Lyric Opera of Chicago is one of the leading opera companies in the United States. It was founded in Chicago in 1954, under the name 'Lyric Theatre of Chicago' by Carol Fox, Nicola Rescigno and Lawrence Kelly, with a season that included Maria Callas's American debut in Norma . The company was re-organized by Fox in 1956 under its present name and, after her 1981 departure, it has continued to be of one of the major opera companies in the United States. The Lyric is housed in a theater and related spaces in the Civic Opera Building. These spaces are now owned by the Lyric.
The first opera to be performed in Chicago was Bellini's La sonnambula , presented by a traveling opera company on 29 July 1850.Chicago's first opera house opened in 1865 but was destroyed in the Great Fire of Chicago in 1871. The second opera house, the Chicago Auditorium, opened in 1889.
In 1929 the current Civic Opera House on 20 North Wacker Drive was opened, though the Chicago Civic Opera Company itself collapsed in the Great Depression. The old Auditorium continued to produce stage shows and musicals until it closed in 1941.
Resident opera companies began in Chicago in 1910 with the Chicago Grand Opera Company being formed from the remains of the Manhattan Opera Company, which had been founded by Oscar Hammerstein I, and had been squeezed out by the more financially sound Metropolitan Opera. Chicago had this first company for four seasons, then, after no season in 1914/15, it was re-formed as the Chicago Opera Association. This lasted through 1921/22, when it became the Chicago Civic Opera from 1922 until 1932. After no season in 1932/33, the company was re-formed and again named the Chicago Grand Opera Company from 1933 to 1935. From 1936 to 1939, the company was called Chicago City Opera Company, and finally from 1940 to 1946 opera was presented by the Chicago Opera Company. There were no seasons from 1947 until 1953, so opera was presented by other companies on tour. Lyric Opera was formed in 1954 and has continued uninterrupted except for 1967.
Carol Fox, America's first female opera impresario at the age of 28, began her first season in 1954 by bringing Maria Callas for her American debut in the title role of Norma , the first of many electrifying Callas performances in Chicago. However, this first eight-opera season in 1954 was not the result of a long apprenticeship in opera production; Carol Fox, fluent in Italian and French, had studied opera singing for many years, culminating in two years of intensive work in Italy. However, when she realized that performance was not to be in her future, she decided that it lay in bringing the performances of the world's finest artists to her home town of Chicago. Her success can be measured in one statistic regarding the filling of the Lyric's Civic Opera House: in 1954, the season ran for three weeks; in 2007/08 the Lyric had an almost six-month season.
Fox also used her formidable persuasive powers on artists other than singers: she was able to bring Rudolph Nureyev to make his debut on an American opera stage at the Lyric; Vera Zorina, Alicia Markova, Erik Bruhn and Maria Tallchief also danced at the Lyric, and George Balanchine created choreography for the Lyric. The Italian composer Pino Donati was her artistic director. Bruno Bartoletti was principal conductor, but other conductors included Tullio Serafin, Dimitri Mitropoulos and Artur Rodziński. Christoph von Dohnányi and Sir Georg Solti chose the Lyric for their American operatic debuts. Franco Zeffirelli staged operas as did Harold Prince. After retiring from dancing, Tallchief moved to Chicago where she served as director of ballet for the Lyric from 1973 to 1979. In 1974, she founded Lyric Opera's ballet school, where she taught the Balanchine technique.
Because of her illnesses and her refusal to lower her artistic standards despite the Lyric's dire financial state in 1980, her resignation was sought and given. Carol Fox died a few months later, survived by a daughter Victoria.
It was of the Lyric's founder that Saul Bellow wrote in 1979 "Miss Fox will be remembered, together with Jane Addams of Hull House and Harriet Monroe of Poetry magazine, as one of Chicago's greatest women."
Throughout the many years at the Lyric, Carol Fox developed the confidence and authority to bring world-famous artists to the Lyric: Luciano Pavarotti (56 performances in 7 roles), Tito Gobbi, Eleanor Steber, Jussi Björling, Birgit Nilsson, Renata Tebaldi, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Giulietta Simionato, Richard Tucker, Boris Christoff, Eileen Farrell, Dorothy Kirsten, Leonie Rysanek, Leontyne Price, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Geraint Evans, Mirella Freni, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Alfredo Kraus, Renata Scotto, Robert Merrill, Joan Sutherland, Christa Ludwig, Jon Vickers, Marilyn Horne, Grace Bumbry, Montserrat Caballé, Tatiana Troyanos, Sherrill Milnes, Plácido Domingo, Felicia Weathers, Vyacheslav Polozov and José Carreras. Anna Moffo also chose the Lyric for her American debut.
The Lyric Opera of Chicago is one of the most prestigious opera companies in the world. Lyric has consistently distinguished itself by presenting the best worldwide singers, conductors, directors, and designers in classic and lesser-known operatic repertory, as well as world-premiere productions, since its inception in 1954.
Carol Fox was succeeded at the Lyric by her longtime assistant manager, Ardis Krainik (1981–1996), after whom the opera house was later named, and then by William Mason (1997–2011). Anthony Freud took over in October 2011.
From 1964 to 1974, Bruno Bartoletti, served as co-artistic director and principal conductor, and became sole director and principal from 1974 to 2000.Sir Andrew Davis is Lyric's music director and principal conductor, a post he has occupied since in September 2000. He led three complete cycles of Der Ring des Nibelungen in the 2004/05 season to mark the company's 50th anniversary. Davis retired in June 2021 and passed the baton to Enrique Mazzola, Lyric Opera's current music director and principal conductor.
Danny Newman was the company's long-time press agent from 1954 until his retirement in the 2001/02 season; Newman is largely credited as the founder of subscription-based arts marketing, the standard economic model for not-for-profit arts organizations in the US.Philip David Morehead was head of music staff until his retirement in 2015.
In addition to the standard operatic repertoire, Lyric also presents contemporary works. Recent productions have included Harbison's The Great Gatsby (2000–2001), Weill's Street Scene (2001–2002), Floyd's Susannah , Sondheim's Sweeney Todd (2002–2003), and John Adams' Doctor Atomic directed by Peter Sellars.
Composer William Bolcom wrote his most recent opera for Lyric, A Wedding , based on the 1978 film of the same name directed by Robert Altman. It premiered during Lyric's 50th-anniversary season. During the 2015/16 season, the company premiered its latest commission, Bel Canto by Peruvian composer Jimmy López with a libretto by Nilo Cruz based on the novel by Ann Patchett.
The Lyric Opera productions were broadcast and nationally syndicated by WFMT Radio Network, from 1971 until 2001. The broadcasts ceased then because of a loss of sponsorship.The issue was resolved at the 11th hour for the October 21, 2006 premiere of Richard Strauss's opera Salome starring Deborah Voigt. Syndicated broadcast of the Lyric Opera resumed in May 2007 on the WFMT network, which was included on XM Satellite Radio before it merged and became SiriusXM Radio.
The company's permanent home is the Civic Opera House, sections of the building which it rented from 1954 until after the 1993 renovations, when it bought those facilities. It is a 1929 structure with an Art Deco interior. Its 3,563-seat capacity makes it the second-largest opera auditorium in North America after the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. The interior was named The Ardis Krainik Theatre in 1996 in honor of Ardis Krainik, the former General Director, who was responsible for its renovation from 1993 onwards.
In 2017, Lyric Opera of Chicago as house manager of the theater announced that the Joffrey Ballet plans to move from its longtime performance venue at the Auditorium Theatre to the opera house in 2020.The announcement coincided with the Lyric's presentation of a new production of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice by choreographer John Neumeier; the production fused the musical and ballet elements of the opera and featured the Joffrey Ballet.
The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center (formerly Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, 1981–2006), established in 1974 by Carol Fox, is the professional artist-development program for Lyric Opera of Chicago.
The Ryan Opera Center is considered one of the most prestigious vocal programs in America,and has produced notable singers, including:
Approximately a dozen young singers are selected from the near 400 who audition annually,and they are in residence for twelve months. Over the course of the year they receive advanced instruction in numerous aspects of operatic performance, including voice lessons and coachings, language and acting training, and master classes with some of opera's most renowned artists. The singers gain valuable performing experience by participating in recitals and concerts at many Chicago-area venues. During Lyric Opera's mainstage season, they perform and understudy roles at all levels. The singers work with the world's greatest opera singers, conductors, and directors, thus advancing the young artists’ professionalism. In 2005, author William Murray wrote a book about a year in the life of an entering class at the Ryan Opera Center.
Andrew Foldi was Director of the Ryan Opera Center from 1991 to 1995. He was succeeded by Richard Pearlman, who was Director of the program from 1995 until his death in 2006. Renowned soprano Gianna Rolandi, who had been the Ryan Opera Center's Director of Vocal Studies and principal instructor since 2002, was appointed Director of the program in 2006.The program is now administered by Dan Novak, Director; Craig Terry, Music Director; Julia Faulkner, Director of Vocal Studies, and Renée Fleming, Advisor.
Elizabeth Marie Tallchief was an American ballerina. She was considered America's first major prima ballerina. She was the first Native American to hold the rank, and is said to have revolutionized ballet.
The Joffrey Ballet is one of the premier dance companies and training institutions in the world today. Located in Chicago, Illinois, the Joffrey regularly performs classical and contemporary ballets during its annual performance season at Lyric Opera House, including its annual presentation of The Nutcracker.
Robert Joffrey was an American dancer, teacher, producer, choreographer, and co-founder of the Joffrey Ballet, known for his highly imaginative modern ballets. He was born Anver Bey Abdullah Jaffa Khan in Seattle, Washington to a Pashtun father from Afghanistan and a mother from Italy.
The Auditorium Theatre is a music and performance venue located inside the Auditorium Building at 50 Ida B. Wells Drive in Chicago, Illinois. Inspired by the Richardsonian Romanesque Style of architect Henry Hobson Richardson, the building was designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan and completed in 1889. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed in the theatre until 1904 as well as the Chicago Grand Opera Company and its successors the Chicago Opera Association and Chicago Civic Opera until its relocation to the Civic Opera House in 1929. The theatre currently hosts performances by the Joffrey Ballet, in addition to a variety of concerts, musicals, performances and events. Since the 1940s, it has been owned by Roosevelt University and since the 1960s refurbished and managed by an independent non-profit arts organization.
Nicola Rescigno was an Italian-American conductor, particularly associated with the Italian opera repertory. Opera News said that "Rescigno was a seminal figure in the history of opera in America, a maestro and mentor who shaped the destiny and reputation of two major U.S. companies — Lyric Opera of Chicago and Dallas Opera — as well as countless singing and conducting careers. Vigorous musical integrity, idiomatic style and unfailing support of his singers were the hallmarks of his performances throughout his distinguished career, which lasted more than fifty years."
The Civic Opera House, also called Lyric Opera House is an opera house located at 20 North Wacker Drive in Chicago. The Civic's main performance space, named for Ardis Krainik, seats 3,563, making it the second-largest opera auditorium in North America, after the Metropolitan Opera House. Built for the Chicago Civic Opera, today it is the permanent home of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. It is part of a complex with a 45-story office tower and two 22-story wings, known as the Civic Opera Building that opened November 4, 1929 and features Art Deco details.
The company Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo was formed in 1932 after the death of Sergei Diaghilev and the demise of Ballets Russes. Its director was Wassily de Basil, and its artistic director was René Blum. They fell out in 1936 and the company split. The part which de Basil retained went through two name changes before becoming the Original Ballet Russe. Blum founded Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, which changed its name to Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo when Léonide Massine became artistic director in 1938. It operated under this name until it disbanded some 20 years later.
Ardis Joan Krainik was an American mezzo-soprano opera singer who was the general director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago for 15 years.
Kenneth von Heidecke is an American dancer, choreographer, and the founder and artistic director of Von Heidecke's Chicago Festival Ballet and Von Heidecke School of Ballet.
The Civic Opera Company (1922–1931) was a Chicago company that produced seven seasons of grand opera in the Auditorium Theatre from 1922 to 1928, and three seasons at its own Civic Opera House from 1929 to 1931 before falling victim to financial difficulties brought on in part by the Great Depression. The company consisted largely of the remnants of the Chicago Opera Association, a company that produced seven seasons of grand opera in the Auditorium Theatre from 1915 until its bankruptcy in 1921.
John Taras was an American ballet master, repetiteur, and choreographer.
Andrew Foldi was a Hungarian-American bass baritone and educator whose singing career spanned four decades.
Marjorie Tallchief is a former ballerina of the Osage Nation. She is the younger sister of the late prima ballerina, Maria Tallchief, and was the first Native American to be named "première danseuse étoile" in the Paris Opera Ballet.
The Five Moons are five Native American ballerinas from the U.S. state of Oklahoma who achieved international recognition during the 20th century. The five women are Myra Yvonne Chouteau, Rosella Hightower, Moscelyne Larkin, and sisters Maria Tallchief and Marjorie Tallchief. With their great success in the dance industry, there are several artistic tributes across the Oklahoma area. The most well-known and significant being the Five Moons (2007), a bronze sculpture installation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that portrays the five ballerinas. Other tributes pan from the Flight of Spirit mural in the Oklahoma State Capital, to dance festivals in their honor. These five women defied racial barriers and opened a door for women of color in the ballet industry.
The Oklahoma City Ballet is a professional dance company and school located in Oklahoma City. The company began under the artistic direction of Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo dancers Yvonne Chouteau and Miguel Terekhov in the Science and Arts Foundation building on the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds,
Bel Canto is an opera by Peruvian composer Jimmy López. Based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Ann Patchett, the work uses a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz. The libretto is sung in Spanish, English, Japanese, Russian, German, French, Latin, Italian, and Quechua. It was commissioned by the Lyric Opera of Chicago as part of the Renée Fleming initiative. Sir Andrew Davis conducted, and director Kevin Newbury staged the work. The cast included Danielle de Niese as Roxane Coss, J’Nai Bridges as Carmen, Jeongcheol Cha as Hosokawa, and Andrew Stenson as Gen.
The Chicago Philharmonic is an American orchestra based in Chicago, Illinois, governed by the Chicago Philharmonic Society. Founded in 1988 by principals of the Lyric Opera Orchestra of Chicago, it is a musician-governed, non-profit organization consisting of nearly 200 classical music performers from the Chicago area. Since 2013, the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor has been Scott Speck.
Heléne Alexopoulos is an American retired ballet dancer. She was a student of Maria Tallchief who was discovered by George Balanchine as a teenager. She joined the New York City Ballet in 1978, she was promoted to principal dancer in 1989, and she retired in 2002.
Mary Ellen Moylan was an American ballet dancer. She was one of the first students of George Balanchine's School of American Ballet, and made her New York stage debut in 1942. She had danced with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Ballet Society, Ballet Theatre, Metropolitan Opera Ballet, and on Broadway. She was best known for performing Balanchine's works, and was described as "the first great Balanchine dancer". She retired from performing in 1957.