that it can’t even be considered by the LOC administration? Maybe some of the extra dough they’re bound to make with this crowd-pleasing season? (eye roll intended here…)

    • Buster says:

      The sound at the Auditorium Theatre is really stunning. I heard Marilyn Horne give a song recital there, and have never forgotten how her voice, and a piano filled that entire hall. It feels much more intimate than the Civic Opera House.

      • Jack Jikes says:

        I would make the claim that the Auditorium is the most beautiful theater in the world. And yes, the acoustics are superb. Does anyone know why LOC avoids this venue?

  • opus says:

    Esteemed Parterrians:

    Can any of you shed some light onto what would go into the creation of a *GREAT* opera season? It goes without saying that what will excite some may repulse others, but I’m very curious to hear your thoughts on what a great GD would put together with today’s resources of singers and productions.

    • Feldmarschallin says:

      For starters some interesting directors. Perhaps the Intendant there could call up his collegues in Brussels, Madrid or Munich for some suggestions.

  • Babbuino says:

    I like the Bo Skovhus and Quinn Kelsey casting, interesting voices in signature roles.