Opera Hound's thoughts on the new Lyric Opera season:
In a word, I'm disappointed.
Lyric Opera's 2018-19 season was announced and it looks like it's going to be a season of reruns for me. Four of the eight mainstage operas are the same productions that I've already seen either as part of the Met Opera's "Live in HD" series or on the Lyric stage previously (or, in the case of Il trovatore, both). To say it is a conservative schedule is an understatement: The only opera of the 20th century barely qualifies: 1909's Elektra. I was hoping for at least one of the mainstage operas to be one of the many great contemporary operas that have yet to make their way to Chicago.
The productions are:
La bohème (Puccini) - With ten performances split over October and January, the old classic will get a new production (co-produced by Lyric, Royal Opera House, and Teatro Real Madrid). Boheme happened to be my first opera at lyric back in 2007, and then it was the first opera I saw twice with the Lyric 2013 production. And now it's back. I can understand why as it's one of those operas that everyone's heard of, but it's a bit underwhelming. Mimi is sung by Maria Agresta, who was fine as Liu in Turandot this season but doesn't seem the kind of name that can pull people into the theater (like Anna Netrebko was in 2013). The enjoyable Michael Fabiano as Rodolfo will be making his Lyric debut, and Danielle de Niese returns as Musetta. My excitement level: Opera 5/10, Production 8/10, Casting 7/10
Idomeneo (Mozart) - Under most circumstances this would be a welcome addition to the lineup. It's a nice opera that's rarely performed. However, this opera was not only part of last year's Met in HD series, but this exact same production was featured, with the exact same performer (Evanston's own Matthew Polenzani) in the title role. It's not like I expect Lyric to plan around productions that the Met has Simulcast, it's just disappointing to me personally that I've already seen this production very recently. As for the cast, Polenzani is one of the best performers I've seen in my short opera-watching career and I relish the chance to watch him sing again. Erin Wall and Janai Brugger are great performers as well. The pants role of Idamante will be sung by Angela Brower in a Lyric debut. I've never heard her sing to the best of my knowledge but it looks like she has sung big roles at many of the big European houses. My excitement level: Opera 5/10, Production 5/10, Casting 8/10
Siegfried (Wagner) - This current Ring Cycle that Lyric is in the middle of is my first and I relish it. I'm very much looking forward to the next chapter. The production of the first two has been fine in my opinion, but the production still of this on the Lyric site is pretty compelling with that giant dragon sulking around in the background. The cast is Eric Owens and Christina Goerke, of course, who are fabulous, and then a bunch of European singers who I am not familiar with but whom I assume will sing admirably. My excitement level: Opera 9/10, Production 9/10, Casting 7/10
Il trovatore (Verdi) - Really? We're doing this again? We just did this three seasons ago. It's the same production, even (and the same production from the Live in HD series last year). I can think of a bunch of other operas that would scratch the same itch that haven't been performed as recently. Otello or Aida would have the same drawing power, if that's the concern, or something like Simon Boccanegra or A Masked Ball. I usually get annoyed by people second-guessing management, but come on, Freud. We just did this one. The saving grace will be seeing Tamara Wilson (Lyric debut) and Jamie Barton sing. My excitement level: Opera 3/10, Production 3/10, Casting 7/10
Cendrillon (Massenet) - This is the same production that Live in HD will be showing in a couple of months, so that is disappointing. Again, Lyric shouldn't plan around that, but it's disappointing to me. I know that Sir Andrew Davis loves Massenet but I was hoping for a Thaïs with Ailyn Pérez or Werther with Polenzani and Isabel Leonard maybe. As far as the cast for Cendrillon, other than Alice Coote they are entirely unknown to me. I'm sure they're good performers because Lyric doesn't hire a lot of duds, but it's hard to get excited for singers you've never heard of. My excitement level: Opera 6/10, Production 6/10, Casting 4/10
Elektra (R. Strauss) - This was last performed at Lyric in 2012, and this will be the same production. It was a pretty good production as I recall, and I'm looking forward to the Lyric debut of Nina Stemme in the title role. Elza van den Heever will sing Chrysothemis and she knocked it out of the park in Idomeneo for Met in HD, so I'm excited to see her sing again. My excitement level: Opera 7/10, Production 7/10, Casting 8/10
La Traviata (Verdi) - Last performed by Lyric in 2013, I'm sure this is another choice made to put butts in the seats (like Boheme). Albina Shagimuratova will return to Lyric for the third year in a row after Lucia di Lammermoor last season and I Puritani right now. I like her voice well enough in the bel canto stuff but I don’t know if Violetta suits her style. I guess I'll find out! Mr. Personality Željko Lučić sings Germont and the unknown-to-me Giorgio Berrugi sings Alfredo. I believe this production is the same one that was staged in 2013. My excitement level: Opera 5/10, Production 5/10, Casting 5/10.
Ariodante (Handel) - Finally, an opera that I've never seen! Sigfried is the only other new-to-me opera this Lyric season. Alice Coot is again in the cast, along with other singers I'm not familiar with. The production is a new-ish one, which Lyric co-produced with Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Dutch National Opera and Canadian Opera Company. If you had asked me just a couple of years ago if I would be excited about a baroque opera, I would have laughed, but Haymarket Opera and the Monteverdi productions at Harris Theater have converted me, and when coupled with the lackluster Lyric season this is high on my list. My excitement level: Opera 8/10, Production 6/10, Casting 6/10.
In addition, Lyric Unlimited will stage a chamber opera called An American Dream with music by Jack Perla. Lyric Unlimited has been pretty solid so I look forward to this. The much-maligned Anna Netrebko will also be singing a recital, which I (along with the entire Russian population of Chicago) am looking forward to.
I don't pretend to know what goes into opera management, and I know that it's important to get butts in the seats, but I feel like this extremely conservative programming is the wrong path. I was hoping for at least one contemporary opera, such as Glass' Akhnaten, Higdon's Cold Mountain, Mazzoli's Breaking the Waves, of Heggie's Dead Man Walking or Moby Dick maybe. Even if you don't want to push the envelope you couple at least make an effort to nudge it a little.
I'm still planning on seeing all of these operas, of course, because that's what I do. But I had such high hopes, and Lyric did not deliver. Oh well. There's still the Chicago Opera Theater to hope for.