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November 2014
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Cellist Lynn Harrell’s Chicago Roots are Showing


Encore Presentation of Lynn Harrell on Live from WFMT, Monday at 8:00 pm

In August of 1965, Billboard magazine printed a recap of the Ravinia festival, which had opened on a 40-degree evening in the middle of June. Aaron Copland and Igor Stravinsky had conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that summer. “Ravinia perennial” Elizabeth Schwarzkopf sang; the festival’s 29-year-old music director Seiji Ozawa conducted, and Ella Fitzgerald performed on the “popular artist” series. There was a 21-year-old cellist by the name of Lynn Harrell who gave a recital – that was the beginning of a long and celebrated relationship which continues to unfold in Chicago’s musical life.

Over the last 50 years, Lynn Harrell has shared Chicago’s stages with the CSO, conductors James Conlon, James Levine, Sir Georg Solti; other orchestras, like the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. He’s given masterclasses at area universities and music shops, and played chamber concerts with artists ranging from Isaac Stern to Gil Shaham, not to mention a number of collaborations with CSO principals.

With an opera star for a father (bass Mack Harrell), Lynn Harrell doesn’t remember life without music; and Chicago is a regular stop on the career path of many musicians. As he told WFMT’s Studs Terkel in 1982, Mr. Harrell met conductor James Levine – not in Chicago – but when they were 13 years old in the Harrell’s garage. Their rendezvous in Chicago would come later:


This week on Live from WFMT, hear cello virtuoso Lynn Harrell with pianist Victor Santiago Ascuncion in music and conversation with Kerry Frumkin.

Read about the WFMT special Songs My Father Taught Me, produced by Louise Frank, in which Lynn Harrell finds musical inspiration in the recordings of his late father, Mack Harrell.

“Lucrezia Borgia” from Caramoor Festival


Saturday at 12:00 pm

The curious characters behind New York state’s Caramoor Festival couldn’t have been more colorful, if they had climbed from the pen of F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Caramoor property was acquired by Wall Street financier Walter Rosen and his wife, Lucie, in 1928, and named for the previous owner, Carolyn Moore Hoyt (Caramoor is a contraction of Carolyn and Moore). Caramoor’s Italian garden was instantly appealing to Walter and Lucie who were avid travelers and art collectors.


The Rosen House

The Rosens owned a number of townhouses in Manhattan, but had fancied having a country estate where they could entertain (and impress) international visitors. Hosting musical gatherings and housing acquisitions from their travels would be a priority. In some cases, entire rooms were transported from Europe to the Westchester estate. Supposedly, the Rosens never occupied the original house, but immediately began adding to, and converting the property’s barn to living space. Walter Rosen himself was the chief architect for the expansion, and dreamed of creating a house in the style of the Italian palazzo. The result was a four-winged floor plan that had grown like a wild vine into a 25,000 square foot house. Critics suggested the building lacked logic, for example, the original entrance to the barn provides a great arch on the south wing, pulling the eye into the house, except the actual entrance is around the corner. Indoors, the Rosen’s collections are nothing short of spectacular. In the master bedroom, for example, is a large gilded bed which once belonged to Cardinal Barberini (1568-1644), consecrated as Pope Urban VIII.


The Barberini bed

In 1929, the Rosens attended a party in New York City where they met a Russian inventor and Soviet spy by the name of Leon Theremin. The instrument which bears the Russian’s name, the theremin, was one of the original electronic musical instruments, and varied its pitch as the player waved his or her hands through the electromagnetic field generated through two antennae. (One of the most famous uses of the theremin, and its warbly, ghostly tones, was The Day the Earth Stood Still soundtrack.) When she heard this device, Lucie Rosen was smitten. She decided to become a master of the instrument, and that she did. Her New York debut took place at Town Hall in 1935, and she began touring with the theremin throughout Europe and the Northeastern United States. She commissioned pieces for the theremin by Jenö Szanto, Jenö Takács, Mortimer Browning, John Haussermann, and Bohuslav Martinu.

The Rosen House  at Caramoor

The Burgundian Library

Leon Theremin became a tenant of the Rosens, in one of their New York City brownstones, but got behind on taxes and rent. Eventually, he stole away to the Soviet Union where he was promptly placed in a Siberian labor camp. The Soviets then enlisted Leon Theremin to build listening devices that could be placed in the American embassy for the purpose of surveillance.


The grounds at Caramoor

In 1946, the Rosens began opening some of their house concerts to the public. Today, some 15,000 people visit the Caramoor Center for Music & the Arts each year.

On Saturday, November 8, WFMT presents Lurezia Borgia, a Donizetti opera in the bel canto tradition. The production stars Angela Meade as Lucrezia, Christophoros Stamboglis as Alfonso. Will Crutchfield conducts the soloists, the Bel Canto Young Artists and Apprentices, and the St. Luke’s Orchestra. The broadcast begins at 12:00 noon.

Lucrezia Borgia at Caramoor

Angela Meade and Michele Angelini


Ian & Ani Live on WFMT


Friday at 12:00 pm

Last spring, they gave a series of shows called “Tango Obsession” at the Chopin Theatre – eight were sold out. Ian & Ani are putting a different spin on chamber music and bringing their sexy, passionate approach to programming and performance to non-traditional venues around the world.

Check out Russian cellist Ian Maksin and Bulgarian pianist Ani Gogova in a Tedx talk (video below) about growing up in former Communist countries, the impact of music in their lives; and choosing Chicago as their home.

Join WFMT for a live broadcast from PianoForte Foundation.  Ian & Ani will play Piazzolla’s Oblivion, Rodion Shchedrin’s In the Style of Albeniz, Ravel’s Habanera, as well as the Sonata for Cello and Piano by Sergei Prokofiev.

WFMT broadcasts lunchtime concerts from PianoForte on the first Friday of every month. The broadcasts start at 12:00 noon.

How Close is Mahler to Today’s New York Phil?

Composer and conductor Gustav Mahler

The New York Philharmonic This Week, Thursday at 8:00 pm

In its 172 years, the New York Philharmonic has been the locus for many great moments in American music. Gustav Mahler’s tenure as music director of that orchestra (1909-1911) ranks high on the list for many music lovers. Of course, New Yorkers felt lucky to get him because he was one of the most celebrated conductors of his time. They weren’t so sure about his symphonies, which he conducted for his New York audience.

It would be decades before people began to appreciate Mahler as a composer. In 1967, another celebrated New York Philharmonic composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein published an essay in High Fidelity titled “Mahler: His Time Has Come.” And Bernstein was right. Since the publication of that article, over 1,000 Mahler recordings have been issued by orchestras and vocalists.

100 years after Mahler’s tenure in New York, the connection to the Bohemian master is a source of pride for New York Philharmonic musicians. Many feel they are heirs to a tradition of playing that comes directly from titans like Mahler, Bernstein, Toscanini, and others.

Several years ago, when the Philharmonic came to Chicago’s Symphony Center to play Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, a group of trombone players were asked if they felt intimidated playing that piece in Chicago (a piece which has long been a signature work of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra). The New York musicians replied, “Why? He was our music director.”

But how closely connected are today’s New York Philharmonic musicians to Mahler’s Philharmonic of 1911? New York Philharmonic archivist Barbara Haws likes to say, “the real archives of the Philharmonic exists on the stage.” See the chart below which shows how careers have overlapped in the Philharmonic, and have had opportunity to influence the playing of the next generation.

New York Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert conducts the First Symphony of Gustav Mahler on the next edition of The New York Philharmonic This Week, hosted by Alec Baldwin. The broadcast starts at 8:00 pm, Thursday.


Why Not Haydn the Opera Composer?

Cecilia Bartoli in Haydn's "Orfeo" at Covent Garden

Cecilia Bartoli in Haydn's "Orfeo" at Covent Garden

Tuesday at 8:00 pm

Franz Joseph Haydn is often regarded as the father of the symphony and the father of the string quartet. That’s an extraordinary legacy; so what’s the story with Haydn and opera? Of course, opera was over 100 years old when Haydn came along, so he couldn’t have been its progenitor. What’s puzzling, however, is that most people don’t even know that Haydn wrote operas. He did – fifteen of them. Tom Service, chief classical music critic for The Guardian posited last month that this could be due to “the laziness of programmers, producers, and opera houses in not exploring one of the richest music-theatrical seams of the late 18th century.”

Haydn has had his champions, including mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli, Austrian maestro Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and the celebrated 20th century Hungarian conductor Antal Doráti.

In fact, Haydn wrote most of his operas in the countryside of Hungary, at the summer palace of Nikolaus I, Prince Esterházy. These operas were intended to entertain the prince and his guests, as were his symphonies and string quartets. Much of the music written at the Esterházy estate has become standard classical repertoire – just not the operas.


An illustration of one of Haydn’s productions at the Esterhazy palace.

We know that Haydn could write dramatically for the voice, as is evident in his beloved oratorio The Creation. We know that Haydn comes with the highest recommendations (Mozart was among his admirers). We also know he’s a favorite of The Tuesday Night Opera host Peter van de Graaff.

This week, WFMT presents an opportunity to hear a complete opera by Haydn on The Tuesday Night Opera. Peter features Haydn’s L’anima del filosofo, ossia Orfeo ed Euridice with Cecilia Bartoli (Euridice); Uwe Heilman (Orfeo); Ildebrando d’Arcangelo (Creonte); and the Academy of Ancient Music conducted by Christopher Hogwood.

View the libretto to Haydn’s Orfeo ed Euridice.

New Talent at Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center

Tenor Jesse Donner, left; tenor Jonathan Johnson, top right; bass Bradley Smoak, bottom right

Tenor Jesse Donner, left; tenor Jonathan Johnson, top right; bass Bradley Smoak, bottom right

Monday at 6:00 pm

Monday’s Ryan Opera Center recital introduces three talented singers who entered the program this summer: tenor Jonathan Johnson, bass Bradley Smoak, and tenor Jesse Donner. The singers will deliver a program based on one of opera’s favorite topics: women.

The Ryan Opera Center is Lyric Opera of Chicago’s training program for young artists, which gives them everything from one-on-one coaching with the stars of the main stage, to actual roles in Lyric’s main stage productions. In fact all three of Monday’s performers have already had a taste of a major production, having had parts in Richard Strauss’s Capriccio, which closed last week at Lyric. They also sang solos in Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music at Lyric Opera’s 60th anniversary concert on Saturday.


Bass Bradley Smoak

Bass Bradley Smoak graduated from Illinois Wesleyan in 2007 and began building his long list of credentials by taking roles with regional opera companies. He’s been tweeting about his Ryan Opera Center experience, which includes some improv work with The Second City and a solo with the Civic Orchestra in Orchestra Hall. Regarding the latter, he tweeted: “Poulenc w/ Civic Orchestra in this awe-inspiring hall. Love my job!”


Tenor Jonathan Johnson

Until last year, tenor Jesse Donner trained as a baritone. He got his master’s degree at the University of Michigan in 2013. That was the year he made his debut as a tenor. He is what’s called a heldentenor, or heroic tenor, which is suitable for the big Wagner roles like Tristan or Siegfried. Heldentenors typically have a larger, thicker, more dramatic voice. Mr. Donner is from Des Moines, Iowa and received his undergraduate degree in vocal performance from Iowa State University.

Tenor Jonathan Johnson is a native of Macon, Georgia and studied at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and at the Aspen Summer Music Institute. While at UNC, he crossed paths with fellow Ryan ensemble member Bradley Smoak in a performance of Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann. In that production, Johnson sang the protagonist Hoffmann who is foiled by the villainy of Bradley Smoak’s four characters. Jonathan Johnson is presently in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore.

Click to read more about the Ryan Opera Center.

Monday’s recital with singers from Lyric Opera’s Ryan Opera Center presents music by Verdi, Fauré, Finzi, Hahn, Duparc, Bernstein, and Sondheim. WFMT’s broadcast begins at 6:00 pm.

She’s One in Forty Million; Yuja Wang Comes to Chicago

Chinese-American pianist Yuja Wang

Chinese-American pianist Yuja Wang

When pianist Yuja Wang comes to Chicago this weekend, she will meet the NCPA Orchestra in the morning; rehearse and perform that afternoon. That’s pretty normal for this 27-year-old artist, who is fast becoming one of the hottest pianists today.

It seems like she’s everywhere: playing recitals, chamber music, and soloing with orchestras; she’s touring Europe, Japan, North America. She admits not having personal time, and commits herself to a large swath of repertoire in short order. “I think I like that, lot’s of variety, old and new. This year I do have lots of new things coming up like, for example, this Ravel. And there’s Mozart, there’s Bartok. Of course, last week I was doing Shostakovich One [First Piano Concerto] and this week in Vienna I’m doing Prokofiev Two [Second Piano Concerto], which is a piece I’ve known for eight years.” But she laughs at the idea that she’s performed pieces before. “It doesn’t get easier. Everything seems easier when I was younger.”

Earlier this month, she toured with violinist Leonidas Kavakos. They’ll do an American tour in November, but with a different program. She says it’s important not to look at the whole tour, and to be in the moment. “These days I’m doing this, so I’m focusing on that. And I think three days before the tour with Leonidas, we’re going to be really intensely working on the new program.”


As a 13-year-old, Yuja Wang was living in Beijing when she won a spot in an exchange program between China and Canada. In 2002, at the age of 14, she moved to Philadelphia to study with Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute without the company of her parents – they weren’t able to obtain visas to come to the United States. By 2009, she had an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon and was recording with Claudio Abbado.

This week, Yuja Wang steps onto Chicago’s stage with an orchestra from her native China that has only been playing together for around four years: the NCPA Orchestra of the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, China. It’s a young orchestra, one she likens to Gustavo Dudamel’s Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra. “Every one is really hand-picked, going through lots of auditions, so they are really the top of the top people.”  According to Ms. Wang, that mirrors the conservatory experience, which was intensely competitive. What makes this group special for her is that they were all kids together at Beijing’s Central Conservatory.

The Central Conservatory admits children starting at the age of nine. Some of the kids have been playing since they were two. “So many people just rent places in Beijing to study with the professors there to be at the top level.” Ms. Wang says she started “quite late at the age of six.”

There is no shortage of classical instruction in China. According to the BBC, there are an estimated 40 million piano students there – a sharp departure from the piano-smashing days of the Cultural Revolution. Yuja Wang still remembers when it was difficult to get a score of the Ravel G Major Concerto, the piece she’ll be playing with the NCPA Orchestra in Chicago. Chinese pianists Lang Lang and Yundi Li changed people’s perceptions, however, causing interest among parents and students to explode in recent years. Owning a Steinway has become a status symbol in Chinese households, while Chinese piano manufacturing has increased to the point of putting many European piano makers out of business.


Yuja Wang takes a bow with Claudio Abbado and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra

Working with Claudio Abbado

In 2011, Yuja Wang issued her first solo CD with orchestra featuring works by Rachminoff conducted by the late Claudio Abbado. She calls working with Mr. Abbado “quite a memory.” She giggles, “I played with all three of his orchestras…and every orchestra just sounded like Claudio.” When pressed to describe what that sounded like, she said, “The music just grabs you. I don’t know if there’s a sound or intention. He’s a very silent man. He hardly talked in rehearsals and was very elegant. He was quite sick already when I met him, but I did play Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto, which is a very energetic work. And he made the orchestra sound always refreshing. He’s very different from rehearsal and in a concert. One thing I noticed, he’d really lift everyone up – their level – to play their best…like he had a magical wand. Rehearsal is just normal. And then in the concert, all the energies are just concentrated in one intense, intense beam.”

Ravel’s G Major Piano Concerto

Yuja Wang and the NCPA Orchestra will perform music by Maurice Ravel at Chicago’s Symphony Center. “I can’t think of anything else that’s like that Concerto. There are so many refreshing ideas and eclectic influences. There’s almost like Messiaen, the theremin color. My favorite is the beginning of the second movement. It’s almost like a soliloquy.” The concerto is “very jazzy, very sexy-smokey.”

Yuja Wang and the NCPA Orchestra will perform a concert at Symphony Center in downtown Chicago on Sunday, November 2 at 3:00 pm. The program includes The Five Elements Suite for Orchestra by Qigang Chen and Dvořák’s 8th Symphony. Lü Jia is the conductor.


Lyric Opera Timeline: the First 60 Years

The interior of Chicago's Civic Opera House

In 1952, a student singer named Carol Fox chatted with her vocal coach, Nicola Rescigno, and insurance man Lawrence Kelly about ways to sustain an opera company in Chicago – a series of previous attempts had ended in bankruptcy. They agreed, if they were to attempt such a venture, they would need to marshal community support – and what better way to recruit supporters than to show them an opera?

In February 1954, the three pooled their resources, imported singers Nicola Rossi-Lemeni and Eleanor Steber, and staged two performances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Nine months later, the fledgling company produced a three-week season.

60 years later, Lyric Opera of Chicago is in expansion mode. With Renée Fleming as artistic consultant, Sir Andrew Davis as music director, and Anthony Freud as general director, Lyric has begun to broaden its repertoire with new works and new audiences. They’ve partnered with The Second City of Chicago, the Lincoln Park Zoo, and have stepped up their work with the Chicago Public Schools. Their productions of American musicals are beginning to be picked up by other opera companies, and their young artist program, the Ryan Opera Center, is becoming a bellwether for tomorrow’s talent.

See the schedule for WFMT’s Lyric Opera Weekend.


1958 “Falstaff” with Anna Maria Canali, Renata Tebaldi, and Anna Moffo

Lyric Opera Timeline

1952 A student singer named Carol Fox, her vocal coach Nicola Rescigno, and insurance broker Lawrence V. Kelly begin discussing viable ways to start an opera company in Chicago.

1954 Lyric Theatre of Chicago opens with Mozart’s Don Giovanni with Rescigno conducting members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Nicola Rossi-Lemeni sings the Don, and Eleanor Steber sings Donna Anna.

1954 Maria Callas makes her American debut at Lyric.


Bruno Bartoletti, Carol Fox, and Pino Donati

1954 Ruth Page becomes ballet mistress and choreographer for Lyric.

1954 Future general director William Mason sings the Shepherd Boy in Lyric’s first performance of Tosca.

1954 Future general director Ardis Krainik joins the company as a typist and mezzo-soprano.

1954 Michael Lepore becomes Lyric’s chorus master, serving until 1974.

1955 Nicola Rescigno and Lawrence Kelly leave the company. Carol Fox changes the name to Lyric Opera of Chicago.


Tito Gobbi sings the role of Don Giovanni with Judith Raskin as Zerlina in a 1969 production at Lyric

1956 Georg Solti conducts Lyric’s first Wagner opera, Die Walküre with Birgit Nilsson as Brünnhilde. Future general director Ardis Krainik sings the part of Rossweisse. Birgit Nilsson returns to Lyric (principally in Wagnerian roles) into the 1970s.

1956 (3 days after Solti’s debut) 30-year-old conductor Bruno Bartoletti conducts at Lyric. Carol Fox appoints him co-artistic director with Pino Donati.

1956/7 Richard Tucker, Renata Tebaldi, Jussi Björling, Tito Gobbi, Giuseppe di Stefano, and others become Lyric regulars.

1973 Native American ballerina Maria Tallchief is a solo dancer in the company debut of Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. She would collaborate with Lyric for the next five decades as dancer, coach, and choreographer.

1958 Lyric Opera of Chicago receives a subsidy of 10 million lire ($16,000) from the Italian government for the “importation” of Italian singers and crew.


Maria Tallchief served as ballet director at Lyric

Leontyne Price as Aida

1959 32-year-old African American soprano Leontyne Price debuts at Lyric as Liù in Turandot, followed by the title character in Thaïs. The next season she stars as Aida

1960  Renata Scotto, Robert Merrill, Christa Ludwig, Jon Vickers, Alfredo Kraus, Nicolai Ghiaurov, and Grace Bumbry become Lyric regulars.

1961 Joan Sutherland stars as Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor, with sets, costumes, and stage direction by Franco Zeffirelli.

1962 Bulgarian bass Nicolai Ghiaurov sings the role of Philp II in Verdi’s Don Carlo. Ghiaurov continues to appear at Lyric into the 1980s.

1968 Placido Domingo debuts as Chevalier des Grieux in Manon Lescaut.

1973 Luciano Pavarotti debuts as Rodolfo in La bohème and begins to appear regularly on Lyric’s schedule.


Maria Callas after a performance of “Madama Butterfly” at Lyric Opera. Click to see video about this famous photograph.

1974 Lyric establishes an apprentice program to train young American singers, now called the Ryan Opera Center. More on the Ryan Opera Center.

1975 Co-artistic director Pino Donati dies, and Bruno Bartoletti becomes the sole artistic director.


Ardis Krainik served as general director of Lyric Opera for 15 years

1980 American bass James Morris sings one performance as the Don in Don Giovanni, covering for Richard Stilwell. Morris would become the reigning Wotan of his time, and continue to sing regularly at Lyric Opera. Most recently, he sang Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Lyric’s 2013 production.

1980s Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Samuel Ramey, and Jerry Hadley become regulars at Lyric. Placido Domingo, Kiri Te Kanawa, Marylin Horne, and Carol Vaness make several appearances at Lyric.

1981 Carol Fox steps down, and artistic administrator Ardis Krainik becomes Lyric’s second general director.

1987 Future Lyric Opera of Chicago Music Director Andrew Davis conducts the company premiere of La clemenza di Tito.


Lyric Opera Music Director, Sir Andrew Davis




Ardis Krainik with Luciano Pavarotti in 1986

Ardis Krainik with Luciano Pavarotti in 1986


1989 Ardis Krainik makes international headlines when she fires Luciano Pavarotti, saying, ”From 1981 through 1989, Mr. Pavarotti has, for a variety of reasons, canceled 26 of the 41 performances he contracted to do at Lyric Opera.” She went on to say she would ”not consider any other future engagements with Mr. Pavarotti.”


1989 Anne Sofie von Otter sings the role of Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier. Her most recent performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago was October of 2014, as Clairon in Capriccio

1990s Renée Fleming, Bryn Terfel, Ben Heppner, Ryan Opera Center alumnus Elizabeth Futral, Catherine Malfitano, and Susanne Mentzer become regulars at Lyric. William Bolcom serves as Lyric’s composer-in-residence, producing McTeague, A View from the Bridge, and A Wedding.


Cover art for the stagebill to Lyric’s 1996 production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle

1991 Donald Palumbo becomes Lyric’s chorus master.


William Mason, Lyric Opera’s 3rd general director, c. Dan Rest

1993 Lyric Opera of Chicago purchases the Civic Opera House.

1993 Renée Fleming sings the title role in Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

1994 Lyric launches a new production of the Ring Cycle with James Morris as Wotan, Eva Marton and Jane Eaglan as Brünnhilde, and Siegfried Jerusalem as Siegmund and Siegfried

1995 Ryan Opera Center alumnus Matthew Polenzani sings the Captain in Simon Boccanegra and becomes a regular at Lyric.

1996 Lyric stages the complete Ring Cycle conducted by Zubin Mehta.

1997 Ardis Krainik dies. William Mason becomes general director

1998 Lyric stages Marriage of Figaro with Bryn Terfel as Figaro, Elizabeth Futral as Susanna, Renée Fleming as the Countess, Catherine Cook as Marcellina, Susan Graham as Cherubino, and Håkan Hagegård as Count Almaviva.

1998 Johan Botha appears in La Gioconda. He becomes a regular at Lyric.

Renee Fleming becomes Lyric’s creative consultant

2000 Sir Andrew Davis becomes music director of Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Deborah Voight as Salome, c. Skrebneski

Deborah Voigt as Salome, c. Skrebneski

2000s Bo Skovhus, Patricia Racette, Frank Lopardo, and Ryan Opera Center alumnus Susanna Phillips become regulars.

2004 William Bolcom’s final work as composer-in-residence, A Wedding, premieres.

2006 Deborah Voigt thrills audiences and critics in a daring new production of Salome.

2007 After conducting some 600 performances of 55 operas, Bruno Bartoletti conducts his final performance (La traviata) at Lyric.

2010 Renée Fleming becomes Lyric’s first creative consultant.

2011 Anthony Freud becomes Lyric Opera’s 4th general director.

2012 Lyric produces Jerome Kern’s Show Boat and announces plans to produce one show yearly, 2013-2017, by Rodgers and Hammerstein II. more

Anthony Freud, general director, Lyric Opera of Chicago Dec. 4, 2012.

Anthony Freud, Lyric Opera’s 4th general director, c. Steve Leonard

2013 Michael Black becomes chorus master.

2013 Lyric stages its first mariachi opera, Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, with Mariachi Vargas.

2014 Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 60th anniversary season opens with Don Giovanni starring Mariusz Kwiecień, Ana María Martínez, Marina Rebeka, and Kyle Ketelsen. more 






WFMT’s Lyric Opera Weekend

Stars gather at the Civic Opera House to celebrate Lyric's 60th in an unforgettable concert

In February of 1954, Lyric Opera founders Carol Fox, Nicola Rescigno, and Lawrence Kelly launched their first production, hoping it would inspire opera lovers to step forward and offer financial and community support for an opera company in Chicago – it did. Rescigno conducted two performances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni with Nicola Rossi-Lemeni as the Don, and Eleanor Steber as Donna Anna.

Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson chats with Studs Terkel during one of her many visits to Chicago

Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson chats with Studs Terkel during one of her many visits to Chicago

Bellini’s Norma and seven other productions followed within a three-week period in November. 60 years later, Lyric looks back at its history with a new production of Don Giovanni and a star-studded concert (5:00 pm Sunday broadcast).

WFMT honors its longtime partner, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, with a weekend of specials celebrating the company’s 60th anniversary season.

View a timeline of Lyric’s first 60 years.


Italian bass-baritone Andrea Silvestrelli sits for make-up prior to singing the role of the Statue of the Commendatore in “Don Giovanni”


Bass-baritone Andrea Silvestrelli delivers an unusual happy anniversary greeting to Lyric Opera:





Soprano Renee Fleming, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Creative Consultant and special guest on Friday at 8:00 pm on WFMT









WFMT program host Larry Johnson shares his record collection with lovers of vocal music on “Arias and Songs”



WFMT Special Broadcasts

Friday at 8:00 pm
Renée Fleming is Guest Host with Kerry Frumkin (recorded in 2012)

Friday, October 31 at 10:00 pm
Studs Terkel Celebrates Lyric Opera’s 25th Anniversary, an encore presentation

Saturday, November 1 at 12:00 pm
Rossini’s Semiramide, the first Lyric Opera production to be broadcast on WFMT

Saturday, November 1 from 4:30-5:30 pm
Arias and Songs
Join vocal music maven Larry Johnson for a one-hour special looking back on 60 years of Chicago’s premiere opera company.


Lyric Opera Opening Night Broadcast hosts Roger Pines and Suzanne Nance

Sunday, November 2 at 5:00 pm
Lyric Opera 60th Anniversary Concert

Lyric’s first sixty years are marked with triumph and joy as the most beloved artists of Lyric’s past, present, and future come together in one magical evening. Comedic genius Jane Lynch emcees. Sir Andrew Davis conducts chorus and orchestra, members of the Ryan Opera Center, and a luminary cast including world renowned improv comedy troupe The Second City, Renée Fleming, jazz legend Ramsey Lewis, Susan Graham, Stephanie Blythe, Johan Botha, Christine Goerke, Quinn Kelsey, Mariusz Kwiecień, Ana María Martínez, Eric Owens, Marina Rebeka, Amber Wagner, and the return of Samuel Ramey to the Lyric stage.

Playing Playfully on WFMT’s Impromptu


Wednesday at 3:00 pm

The seriousness with which the Brown-Urioste-Canellakis Trio performs Shostakovich or Ravel belies the fun and laughter they’re sharing when they work together. Make no mistake, they can play, but one gets the sense they’re modeling both meanings of the word. A notion which seems to spill into other aspects of their lives.


Pianist Michael Brown

Cellist Nicholas Canellakis and pianist Michael Brown have a YouTube comedy series called Conversations with Nick Canellakis (reminiscent of Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis), in which the two of them interview different classical performers. In fact the character of Mr. Canellakis, as played by Mr. Canellakis, is a terrible interviewer. He and Mr. Brown are irreverent and do random things on camera, which is all part of the comedy. Guest artists who have good-naturedly submitted to these gag interviews have included conductor Osmo Vänskä, pianists Yuja Wang and Leon Fleischer, and the Emerson Quartet.

All members of the Brown-Urioste-Canellakis Trio are lively tweeters. Violinist Elena Urioste offers the chronicle of a twenty-something’s life on the road as a classical musician. Already, she has been a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, playing last summer with the orchestra at Morton Arboretum concerts.

The Brown-Urioste-Canellakis Trio will perform on Ravinia’s Rising Stars series on November 1 at 8:30 pm. This is a return visit for them. They were fellows at Ravinia’s summer conservatory in 2009.

Cellist Nicholas Canellakis

Cellist Nicholas Canellakis


Violinist Elena Urioste and pianist Michael Brown