ML - Michigan Avenue

2014 - Issue 1 - Winter

Michigan Avenue - Niche Media - Michigan Avenue magazine is a luxury lifestyle magazine centered around Chicago’s finest people, events, fashion, health & beauty, fine dining & more!

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Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's Show Boat in 2012, Richard Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! in 2013, and continues with Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music in April and May '14. It's a move that hasn't pleased everyone. "There are regular subscribers who bellyache and say, 'This is no place for it,'" notes Davis of these productions, which the Lyric offers outside the regular subscription season. "They don't like Gilbert and Sullivan either." Fleming points out, "The American musical has grown naturally out of European traditions of opera, singspiel, and operetta, so there's no reason it shouldn't be a part of a great company's offerings." Journalist Garry Wills, who has been a subscriber to the Lyric since 1980, says, "I'm of two minds about their Broadway shows. They had a great [bass in Morris Robinson] for Show Boat singing 'Ol' Man River.'" But, he adds, "I would rather see them use their resources on shows you can't see anywhere else." So far, though, the new initiatives—which, in addition to Lyric Unlimited and the American Musical Theater Initiative, also includes Next, which offers $20 discount tickets to college students—are paying off with new audiences. This past June, Freud announced that ticket sales were up 15 percent over the previous year, with 27,000 of the additional 34,000 tickets sold going to first-time Lyric patrons. E ven the familiar shows need freshening up to keep longtime patrons satisfied. Increasingly, this means bringing in directors with new concepts—many of whom are also first-timers at the Lyric, though they have deep roots in theater. Barbara Gaines, the founder and artistic director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, made her opera debut with Verdi's Macbeth at the Lyric in 2010. Wills, the author of Verdi's Shakespeare: Men of the Theater, wrote in an essay for The New York Review of Books, "I have never seen a more imaginative or better performed version." In February, Tony Award–nominated director/choreographer Rob Ashford makes his operatic debut with Lyric's The Barber of Seville. No one in the arts can guarantee that new collaborations and initiatives will always play out as hoped. But if opera isn't about high-stakes human endeavor in the face of epic odds, what is? Davis notes that he is fond of quoting one of his mentors, the late conductor Sir John Pritchard, longtime music director for the San Francisco Opera. When Davis was conducting his first opera in the early 1970s, he told Pritchard that he was excited but nervous since he had no operatic experience. "And he said, 'Well, the thing about opera is that more things can go wrong with it than almost any other field of human endeavor. But when they all go right, there's really nothing else like it.'" MA Diva in the House PHOTOGRAPHY BY DECCA/ANDREW ECCLES Renée Fleming adds serious star power as the Lyric's first creative consultant. IF MARIA CALLAS REMAINS the prototype of the stormy operatic diva, then Renée Fleming is the anti-Callas. It's difficult, for example, to imagine "La Divina" delivering the Top 10 List for David Letterman—complete with references to Miley Cyrus's fondness for twerking—as Fleming did this past September. But Fleming describes her Letterman appearance as part of a larger goal—"a mission to keep opera a vital part of our culture. We may never again see the days when something like The Bell Telephone Hour could devote entire programs to opera arias in prime time. But there's huge interest in singing now, with shows like The Voice and American Idol. I don't see why classically trained singers shouldn't be heard, too." As creative consultant for the Lyric, where she first appeared in the title role of Carlisle Floyd's Susannah in 1993, Fleming brought together the Lyric and Second City for last season's The Second City Guide to the Opera. She and her husband happened to attend a Second City show where her recordings were used in a sketch, and that sparked a felicitous, if unlikely, creative partnership. Fleming was also instrumental in commissioning Bel Canto as the first piece in the Renée Fleming Initiative for the Lyric. Novelist Ann Patchett is a friend of Fleming's, but though the story features a diva (a fictional hostage in Patchett's imagining of the real-life capture of the Japanese ambassador's house in Lima, Peru by revolutionaries in 1996), Fleming won't sing the role. Instead, what drew her to the story was "the way it demonstrates the power of art to unify, and raise the humanity, of a group of very disparate people. Especially important for an opera, the story has the power to deliver the cathartic emotional experience that we all crave in the theater." It's not only new work that gets Fleming's attention. Dan Novak, director of the Lyric's Ryan Opera Center, notes that when she's in town, Fleming "is wonderful about sitting down [with students] and talking to them about how to work in the business." Says Fleming, "We need to find the next great voices, the stars we will need to engage and excite audiences with our centuries-old art form." MICHIGANAVEMAG.COM 104-109_MA_FEAT_Opera_Winter_14 109 109 1/9/14 5:11 PM

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