Filing from Tokyo means that this post of my January 28 Chicago Sun-Times piece was subject to some delayed format changes. Thanks for your patience!
Full speed ahead for Lyric in 2009-10
OPERA | Season survives downturn with few trims
Things may be tough all over, but thanks to careful budgeting and planning, Lyric Opera of Chicago will present a six-month, eight-opera season in 2009-10 with only minimum scheduling trims and adjustments.
While the largest U.S. company, New York's Metropolitan Opera, recently announced production cutbacks and warned of potential emergency measures due to the downturn in the economy and fund-raising, Lyric is not canceling any productions next season. It will reduce its planned 79-performance schedule by only two evenings and will shift four other evening performances to matinees. Subscription prices in most categories will rise by less than five percent. Upper balcony prices will remain unchanged.
In a statement announcing the company's 55th season, Lyric Opera general director William Mason said that interest in matinee performances is on the rise and expressed confidence that with scheduling adjustments and a new "25 percent down" subscription payment plan, Lyric would be able to continue its commitment to fiscal responsibility and a diverse season of eight operas with international casts and artistic teams.
Next season will see three new productions, including a Lyric premiere (Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust) and a new-to-Chicago production (Janacek's Katya Kabanova). The company also will present four beloved but often-repeated productions from its repertory, including Tosca with American star soprano Deborah Voigt, Lyric's current Isolde, in her first Puccini role in Chicago. Tosca, which also features tenor Vladimir Galouzine and veteran bass James Morris, will open the season September 26 at the Civic Opera House. (Tosca also will return with a second cast in January.)
British director Stephen Langridge's new production of The Damnation of Faust, Lyric's first Berlioz work, will follow a fall revival of Charles Gounod's Faust, his popular retelling of the German legend. Lyric music director Sir Andrew Davis will conduct The Damnation of Faust, which stars tenor Paul Groves, mezzo Susan Graham, and bass John Relyea. Davis also will conduct Gounod's Faust and the fall run of Tosca.
For Faust, Polish tenor Piotr Beczala will make his much-anticipated Lyric debut in the title role, suppported by superstar German bass Rene Pape and Placido Domngo protegee, soprano Ana Maria Martinez.
Verdi's Ernani will receive its first Lyric production in 25 years, with tenor Salvatore Licitra in the title role. Local theatre mainstay Gary Griffin will make his Lyric debut with a new staging of Lehar's operetta The Merry Widow, and Emmanuel Villaume, whose musical leadership of Massenet's Manon was a triumph of Lyric's present season, will conduct.
Maverick director Jonathan Miller's acclaimed Met production of Janaeck's Katya Kabanova will be seen in Chicago for the first time, with superb Finnish singing actress Karita Mattila in the title role.
Donizetti's The Elixir of Love will feature American soprano Nicole Cabell heading one of two casts. Rounding out the season will be Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, with another local favorite, Danielle de Niese, as well as returns by brilliant American mezzo Joyce DiDonato and Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien.
Second casts also will include the house debut of Lithuanian soprano Violeta Urmana as Tosca and Lyric Ryan Center alum Joseph Kaiser in Gounod's Faust.
Lyric will continue to broadcast its opening nights live over WFMT-FM and the WFMT Radio Network. It also will expand several subscription miniseries and ticket-exchange programs.