Lyric plays it safe with season schedule
By John von Rhein
Tribune music critic
January 6, 2005
Now at the midpoint of its golden jubilee season, Lyric Opera of Chicago is faced with carrying its winning streak into the company's next half-century despite a still-uncertain economy.
The 51st Lyric season, announced Thursday, will begin Sept. 24 with Bizet's "Carmen," which can be seen as a cautious response to that economic uncertainty.
Although the Lyric is selling roughly 90 percent of its seats four months into the present season, general director William Mason would like to return ticket sales to the 100-percent-plus that the company routinely tallied during the 1990s.
His strategy is to build the 2005-06 season around the brand-name singers and standard operatic repertory he believes most Lyric subscribers and contributors want.
Four of the season's eight operas will be new productions, including Puccini's "Manon Lescaut," Verdi's "Rigoletto" and Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice."
The 2005-06 roster will be rich in singers well-known to Chicago opera-goers, including sopranos Karita Mattila and Isabel Bayrakdarian, mezzos Susan Graham and Vesselina Kasarova, tenors Neil Shicoff and Frank Lopardo and countertenor David Daniels.
There will be a sprinkling of noteworthy debuts, including Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez, German soprano Anne Schwanewilms, English contralto Catherine Wyn-Rogers and the New Zealand-born Samoan bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu. About the only innovative wrinkle in next year's lineup is the company premiere of Sir Michael Tippett's "The Midsummer Marriage" (1955), which will arrive in a new production headed by two other British knights -- Lyric music director Sir Andrew Davis and stage director Sir Peter Hall. Both are ardent champions of their late countryman's works.
For the first time since 1989, the Lyric schedule will contain no American opera, an omission Mason blames on scheduling difficulties. "We had had a few [American projects] we wanted to do next season but they fell through," he said. But the Lyric will continue to present American works in the immediate future, he added.
The 2007-08 season will bring the local premiere of John Adams' "Doctor Atomic," which the San Francisco Opera is due to unveil later this year. A fourth William Bolcom work will be mounted before the end of the decade. (His latest opera, "A Wedding," has five more performances to go at the Civic Opera House through Jan. 21.)
The 2005-06 schedule will consist of 83 performances, through March 26, 2006:
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