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.