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Lyric Opera offers tried and true for its 2013-14 season

Johan Bothtitle role Verdi's 'Otello.' Photo: Ken Howard~Metropolitan Opera

Johan Botha in the title role of Verdi's "Otello." Photo: Ken Howard~Metropolitan Opera

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Updated: February 7, 2013 9:46PM



As Lyric Opera of Chicago approaches its 60th anniversary, the company on Thursday announced a 2013-14 season of eight operas largely consisting of the tried, the true and the Italian.

Continuing the conservative programming put into place by retired general director William Mason, Lyric will present only one opera new to its repertoire: an eagerly awaited “Rusalka” by Antonin Dvorak.

The 24-week, 68-performance season opens Oct. 5 with Verdi’s “Otello” and runs through March 23.

But there are no operas composed after 1904 nor any from earlier than the late 18th century — nor any American or English-language works. “Parsifal” will be the Wagner offering and Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” the operetta. Otherwise, two Verdis for his anniversary year, “Otello” and “La traviata”; one Puccini, “Madama Butterfly”; one Rossini, “The Barber of Seville,” and late Mozart, his last creation, in Italian, “La clemenza di Tito,” not seen here since 1989.

Lyric also announced that its nascent post-season American Mus­ical Theater Initiative will continue for at least four additional years in cooperation with the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization as a purely R&H enterprise. The series launches in May with “Oklahoma!” “The Sound of Music,” “Carousel,” “The King and I” and “South Pacific” will follow through 2017.

There will be a focus on new productions with four debuting and three from elsewhere to be seen here for the first time. Only Peter Hall’s “Otello” will be a revival, perhaps a first for this cost-conscious company.

General director Anthony Freud pointed out at a press conference Thursday that the company “works on a 10-year plan” and that repertoire is looked at within that frame and context. (The 2015-2016 season will be the first wholly planned by Freud.) Added Lyric music director Andrew Davis, “This is certainly not our most way-out season.”

Freud said as well that “the next few years” would see more rarities and the increasingly popular bel canto repertoire of the early 19th century.

Lyric creative consultant Renee Fleming again will not appear in any operas but she and German tenor Jonas Kaufmann — also absent from the opera roster — will present the annual subscriber concert, with the Lyric Orchestra, in March 2014. Fleming will appear in Strauss’ “Capriccio” the following season, as previously announced.

There are several house debuts and unusual casting choices: mezzo Isabel Leonard debuts as Rosina, Latvian Marina Rebeka as Violetta, Juliane Banse as Rosalinde, Amanda Echalaz as Cio-Cio San and Daveda Karanas as Kundry.

Returning artists Ana Maria Martinez will sing her first Desdemona, Jill Grove and Eric Owens make role debuts in “Rusalka,” Matthew Polenzani will take on Tito and most interestingly, tenor Paul Groves moves from a lighter, largely French repertoire to the title role in “Parsifal.”

Welcome returns also will be made by Joyce DiDonato as Sesto in “La clemenza”; soprano Patricia Racette, also as Cio-Cio San; Brandon Jovanovich as the Prince in “Rusalka”; Thomas Hampson as Amfortas in “Parsifal”; Joseph Calleja as Alfredo in “La traviata”; Nathan Gunn as Figaro in “Barber of Seville,” and two rising Ryan Center alumni, Amanda Majeski in “La clemenza” and Quinn Kelsey stepping up to the elder Germont in “La traviata” after break-out appearances at Lyric this season.

Davis leads three works: “Parsifal,” “Rusalka” and “Clemenza.” Notable conducting debuts include Bertrand de Billy for the season-opening “Otello” and Michele Mariotti, now leading “Rigoletto” at the Metropolitan Opera.

As with the Met, stage directors with high profile theater and musical experience will shape new productions. John Caird of the Royal Shakespeare Company, London’s National Theatre and one of Freud’s former homes, Welsh National Opera, will stage “Parsifal.” Arin Arbus of the alternative Theatre for a New Audience in New York City will stage “La traviata.” Tony Award-winning choreographer Rob Ashford takes up “Barber.”

The popular director-designer team of David McVicar and John Macfarlane will be responsible for the brand-new “Rusalka.” And Lyric will restage the “Clemenza” that McVicar directed and designed at the 2011 Aix-en-Provence Festival.

Freud expressed pride in this season’s Lyric Unlimited projects, including the sold-out “The Second City Guide to the Opera” and “Popcorn and Pasquale” for families, as well as the upcoming mariachi opera “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna” (“To Cross the Face of the Moon”), and said additional such programs will be announced for next season “in due course.”

“Innovative schemes and ways of funding them” for large-screen local video transmission are under review, Freud said. Referring to the Met’s “Live in HD” series, he added, “But the type of HD transmission to movie houses around the world and all that entails does not interest us in that way.”

In an effort to balance costs, income and audience development, Lyric will now offer subscription savings of up to 40 percent on all series. An overall ticket price increase of 2 percent will be offset by lower or frozen prices in sections of the main floor, balcony and upper balcony.

Andrew Patner is critic at large for WFMT-FM (98.7).



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