Lyric season to include 'Show Boat'

Updated 2/2/2011 3:46 PM

For his farewell year as Lyric Opera of Chicago's general director, William Mason and his artistic team have come up what looks like a winning lineup announced this week for the Lyric's 57th season, opening Oct. 1 with Jacques Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffmann."

In a typically balanced season that includes repertoire from Italy, Germany/Austria, Russia, France and America, one work stands uniquely apart from traditional operas.


That work is the classic American musical drama "Show Boat," whose Lyric Opera premiere in February 2012 will be staged by Francesca Zambello, artistic and general director of The Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, N.Y. Zambello was on hand for Tuesday's season announcement, along with Mason and music director Sir Andrew Davis, currently in his 10th season.

This new production of "Show Boat" will star baritone Nathan Gunn as Gaylord Ravenal, along with soprano Alyson Cambridge as Julie as part of her debut season at the Lyric. Bass Morris Robinson as Joe and Angela Renée Simpson as Queenie are also making their house debuts. The conductor will be John DeMain.

"Show Boat," based on Edna Ferber's novel with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, may seem out of place at one of the world's major opera houses, but it really isn't. The show, truly operatic in scope, was really ahead of its time when it made its Broadway debut on Dec. 27, 1927. It addressed American racial and societal issues four decades before the Civil Rights Act, and it was filmed by Hollywood in 1936 and 1951.

"'Show Boat' is among the great works of American musical theater that certainly have a place in the opera houses of this country and indeed, the world," Mason said. "It is all-American in its subject, in its musical style and inspiration, and we are proud to present this captivating drama."

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This isn't the first time the Lyric has turned to the American music theater. In recent seasons, Chicago audiences have been treated to "Candide," "Sweeney Todd" and "Porgy and Bess," all having Broadway roots. They were among the hottest tickets at the Civic Opera House. And it won't stop there: Soprano Renee Fleming, the Lyric's recently appointed creative consultant, is planning a new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma."

Other new productions:

• Handel's "Rinaldo" will receive its first staged production. Its only previous appearance at the Lyric was an off-season concert performance in 1984. The new production will star American countertenor David Daniels in the title role, with Julia Kleiter, Elza van den Heever, Luca Pisaroni, Sonia Prina and Iestyn Davies all making their Lyric Opera debuts. Harry Bicket will conduct, and Francisco Negrin will be stage director.

• Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" will receive a new production, starring soprano Susanna Phillips in the title role. Other cast members are tenor Giuseppe Filianoti as Edgardo, baritone Gabriele Viviani as Enrico and bass-baritone Christian Van Horn as Raimondo. The conductor will be Massimo Zanetti in his Lyric Opera debut, and longtime leading soprano Catherine Malfitano will make her company stage-directing debut.

Two operas are productions from other companies:

• Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffmann" returns to Lyric for the first time since 1982 in a production from the Teatro Real in Madrid. Tenor Matthew Polenzani will make his role debut as Hoffmann. Also in the cast are bass-baritone James Morris, soprano Anna Christy, soprano Erin Wall and soprano Alyson Cambridge (debut). Emmanuel Villaume will conduct, and Stéphane Roche (debut) will direct the production originally staged by Nicolas Joël.


• Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov" (original 1869 version) returns to the Lyric in a production owned by the San Francisco Opera and seen here previously in 1994-95. Bass Ferruccio Furlanetto will make his Lyric Opera debut in the title role, and Stefan Margita (Prince Shuisky) will also make his Lyric debut, the cast also including tenor Erik Nelson Werner (Lyric debut) as Grigori, along with bass Andrea Silvestrelli (Pimen) and bass Raymond Aceto (Varlaam). Sir Andrew Davis will conduct, and Julia Pevzner will make her company debut as stage director.

The Lyric's three revivals:

• Richard Strauss' "Ariadne auf Naxos" (1916 revised version) will star soprano Deborah Voigt in the title role and as the Prima Donna, soprano Anna Christy as Zerbinetta, mezzo-soprano Alice Coote as the Composer, and tenor Brandon Jovanovichas as the Leading Man. John Cox, who directed the Lyric Opera premiere of this production in 1998-99, returns for the revival. Sir Andrew Davis will conduct.

• Mozart's final operatic masterpiece, "The Magic Flute," will star soprano Nicole Cabell as Pamina, with Charles Castronovo and Alek Shrader sharing the role of Tamino, both in their Lyric Opera debuts. Also appearing are baritone Stéphane Degout in his Lyric debut as Papageno, soprano Kathleen Kim as the Queen of the Night and bass Günther Groissböck in his Lyric debut as Sarastro. The 1986 production, originally staged by the late August Everding, will have Matthew Lata as director for this revival. Davis will be on the podium.

• Verdi's "Aida" will feature American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, who will share the title role with Hui He, the latter making her Lyric Opera debut, with Radames shared by tenors Marcello Giordani and Salvatore Licitra, Amneris shared by mezzo-sopranos Jill Grove and Anna Smirnova (her Lyric debut), and Gordon Hawkins and Quinn Kelsey as the Ethiopian king Amonasro. Renato Palumbo will conduct, and Lata will stage the original Nicolas Joël production.

The Lyric's Subscriber Appreciation Night: Renee Fleming will share the stage with baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in a special concert on Jan. 7, 2012, that will honor Mason on his retirement at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season. Tickets are available to Lyric subscribers only.

Lyric Opera will offer 72 performances of eight operas during its 25-week season, up from 68 performances in the current season. Next season, patrons can choose from 23 different subscription packages.

Subscription brochures offering full details of series, performance dates and prices will be mailed to current subscribers this weekend. Single-performance tickets will go on sale later. For information, visit or call (312) 332-2244, ext. 5600.