New season at Lyric Opera
The La Scala of the West? Not so much next season. Lyric Opera has been known for its faithfulness to the Italian repertoire practically from its inception in 1953 and focused on the bel canto and verismo chestnuts that have kept the 3,500-seat house all but sold out. For the 2008-2009 season, there are only three operas, out of nine, that fit that description, and two of those are combined in the ever-popular double-bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. That leaves another two-thirds of the season for warhorses of a different stripe, or works that have been absent from Lyric's stage for far too long. "New Lyric season plays it safe," reads the headline in the Tribune this morning, but I'm not so sure. It's traditional in the sense that there are no radical departures, but the walks away from the status quo are long overdue, and artistically important.
Porgy and Bess is the most obvious of those works hitting the boards that should have been seen long ago. Lyric is staging it for the first time in its history, which seems mind-blowing for what really is the great American opera. The Gershwin brothers' opera has entered the American vernacular with all those great songs, and it's fantastic that Lyric is bringing it.
The other entrant in that category of Must-See-Because-You-Probably-Won't-See-It-Again-Soon is Alban Berg's shocker Lulu. The vampy Lulu sleeps her way through life before finally being murdered by Jack the Ripper, and the music is as eruptive and destructive as the story demands. Lyric's new production is by Paul Curran, who created the dark, phantasmagoric Die Frau ohne Schatten that Lyric presented this season.
Now, Lyric hasn't engaged any big-name singers to sing these operas, and that's a major cause for concern. If Lyric is going to be one of the finest opera companies in the world, it needs to present the finest singers in the world. The company will give 80 performances next season, which is second only to the Metropolitan Opera, but still, there are singers that opera fans (and critics) want to see that Lyric ought to be presenting.
The other big news of the season is that Deborah Voigt will sing Wagner's Tristan und Isolde in January 2009. She's essentially indomitable in the German dramatic soprano repertoire, and has sung many of those big roles at Lyric. That's in a production by David Hockney, which he designed for the Los Angeles Opera. Another star soprano will take the stage when Natalie Dessay (at left) sings Massenet's luscious Manon, which will open the season in September.
So while Lyric is presenting another Madama Butterfly, and another Cav/Pag double-bill, they're balancing those with major works that appeal to more people - arguably - than those repertoire staples. (I can't imagine that theatergoers won't enjoy Lulu and Porgy.) Mozart lovers will get The Abduction from the Seraglio, and the famous tenor/baritone duet from Bizet's The Pearl Fishers will actually be heard in the entire opera when it's sung by Eric Cutler and Nathan Gunn. Lyric may not be a hotbed of operatic experimentation these days, but this season strikes a good balance between adventurousness and safety. Subscriptions go on sale in February. (The full release is available on their News page.)