Curtain rises on Lyric Opera with love, thrills and a food fight

Christine Goerke

Christine Goerke in "Elektra." (October 4, 2012)

There truly will be something for everyone at Lyric Opera of Chicago this season. Let me count the ways.

How about bicentennial salutes to two of the greatest composers in the history of opera, Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner? How about the chills of “Elektra” and the thrills of “Die Meistersinger”? How about people sacrificing their lives for love, in “Werther” and “Rigoletto”? How about the sheer fun of a food fight, in “Hansel and Gretel”?

The season will take you on an emotional roller coaster ride perhaps only opera can provide. No wonder Lyric's promotional pitch proclaims, “Long Live Passion.”

We're here to help guide you through the season's diverse offerings. To seasoned opera subscribers we say: Remind yourselves why you fell in love with opera in the first place. As for you newbies, open your eyes, ears and hearts, and let the live experience of opera take hold. When all the stars are in proper alignment, there's nothing like it.

Here are the nine operas you can expect to hear at Lyric in the weeks and months ahead.

'Elektra': There will be blood

The season opener will be Richard Strauss' searing shocker, absent from the Lyric repertory since 1992. David McVicar, who was responsible for several of the most successful Lyric productions of recent years, directs, with music director Andrew Davis, a celebrated Strauss interpreter, as conductor. The designers are John Macfarlane (sets and costumes) and Jennifer Tipton (lighting). Making her Lyric debut in the formidable title role will be American soprano Christine Goerke, who portrayed the vengeful princess in Madrid last year. Others in the all-American and Canadian cast are Emily Magee as Chrysothemis, Jill Grove as Clytemnestra and Alan Held as Orestes. Martin Wright is Lyric's new chorus master. Seven performances, Saturday-Oct.30

'Simon Boccanegra': Every doge has his day

Last mounted at Lyric in 1995, Giuseppe Verdi's dark and complicated tale of political intrigue in 14th-century Genoa, Italy, looks to be one of the season's sleepers. How could it not be with a heavyweight cast like this: the imposing American baritone Thomas Hampson in the title role, Ferruccio Furlanetto as Fiesco, Krassimira Stoyanova (debut) as Amelia and Frank Lopardo as Adorno. Davis will pace the Elijah Moshinsky production, which originated at London's Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Eight performances, Oct. 15-Nov. 9

'Werther': Melancholy poet, doomed love affair

The second of the season's new-to-Chicago productions will be Jules Massenet's weeper, which Lyric hasn't touched in 34 years. Lending his immense vocal and dramatic authority to the title role will be Matthew Polenzani, last season's triumphant Hoffmann in Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffmann," adding another touchstone French role to his repertory. The celebrated French mezzo-soprano Sophie Koch will sing Charlotte. This is a co-production with the San Francisco Opera, conducted by Davis and directed by Francisco Negrin. Six performances, Nov. 11-26

'Don Pasquale': Codger takes young bride, lives to regret it

Italian bass Ildebrando D'Arcangelo's role debut as the befuddled Don Pasquale, in Gaetano Donizetti's sparkling opera buffa, is the season's most intriguing bit of anti-typecasting. How it will play will depend on the vocal and comedic chemistry of the cast — including Ryan Opera Center alum Rene Barbera as Pasquale's nephew, Ernesto, the delectable German soprano Marlis Petersen as Norina, and Corey Crider as the lovers' co-conspirator, Dr. Malatesta. Stephen Lord conducts, in a production from Covent Garden, staged by baritone-turned-director Thomas Allen, a famed Malatesta. Six performances, Nov. 25-Dec. 15

'Hansel and Gretel': A fairy tale not for adults only

The musically sumptuous Humperdinck opera — Lyric's family-oriented show for the holiday trade — returns in the wickedly funny production by British director Richard Jones, last given here in 2001-02. The new cast includes Ryan Center graduates Elizabeth DeShong and Maria Kanyova in the title roles, with Jill Grove as the wicked witch with, um, unusual culinary cravings. Ward Stare (an Andrew Davis protege who used to play principal trombone in the Lyric orchestra) will make his Lyric conducting debut. Nine performances, Dec. 7-Jan. 19

''La Boheme': Hands touch, melodies soar, heroine expires

Puccini's enduringly popular tear-jerker returns for a spate of winter performances with different casts. Sharing the role of Mimi will be Ana Maria Martinez and Anna Netrebko, the latter making her long-awaited Lyric debut. Dimitri Pittas (debut) and Joseph Calleja will portray Mimi's lover, Rodolfo. The other Bohemians are Elizabeth Futral as Musetta, Lucas Meachem as Marcello, Andrea Silvestrelli as Colline and Joseph Lim as Schaunard. Emmanuel Villaume is the conductor. The San Francisco Opera production, not seen here previously, will be directed by Louisa Muller. Eleven performances, Jan. 21-Feb. 7 and March 9-28

'Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg': Knight wins song contest, gets girl too

Richard Wagner's glorious human comedy has been an infrequent visitor to the Lyric repertory — the last time it was done here was in 1999 — not least because it requires a cast of superb singing actors. Lyric's roster promises just that. American baritone James Morris will portray the cobbler-poet Hans Sachs, with Johan Botha as Walther von Stolzing, Amanda Majeski as Eva and Bo Skovhus as the pedantic town clerk, Beckmesser. David McVicar's production was universally praised last year when it opened at England's Glyndebourne Festival. Davis will conduct, with Marie Lambert re-creating the original staging, and designs by Vicki Mortimer and Paule Constable. Seven performances, Feb. 8-March 3

'Rigoletto': Jester's revenge goes terribly awry

The season's second Verdi offering features several prominent Lyric debuts. Andrzej Dobber and Zeljko Lucic will share the title role, with the highly praised Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova making her Lyric debut as Rigoletto's ill-fated daughter, Gilda, whose seduction by the Duke of Mantua (Giuseppe Filianoti) seals the tragic course of events. Making his house debut will be conductor Evan Rogister. Lyric's production, first seen in 2005-06, will be staged by Stephen Barlow, also new to Lyric. Ten performances, Feb. 25-March 30

'A Streetcar Named Desire': Failed dreams in the Deep South

Andre Previn's lyrical take on the famed Tennessee Williams play will be given a staged concert realization. Soprano Renee Fleming, Lyric's creative consultant, will portray Blanche Dubois. Playing opposite her will be New Zealand baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes (debut) as Stanley, Susanna Phillips as Stella and Anthony Dean Griffey (debut) re-creating his world-premiere role as Mitch. Evan Rogister again will conduct, with stage direction by Brad Dalton. The four performances, March 26-April 6, are available only to subscribers, at least at this writing.

jvonrhein@tribune.com

Twitter @jvonrhein

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