Keep an eye out for world and local premiere operas and returning favorites

The eyes of the opera world will be focused on Chicago this season.

Both the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Chicago Opera Theater are unveiling world-premiere operas that have great potential to expand and diversify the operatic repertoire. And both companies are also staging rare operas never seen in Chicago before: Verdi's epic "Don Carlos" in its original French version is at the Lyric, while Szymanowski's Polish opera "King Roger" ("Król Roger") is brought to life by Chicago Opera Theater.

And as usual, there are several new-to-Chicago productions and revivals of operatic favorites.

Baritone, composer and Ryan Opera Center alum Will Liverman is the co-creator of the new opera "The Factorum" for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Courtesy of Adam Ewing

World premieres

Lyric Opera of Chicago has lined up four new operas sung in English this season - though three of those works are grouped together in one performance.

"Proximity" (March 24 through April 8) is billed as "A Trio of New American Operas." Like the 1999 opera "Central Park," "Proximity" features three separate teams of award-winning composers and librettists to explore contemporary 21st-century life while delving into issues tied to technology, violence and our environment.

Composer Daniel Bernard Roumain and librettist Anna Deavere Smith are the collaborators on "Git Here," composer Caroline Shaw works with librettist Jocelyn Clark on "Four Portraits" and composer John Luther Adams with librettist John Haines produced "Night."

"The Factorum" (Feb. 3-12 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance) is also lined up as a collaboration between composer baritone Will Liverman (a Ryan Opera Center alum and star of last season's "Fire Shut Up in My Bones") and DJ King Rico. "The Factorum" takes its comic inspiration from Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" but is updated and reset to a barbershop on Chicago's South Side.

Chicago Opera Theater's world premiere production this season is "The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing" (March 23 and 25) by composer Justine F. Chen and librettist David Simpatico. This English-language co-commission with American Lyric Theater explores the life of the brilliant British computing scientist whose discoveries helped the Allies to decode messages from the Nazis' enigma machine during World War II. The opera explores Turing's persecution for being gay and questions his reported suicide.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago revives director Francesa Zambello's production of "West Side Story" in June 2023. Courtesy of Todd Rosenberg Photography, 2019

Chicago premieres

The classic 1964 Broadway musical "Fiddler on the Roof" (now through Oct. 7) makes its Lyric debut in an imported and critically acclaimed 2017 production from the Komische Oper Berlin. Director Barrie Kosky (who co-created last season's "The Magic Flute") returns to stage this beloved musical about a Jewish community facing expulsion by Czarist Russian forces.

Renée Fleming and Rod Gilfry perform in concert on Oct. 8, which marks the multimedia Chicago debut of "The Brightness of Light." Composer Kevin Puts ("The Hours," "Elizabeth Cree") draws from letters between artists Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz for this concert work. Fleming and Gilfry also perform operatic favorites as part of the evening.

The Lyric also presents Verdi's "Don Carlos" (Nov. 9-25) in its original five-act French-language version for the first time in Chicago. Sir David McVicar directs this epic tragedy set in 16th-century Spain, which zeros in on the royal drama involving the title prince (Joshua Guerrero), who romantically longs for his stepmother, Queen Elisabeth (Rachel Willis-Sørensen). Lyric music director Enrique Mazzola conducts.

Also being staged for the first time at Lyric is Rossini's French comedy "Le Comte Ory" (Nov. 13-26). It's about the randy title nobleman (Lawrence Brownlee) who disguises himself as a nun to win the love of the cloistered Countess Adèle (Kathryn Lewek) who is hiding in a convent during the Crusades. Enrique Mazzola conducts this imported 2011 Metropolitan Opera production that was originally staged by Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher.

Chicago will get the rare chance to hear an opera sung in Polish with the local premiere of "King Roger" ("Król Roger") (Nov. 18 and 20) via Chicago Opera Theater. Composer Karol Szymanowski and Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz's 1926 opera takes inspiration partially from the ancient Greek drama "The Bacchae" as a Sicilian Christian king is confronted by pagan ideas spread by a young shepherd. Music director Lidiya Yankovskaya conducts this new production directed by Dylan Evans.

Lyric Opera of Chicago music director Enrique Mazzola conducts a revival of Verdi's tragedy "Ernani," which opens the company's 2022-23 season. Naperville native Tamara Wilson is set to star in the leading soprano role of Elvira. Courtesy of Valerie Bromann, Lyric Opera of Chicago

Riveting revivals

Lyric music director Enrique Mazzola's specialty in conducting early Verdi operas should be in full display with this revival of "Ernani" (now through Oct. 1). This full-blooded tragedy of jealously, honor and revenge stars Naperville native Tamara Wilson as Elvira, and also features such Verdi specialists as Russell Thomas, Quinn Kelsey and Christian Van Horn.

The Lyric also revives its famously surreal production of the classic Humperdinck opera "Hansel & Gretel" (Jan. 25 through Feb. 5). Director Richard Jones' staging was originally co-commissioned by the Lyric and Welsh National Opera and has been produced in New York, Munich and San Francisco.

Chicago Opera Theater revives "Albert Herring" (Jan. 26, 28 and 29) at the Athenaeum Theatre. The company previously produced Benjamin Britten's comic opera in 1979 and 1989, but expect a new production by director Stephen Sposito and expert English conducting by Dame Jane Glover. See what happens when an awkward and virginal young man gets crowned the "May Queen" when the rest of the village's maidens prove to be too "experienced" to carry on that annual title.

The Lyric has attracted a starry cast for its upcoming revival of Bizet's "Carmen" (March 11 through April 7). J'Nai Bridges stars in the title role of the free-spirited Roma woman who becomes the murderous obsession of the soldier Don José (Charles Castronovo). South African soprano Golda Schultz also makes her Lyric debut as Jose's hometown sweetheart, Michaëla.

The Lyric's tradition of presenting a postseason musical is back with a revival of "West Side Story" (June 2-25), which was previously produced in 2019. Francesca Zambello's gritty production deliberately draws connections to the 1950s when the musical debuted on Broadway with contemporary strife.

Lyric Opera of Chicago music director Enrique Mazzola continues his exploration of early Verdi operas with the 2022-23 season-opening revival of "Ernani." Courtesy of Jean-Baptiste Millot

Other opera companies

The Lyric and Chicago Opera Theater may get most of the attention, but the Windy City also has a number of smaller companies dedicated to opera. Many of these companies are on the verge of announcing their next season, so be on the lookout for updates.

Haymarket Opera specializes in baroque works and is just finishing up a run of Monteverdi's 17th-century classic "L'incoronazione di Poppea" ("The Coronation of Poppea") (now through Sept. 25) at DePaul University's Jarvis Opera Hall in Chicago.

The Opera Festival of Chicago also recently completed its second summer season. This company specializes in Italian rarities that are more often staged in Europe. Chicago Fringe Opera also made a return from its pandemic shut down last season with local premieres by the likes of opera composers Jake Heggie and Elizabeth Rudolph.

Chicago Summer Opera is a training company for up-and-coming singers and musicians, and they produce a wide variety of operas out at the Prairie Lakes Community Center in Des Plaines.

Comeback questions

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a toll on live performing arts companies, so let's hope that some of these smaller companies return to the fray.

Chamber Opera Chicago was famed for doing holiday runs of Menotti's classic 1950s opera "Amahl and the Night Visitors." A return would be most welcome.

Oak Park-based Bellissima Opera is an initiative of Working In Concert, which notably presented an online opera called "On Call: COVID-19" during the pandemic. Just where and how the organizations' classically trained vocalists express themselves in performance in the future should be compelling.

Other Chicago companies that have yet to announce upcoming projects include South Shore Opera Company of Chicago, Thompson Street Opera Company, Transgressive Theatre-Opera and Opera Cabal. Also keep your eyes peeled in the Western Suburbs for any announcements from Wheaton College Opera and Elgin-based Fox Valley Lyrical Productions.

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