The 4 Major Takeaways From Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2018-19 Season Announcement

By Santosh Venkataraman

Lyric Opera of Chicago announced its 2018-19 season today, marking the fourth planned together by general director Anthony Freud and music director Sir Andrew Davis.  Members of the media, including this OperaWire writer, were treated to a discussion with both gentlemen on the stage with the set of “I Puritani” in the backdrop.  Here are some notes and highlights of what was discussed.

Volatile Times

Freud described putting together the season as an “increasingly elusive cocktail” given that the business environment was “extraordinary volatile.”  The general director reiterated that his goal at Lyric is to think of operas in the season in terms of being de facto regional premieres because the vast majority of the Lyric audience does not travel to see performances elsewhere. He mentioned that four productions are new to Chicago.

High Profile Debuts

A number of key stars will make their Lyric debuts, with many long anticipated.  Primary among them is soprano Nina Stemme, who will perform the title role in the David McVicar staging of Elektra that was previously seen at the company.

Freud mentioned how he first saw her at a Cardiff Singer of the World contest many years ago and how he brought her to Houston for Isolde during his tenure there, although he had already departed for Lyric. Stemme joked to him about whether he would be in Chicago for this run in which Sir Donald Runnicles will conduct at Lyric for the first time.  The ability to get Stemme and Runnicles both on board made it an easy decision to push Elektra up in the rotation rather than delay a season or two.

Other notable company debuts will be star tenor Michael Fabiano as Roldofo in a La Boheme by Richard Jones. Angela Brower will be Idamante in a John-Pierre Ponnelle production of Idomeneo, which will star Matthew Polenzani and mark the first time Davis has conducted Mozart’s lengthy work.  Tamara Wilson, who excelled recently in Houston as Chrysothemis, will be Leonora in Il Trovatore in her first Chicago appearance while soprano Brenda Rae arrives in Ariodante, the first Handel opera at Lyric since Rinaldo in 2011-12.

Also of note is the Chicago debut of Italian tenor Giorgio Berrugi as Alfredo opposite Albina Shagimuratova as Violetta in the Arin Arbus production previously seen at the company. Both Freud and Davis recalled a fabulous audition by Berrugi in Covent Garden on a day when the two men discovered little other talent.

Two Superstar Concerts

A major highlight for the Chicago audience is a December 2 matinee recital by superstar Anna Netrebko, who Freud called a “rare recitalist.” Netrebko made her Lyric debut in 2012-13 as Mimi. In addition, the company will mark the 25th anniversary of Renee Fleming’s first appearance there with a concert featuring some yet to be named guests on March 23, 2019.

Progress on Sexual Misconduct

On the topic of sexual harassment, Freud made it a point to say that he believed 100 percent in being proactive on the issue in the world of opera.  The general director said that he had a full company meeting about the issue since it has become so topical. While the consensus is that artists and employees enjoy coming to Lyric because it is a welcoming environment, this is a matter that still must be addressed. Said Freud: “We must never be complacent about it or take it for granted.”