Brian Dickie prepares to retire
We have an exit interview with the Chicago Opera Theater general director.
Since his appointment as Chicago Opera Theater’s general director in 1999, Brian Dickie has racked up a number of achievements. He’s solidified COT’s position as the hip younger sibling to the mighty Lyric Opera, offering Chicagoans innovative productions and casts loaded with up-and-coming virtuosos.
After 13 years at the helm of COT, the time has come for the Englishman to return to London, where he’s looking forward to spending time with his nine grandchildren and eight-year-old daughter, Bea.
The 71-year-old’s swan-song season wraps up with Shostakovich’s Moscow, Cheryomushki; Handel’s Teseo; and Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Freshly returned from a trip to England, Dickie gave us the lowdown on leaving the city he loves.
How does it feel now that yourlast few months in Chicago are upon you?
I feel pretty good. Somewhat more relaxed than usual perhaps, since I do not have to worry about the future. My whole family is in England.
What did you miss most about England?
I only missed my family, really. England is terribly expensive and monstrously crowded. Chicago life is fantastic, but I always knew I would go home eventually, so I’ve treated my time at COT as a great adventure.
Favorite spot for fish-and-chips?
Aldeburgh, Suffolk. The home of Benjamin Britten—and the best fish-and-chips.
What do you consider your biggest achievements with COT?
I think that we’ve done well to turn COT from being a valuable ancillary opera provider here in Chicago, performing in a neighborhood theater with largely Chicago-based talent, into a company that is recognized nationally and internationally as a first-rate producer of important work.
Imagine you return to Chicago in five years’ time. What dreams do you hope will have been realized inyour absence?
I hope that in five years’ time COT will be on a more stable financial footing than in the years that I’ve been here. Times are tough and will continue to be. The challenge for Andreas [Mitisek, the new COT general director] and the board will be to maintain top-notch artistic quality and at the same time become financially secure. I believe that I was successful in the former, but we have been disappointed in the latter.
I saw on your blog that you visited the Soviet Cheryomushki housing developments in Russia last year to prepare for this season’s production of Shostakovich’s Moscow, Cheryomushki.
I dropped into Cheryomushki on the way to the airport, when I was leaving Moscow for Warsaw in early June. I had mentioned that we were doing this operetta in Chicago, and a colleague there told me that Cheroymushki is alive and well so I thought I would take a look. My cab driver took me there and I wandered around for ten minutes in Moscow’s “affordable housing” development of the 1950s. Actually, it was quite pretty, since there were trees and shrubs and light and shade. Perhaps there’s a lesson for us there?
Chicago Opera Theater presents Moscow, Cheryomushki at Harris Theater Friday 20, Sunday 22, Wednesday 25; Teseo Saturday 21, April 27, 29 and May 2. Dickie’s final production, The Magic Flute, runsin September.