11 Mar 2018

Lyric Opera of Chicago to Premiere Fellow Travelers—A Preview

On 17 March 2018 Lyric Opera of Chicago will premiere the 2016 opera Fellow Travelers by Gregory Spears (with a libretto by Greg Pierce, based on the novel by Thomas Mallon. Mallon’s 2007 novel offered fresh perspectives on the paranoiac investigations of McCarthy-era Washington, DC, through the lens of a gay relationship.

The story focuses on the tensions between the private and public lives of the two protagonists, Timothy Laughlin and Hawkins Fuller. In those days, being identified as sexually different was tantamount to being labeled a Communist, a charge that suggested treason. Mallon’s novel offers a point of departure for this musical setting, which has been acclaimed in BroadwayWorld as having “some of the most gorgeous opera music in recent memory.” The New York Times review of a production at the Prototype Festival calls attention to the strength of Spears’s score’s focus on the gay couple as “daring to envelop these men in rapturous music of almost cinematic lushness. . . .”

Lyric’s production of Fellow Travelers includes tenor Jonas Hacker and baritone Joseph Lattanzi in the lead roles of Timothy Laughlin and Hawkins Fuller. Soprano Devon Guthrie will sing the role of Mary Johnson, Hawkins’s assistant and Timothy’s confidante. The Chicago premiere of Fellow Travelers will also feature soprano Vanessa Becerra as Miss Lightfoot, baritone Marcus DeLoach as Senator McCarthy, soprano Amy Kuckelman as Lucy, baritone Will Liverman as Tommy McIntyre, baritone Reginald Smith, Jr. as Senator Charles Potter, and bass-baritone Sam Handley as Potter’s Assistant. In her Lyric debut in the pit, Daniela Candillari will conduct the 17-piece orchestra and Kevin Newbury will direct the production.

This production fits well into Lyric’s fine tradition of performing new and recent operas, like Jimmy López’s Bel Canto in the 2015-2016 season and André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire in 2015. Performances of Fellow Travelers will be given in Chicago’s Athenaeum Theater, with performances on 3/17, 3/21, 3/23, and 3/25. More information on this production is available online here.

James L. Zychowicz