Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

REVIEW: Lyric Opera's The Flying Dutchman Now Playing Through October 7th, 2023

ChiIL Live Shows On Our Radar

Lyric Opera's The Flying Dutchman 


By Catherine Hellmann, Guest Critic 

Two and a half hours for an opera by Richard Wagner? One act? I’m out the door by 10:00? Sign me up! (I already have my Ring Cycle Merit badge, thank you very much.) 

Tamara Wilson as Senta and Tomasz Konieczny as The Dutchman.

All Photos: Todd Rosenberg

“The Flying Dutchman,” sung in German with English subtitles, as conducted by the charismatic Music Director Enrique Mazzola, is a delight. Based on an old myth about a ghost ship that must sail the seven seas forever, the doomed captain made a deal with the devil (hello, Faust?) during a storm. Now he must find true love to lift the burden of this curse. Every seven years, he is able to reappear and try to convince a woman to love him and break the spell. (My date commented, ”He’s in search of True Love.” I replied, “He has to find a sucker to stop the spell.” Hmmm…maybe I need to check my cynicism.) 

The overture was suspenseful and set the stage for events to come. There is drama on the high seas where there is no promise of return. The Dutchman may be lost forever, and his dismal crew (lit underneath the stage in red lights) will be adrift for eternity. 

Tomasz Konieczny as The Dutchman.

The set by Allen Moyer, who also designed the costumes, is on a disorienting tilt to portray the rocking waves of the water. The singers do a great job of lilting to the sides to simulate the turbulence of the sea. The opera chorus is always fabulous. The men portray the sailors and crew of the ghost trip while the women’s chorus represent the weavers working spinning wheels and the monotony of textile factories. 

Tomasz Konieczny as the Dutchman was powerful and mesmerizing. (Although the “Kool Ghoul” makeup was spooky but odd.) Local hometown star Tamara Wilson was incredible as Senta, the woman who yearns to save the doomed Dutchman (“sucka,” I’m thinking…Don’t do it, Senta!!). Not every opera singer is also a convincing actor, but they both were wonderful. I wasn’t wowed by the costumes, and Ms. Wilson was clearly visible but should ask the wardrobe crew about the Bozo wig.  

By the end of the show, I glanced at my watch and was amazed two hours had passed. That’s a very positive sign for a lengthy opera. The music is glorious. 

Wonderful start to the new Lyric Season.

Catherine Hellmann spends her life at school, the theater, and out walking in the city. 

Mika Kares as Daland, Tomasz Konieczny as The Dutchman, 

and the Company of The Flying Dutchman.

What You Need to Know About Wagner’s

The Flying Dutchman

The Chicago cultural season begins with Music Director Enrique Mazzola conducting his first Wagner opera at Lyric

September 23 – October 7, 2023

Wagnerian opera makes a grand return to Chicago whenThe Flying Dutchman docks at Lyric Opera of Chicago from September 23 to October 7, 2023. Considered to be composer Richard Wagner’s first masterpiece,The Flying Dutchman is legendary for its eerie storyline, complex themes of sacrifice and redemption, and soaring melodies. More than 165 musical and dramatic artists — including some of the world’s most sought-after soloists — bring this riveting odyssey to life on Chicago’s biggest stage.

Opera’s most thrilling ghost story sets sail. Not seen at Lyric in more than 20 years, The Flying Dutchman is perhaps Wagner’s most haunting opera. This tempestuous work tells the story of a sailor known as the Dutchman, who is doomed to roam the seas forever. The Dutchman’s only hope to break the curse is (*drumroll please*) true love. Senta, a young Norwegian woman, falls quickly and deeply in love with the Dutchman and, well, the story only sinks from there. Through recurring musical themes (known as leitmotifs) and a rich orchestration, Wagner leaves the audience holding their breath to see what comes next for the love-struck couple. 

Enrique Mazzola kicks off a season of historic "firsts." In his third season as Lyric’s Music Director, Enrique Mazzola leads the esteemed Lyric Opera Orchestra through a series of momentous firsts. This season opener, brought to life with a 72-piece orchestra, will mark Mazzola’s first time conducting Wagner at Lyric. In January, Terence Blanchard and Michael Cristofer’s Champion will mark his first contemporary work at Lyric, and he finishes Lyric’s opera season with his first-ever production of Aida, which also marks the 100th opera of his storied career. In a final "first" of the 2023/24 Season, Mazzola will conduct Mozart’s Requiem, his first foray into Mozart at Lyric. This diverse season allows Mazzola to showcase his broad repertoire and the Orchestra to display its mastery of a variety of musical styles. 

An opera that lets the Chorus shine. Wagner’s score of The Flying Dutchmanhighlights the exceptional Lyric Opera Chorus, with contrasting men’s and women’s (and even ghosts’) choruses throughout the opera. Led by Michael Black, Lyric’s Chorus Director and Head of Music, the powerful 90-member Chorus has a staggering impact on this haunting story. 

A star-studded cast comes aboard. Bass-baritone Tomasz Konieczny and soprano Tamara Wilson give entrancing portrayals of the Dutchman and Senta. Hailed as "The Breakout Star of the Met Opera’s Ring" by The New York Times, Konieczny returns to Lyric following his acclaimed portrayal of the title role inWozzeck in the 2015/16 Season. Wilson, a stand-out Verdian in recent seasons at Lyric — who was also deemed "quite the Wagnerian" by The New York Times — returns following her most recent headlining role as Elvira in Ernani in the 2022/23 Season. With piercing arias, longing duets, and energizing dialogues, this captivating pair and their fiery vocal power make The Flying Dutchman a must-see.

Experienced and emerging artists round out the cast. Renowned bass Mika Kares returns to Lyric as Senta’s father Daland. The cast also features tenorRobert Watson as Erik and mezzo-soprano Melody Wilson as Mary, both in their Lyric debuts. Ryan Capozzo, a third-year member of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center Ensemble, returns to the mainstage as the Steersman.

Sets, costumes, and lighting combine for a theatrically spellbinding production. Director Christopher Alden’s production creates the illusion of a haunted galleon battling raging waters; it is bold and modern while retaining the authenticity of the story itself. (Wagnerian spectacle must run in the family — Alden’s twin brother and fellow opera director, David Alden, directed a new production of The Flying Dutchman at Sante Fe Opera this past summer). Allen Moyer’s creative sets and costumes combine to create a spooky atmosphere, andAnne Militello’s shadowy lighting design gives the production its eerie finishing touches, in her Lyric debut. 

Wagner returns to Lyric with drama on the high seas. In an intense return to Lyric, Wagner’s first famous opera does what all of Wagner’s operas do: It draws you in with a captivating story, layered musical composition, and soaring vocal lines written for richly drawn characters. (And at just 2 hours and 20 minutes, it does it all in half the usual time for a Wagner opera.)

Ryan Capozzo as Steersman, Tomasz Konieczny as The Dutchman, 

and the Company of The Flying Dutchman.

Important to know

·        Five chances to see The Flying Dutchman: September 23, 27, October 1 matinee, 4 matinee, and 7, 2023.

·        A running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes; performed without intermission.

·        Sung in German, with easy-to-follow English translations projected above the stage.

·        Information and tickets: visit or call 312.827.5600.

Lyric’s presentation of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman is generously made possible by an Anonymous DonorJosef & Margot Lakonishok, and Bulley & Andrews.

Maestro Enrique Mazzola is generously sponsored by Alice & John ButlerH. Gael NeesonSylvia Neil & Daniel Fischel, and the Robert and Penelope Steiner Family Foundation as members of the Enrique Circle. The Enrique Circle is comprised of Lyric's most dedicated supporters who are committed to championing Maestro Enrique Mazzola's exciting artistic vision and legacy.

Lyric Opera of Chicago thanks its Official Airline, American Airlines, and acknowledges support from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

About Lyric

Lyric Opera of Chicago is committed to redefining what it means to experience great opera. The company is driven to deliver consistently excellent artistry through innovative, relevant, celebratory programming that engages and energizes new and traditional audiences.

Under the leadership of General Director, President & CEO Anthony Freud and Music Director Enrique Mazzola, Lyric is dedicated to reflecting, and drawing strength from, the diversity of Chicago. Lyric offers, through innovation, collaboration, and evolving learning opportunities, ever-more exciting, accessible, and thought-provoking audience and community experiences. We also stand committed to training the artists of the future, through The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center; and to becoming increasingly diverse across our audiences, staff, programming, and artists—magnifying the welcoming pull of our art form, our company, and our city.

Through the timeless power of voice, the splendor of a great orchestra and chorus, theater, dance, design, and truly magnificent stagecraft, Lyric is devoted to immersing audiences in worlds both familiar and unexpected, creating shared experiences that resonate long after the curtain comes down.

Join us @LyricOpera on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Youtube, and Facebook. #LongLivePassion

For more information, visit

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

REVIEW: The Innocence of Seduction at City Lit Now Playing Through October 8, 2023

ChiIL Live Shows On Our Radar


Written and directed by Mark Pracht


August 25- October 8, 2023

Left to right: Robin Treviño, Sean Harklerode, Paul Chakrin
All Production Photos by Steve Graue


By Bonnie Kenaz-Mara

Banned book week, October 1-7th, is rapidly approaching and City Lit's world premiere of The Innocence of Seduction is a great way to celebrate. As much as I adore graphic novels, comics, and pop culture, I was largely unaware of this critical slice of history in the culture wars. This play introduces audiences to the 1950s Congressional investigation into the supposed link between comic books and juvenile delinquency. Flash forward over half a century to 2023 where the religious right and the US government are still engaged in endlessly ongoing attempts to censor art and literature from the local to the federal level. Book bans and burnings are ramping up again at an alarming rate, making Prachts piece all too timely. 

John Blick

The Innocence of Seduction is both written and directed by Chicago playwright, Mark Pracht, and is part of his Four-Color Trilogy, which also include THE MARK OF KANE, which premiered at City Lit in fall 2022, and THE HOUSE OF IDEAS, about the 1960s rise of Marvel.

Left to right: Zach Kunde, Sean Harklerode, Chuck Munro, Charlie Diaz

Astonishingly enough for 1950's America, this production doesn't focus exclusively on white, cis males, but manages a bit of diversity regarding gender, race, and sexual orientation. It's fascinating to see the effect of the investigation on the careers of three persons: William Gaines, the originator of the horror genre of comic books; Matt Baker, a Black closeted gay artist of romance comics; and Janice Valleau, creator of a pioneering comics feature starring a woman detective. The cast does an excellent job bringing humor and humanity to what could be dry subject matter, in what is at once a cautionary tale and an homage to the founding of Mad Magazine. This ensemble showcases the mental and physical toll it takes to fight for a career against ridiculously restrictive regulations, petty bureaucrats, and the righteous indignation of the religious right. Sometimes it takes a creative pivot to do an end run around all that nonsense and thrive creatively and financially. Kudos to all involved for filling in education gaps and bringing this niche history to life for a new generation. Recommended.

Left to right: Andrew Bosworth, Megan Clarke 

  Brian Bradford (lying down), Andrew Bosworth (kneeling)  

Bonnie is a Chicago based writer, theatre critic, photographer, artist, and Mama to 2 amazing adults. She owns two websites where she publishes frequently: (adult) & (family friendly). 

Regular run Through October 8, 2023

Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm; Mondays Sept 25 and Oct 2 at 7:30 pm.

Regular run ticket prices $34.00, seniors $29.00, students and military $12 (all plus applicable fees)

Performances at City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Chicago 60660

Info and tickets at and by phone at 773-293-3682.

Left to right: Brian Bradford, LaTorious Givens.

Cast and crew for world premiere of Mark Pracht’s THE INNOCENCE OF SEDUCTION

Pracht to direct the second part of his FOUR-COLOR TRILOGY of plays 

about the comic book industry

Left to right: Sean Harklerode, Charlie Diaz

Left to right: Zach Kunde, Chuck Munro, Sean Harklerode, Charlie Diaz, Paul Chakrin

Full casting and production team have been announced for City Lit’s forty-third season opener - the world premiere of THE INNOCENCE OF SEDUCTION by Chicago playwright Mark Pracht. It is the second play in his projected “Four-Color Trilogy” of plays set during the early years of the comic book industry. The first play in the trilogy, THE MARK OF KANE, opened City Lit’s forty-second season. THE INNOCENCE OF SEDUCTION examines the 1950s Congressional investigation into the supposed link between comic books and juvenile delinquency, and the effect of the investigation on the careers of three persons:  William Gaines, the originator of the horror genre of comic books; Matt Baker, a Black closeted gay artist of romance comics; and Janice Valleau, creator of a pioneering comics feature starring a woman detective.  

Left to right: Zach Kunde, Laura Coleman, Sean Harklerode

Leading the cast will be Sean Harklerode (THE MARK OF KANE, The Artistic Home’s REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT) as William Gaines), Brian Bradford (City Lit’s FUENTE OVEJUNA and THE BLOODHOUND LAW) as Matt Baker, and Megan Clarke  as Janice Valleau. Also in the cast are Charlie Diaz (Invictus Theatre’s THE CRUCIBLE) as Al Feldstein, Frank Nall (Invictus Theatre’s THE CRUCIBLE, The Artistic Home’s MALAPERT LOVE) as Dr Frederic Wertham, Zach Kunde (Invictus Theatre’s THE CRUCIBLE) as Lyle Stuart, Artistic Home ensemble member Laura Coleman as Shirley Norris, Ron Quade (Citadel Theatre’s BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS) as Max Gaines, LaTorious Givens (Invictus Theatre’s THE CRUCIBLE) as Connie, John Blick  (Promethean Ensemble Theatre’s BLUE STOCKINGS) as Archer St John and Henry Valleau, Invictus Theatre Company member Chuck Munro as Judge Charles F Murphy and Barry Walsh, Paul Chakrin (THE SAFE HOUSE and many other roles at City Lit) as John L Goldwater and Senator Robert C Hendrickson, Robin Trevino (Invictus Theatre’s WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF) as Everett M "Busy" Arnold and Senator Estes Kefauver, Andrew Bosworth as Frank Guisto, Reed Crandall and Jack Davis, and Jessica Lauren Fisher (Black Button Eyes’ MARY ROSE) as Jessie Gaines and  Gertrude St John.

Left to right: Andrew Bosworth, Robin Treviño, Megan Clarke

The production team includes G. "Max" Maxin IV (Scenic, Lighting and Projection Design), Beth Laske-Miller (Costume Designer), Petter Wahlbäck (Composer and Sound Design), Alison Dornheggen (Violence and Intimacy Design), Jeff Brain (Props Design), and Zachary Osterman (Stage Manager).

Frank Nall

Single tickets for THE INNOCENCE OF SEDUCTION are priced at $30 for previews and $34 for regular performances and are on sale now at or by phone at 773-293-3682. Senior prices are $25 for previews and $29 for regular performances. Students and military are $12.00 for all performances. City Lit Season 43 subscriptions are available at $99.00, good for all performances, or $77.00 for preview performances.


Left to right: Robin Treviño, Sean Harklerode, Paul Chakrin


City Lit requires masks for the Sunday matinee performances. Masks are encouraged but no longer required for Friday, Saturday and our two Monday performances. City Lit staff will continue to mask for all performances. City Lit will of course comply with the full set of whatever official health guidelines are in place at any time.


Mark Pracht (Playwright, Director) has worked as an actor, director and playwright in Chicago since 2001. THE INNOCENCE OF SEDUCTION is part of his Four-Color Trilogy, which also include THE MARK OF KANE, which premiered at City Lit in fall 2022, and THE HOUSE OF IDEAS, about the 1960s rise of Marvel. He has appeared on stage at City Lit in the title role of PROMETHEUS BOUND, as The Creature in FRANKENSTEIN, and as Milt Shanks in THE COPPERHEAD, among other roles. Most recently, he appeared as John Proctor in THE CRUCIBLE with Invictus Theatre Company. He was a company member of the Shelterbelt Theatre in Omaha, where he helped develop and produce seven world premiere productions, including his own full-length play, NEON.He is an ensemble member of The Artistic Home, where he won a Jeff Award for Leading Performer in a Play for REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT.


City Lit is the seventh oldest theatre company in Chicago, behind only Goodman, Court, Northlight, Oak Park Festival, Steppenwolf, and Pegasus theatres.  It was founded in 1979 with $210 pooled by Arnold Aprill, David Dillon, and Lorell Wyatt.  For its current season, its 43rd, it operates with a budget slightly over $260,000.  It was the first theatre in the nation devoted to stage adaptations of literary material.  There were so few theatres in Chicago at the time of its founding that at City Lit’s launch event, the founders were able to read a congratulatory letter they had received from Tennessee Williams.

For four decades and counting, City Lit has explored fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoirs, songs, essays and drama in performance.  A theatre that specializes in literary work communicates a commitment to certain civilizing influences—tradition imaginatively explored, a life of the mind, trust in an audience’s intelligence—that not every cultural outlet shares.

City Lit is located in the historic Edgewater Presbyterian Church building at 1020 West Bryn Mawr Avenue. Its work is supported in part by the MacArthur Funds for Arts and Culture at the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Ivanhoe Theater Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council Agency and is sponsored in part by A.R.T. League.  An Illinois not-for-profit corporation and a 501(c)(3) federal tax-exempt organization, City Lit keeps ticket prices below the actual cost of producing plays and depends on the support of those who share its belief in the beauty and power of the spoken written word.

Celebrate City Lit's Favorite Holiday! 18th Annual Books on the Chopping Block

FREE readings all over Chicago and suburbs throughout

Thursday, June 22, 2023

REVIEW: Fringe Fest Fan Favorite Being Seen, Now Playing The Den Through July 2, 2023

 ChiIL Live Shows On Our Radar


Chicago Premiere of 



Now Playing Through July 2nd at The Den

Note: This production includes themes of power imbalance and is 

recommended for ages 15 and older.


By Bonnie Kenaz-Mara

They're seen everywhere. The theatre industry is rife with narcissists, abusive bosses, toxic workplaces, misleading ads, and new talent hungry for a chance to break into the field of their dreams. Being Seen brings the audience along for the ride on an audition from hell. I adore the dynamic of two person shows, and Will Clinger and Kelly Anne Clark are amazing to watch in this high energy, psychologically wrenching production. It's a timely piece, especially relevant in our current era of gig workers, toxic politicians, and cancel culture. This delightfully insidious production brings abuse of power to light with equal parts horror and hilarity. 

All Production Photos by Mike Martin

Kelly Anne Clark in particular, just killed it in this invasively soul baring audition. This tour de force comedy asks the question: “What would you do for a dream?”, and she shouts back with physical, mental, and emotional gymnastics. The audience is left to question why we've let fame and acclaim excuse indecent and even illegal behavior for far too long. 

Being Seen is a gaslighting bonanza and a must see for anyone embarking on the audition or interview process. If you've ever been in a relationship, job, or friendship with a narcissist, this show will ring true. Highly recommended. Don't miss this limited run.

Bonnie is a Chicago based writer, theatre critic, photographer, artist, and Mama to 2 amazing adults. She owns two websites where she publishes frequently: (adult) & (family friendly). 

The Chicago Premiere of Being Seen 

Written and Directed by Richard Gustin 

Enjoyed a Sold Out Run during its New York Premiere

Voted “Fan Favorite” (one of 12 out of 180+ productions so honored) at the New York International Fringe Festival, Being Seen, written and directed by Richard Gustin and starring Will Clinger and Kelly Anne Clark makes its Chicago premiere, June 14 - July 2, in the Crosby Theatre at The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave.  The preview date is Wednesday, June 14 at 8:00. 

The regular performance schedule is Wednesdays - Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets for Being Seen are $35 with $20 tickets available to seniors, industry and students. Tickets are on sale now and may be purchased through the box office by calling 773.697.3830 or by visiting  

This captivating, fast-paced comedy by Richard Gustin looks at launching a “fresh start.” An actor answers the audition notice of a highly acclaimed director and finds herself navigating his outlandish creative process.

The original production at the New York International Fringe Festival starred Broadway actor William Youmans and Allison Minick and premiered at the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival to critical and audience acclaim. “The most nonstop laughs at FringeNYC this year (2015) were provided by a show about theatre… simultaneously comedic and thought-provoking,” said about the New York production and Theatre in The Now wrote, “the script Gustin has written is wickedly smart. The dialogue is snappy, the conversations are genius. . . There was never a dull moment and every beat has a purpose. The storytelling is sharp and precise.”

The Chicago production proudly features Will Clinger and Kelly Anne Clark in the lead roles. 

Being Seen’s creative team includes Richard Gustin (director), Lydia Goble LaGue (production stage manager), Guy Wicke (male understudy), Gabrielle Johnsen (female understudy), Gabe Gorsline (lighting designer), Max McNeal Martin (media consultant) and Vanessa Ellis (production intern).  

ABOUT RICHARD GUSTIN, writer and director

Richard Gustin (he/him/his)  is an emerging playwright whose plays include Being Seen, Surviving the Cycle, A Sparrow Falls, Leviathan, Circle 7, Mercy, Flat World, Someone Like Me, Concentric Circles, Found Objects, Switch, CruciFiction and an original adaptation of Everyman. As an Equity actor Gustin has been featured in major roles at various regional theaters including Kansas City Repertory Theater, Great Lakes Theatre Festival, Virginia Museum Theatre, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, First Stage Milwaukee, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Chicago’s Ivanhoe and Blackstone Hotel, and Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre. For more information on Richard Gustin visit 


Will Clinger (he/him/his) is an award-winning actor, producer, writer and TV show host. Beloved for his role as host and segment producer for WTTW’s “Wild Chicago,” he has also a wide range of stellar acting credits in feature films “Witless Protection,” ”Stranger Than Fiction,” ”Something Better Somewhere Else,” ”Camp Manna,” ”B-Roll,” ”After Effect,” ”No Sleep ‘Til Madison,” ”Stash” and ”Serious Business,” as well as the short films ”Stealing Kisses,” ”Hit and Run,” ”Rain Rain” and ”Train Town” (which won a Silver Award at the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival and a 2008 Best of the Midwest award for Best Short Film). Klinger’s work in ”Train Town” was nominated for a 2008 BMA Award for Best Actor.  He has also guest-starred on a number of network and cable television shows, including “Fargo,” ”Chicago P.D.,” ”Sirens,” ”Play by Play,” “ER,” ”Early Edition,” ”America's Most Wanted” and ”The Untouchables,” as well as the pilots ”Peep Show” and ”JimMortal.” For more information on Will Klinger visit ​​


Kelly Anne Clark (she/her/hers) is an award winning actress who has lived and worked in the Chicago area for more than 25 years. Her credits include “Jeanette Guerre” in the U.S. Premiere of The House of Martin Guerre (Goodman Theater), “Norma Cassidy” in Victor/Victoria (Jeff Award), “Mabel” in The Pirates of Penzance, “Rosemary” in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre), “Rose White” in Beaches the Musical, “Mary Turner” in Of Thee / Sing, “Philia” in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (Jeff Nomination) and “Minnie Faye” in Hello Dolly! (Drury Lane Oakbrook Theater) among numerous other credits. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

REVIEW: Lyric Opera World Premiere of PROXIMITY On Stage Through April 8, 2023

ChiIL Live Shows On Our Radar

What you need to know about the world premiere of 


at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Chicago takes center stage in this trio of new American works united by the bold vision of director Yuval Sharon's groundbreaking production, March 24 – April 8, 2023

Review of Proximity: A Trio of New North American Operas at Lyric Opera

By Catherine Hellmann, Guest Critic 

I was a season opera subscriber for over ten years. I never heard an “f bomb” sung on the Lyric stage until the premiere of Proximity last Friday night. The word “bitch,” either. Wow. Contemporary for sure. 

There are three short operas in the cycle: The Walkers (music by Daniel Bernard Roumain and libretto by Anna Deavere Smith), Four Portraits (music and libretto by Caroline Shaw with Jocelyn Clarke also on libretto), and Night (music by John Luther Adams and libretto by John Haines). 

My favorite was The Walkers set in modern day Chicago around gangs. Opera is certainly dramatic, and what could have more drama than the antagonism among gang rivals? The opera examines the likelihood of violence begetting violence. One character has killed a young man at 17; his victim’s family, he notes, looked just like his own. These young people are constantly confronting trauma and trying to survive. (I taught in Englewood for a year; one of my students lifted his shirt to show me his bullet scars. Another young man was shot on his front lawn with his mom watching. Miraculously, after numerous surgeries, he survived.) 

The rival gangs still remember their leaders who went to jail in 1963: Jeff Fort and Larry Hoover. Their hatred against each other’s groups is deep-seated. The Preacher Man, sung by American baritone Gordon Hawkins, urges peace; he reiterates that he’s “got status.” But one of the gang members retorts,” Your theology ain’t my mythology.”  

An unexpected character was Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools and Secretary of Education (and basketball buddy) under President Barack Obama. (He had a snarky nickname in our household for never calling a snow day when I taught in CPS; I actually snickered when he appeared onstage.) Arne founded CRED (Create Real Economic Destiny) which “provides jobs, counseling, education support, job training, mental health, therapy,” according to librettist Anna Deavere Smith, better known as an actress on The West Wing and Nurse Jackie. Arne, played by Jeff Parker, has a few of the best quotes in the show: “You have to give people a reason to stop shooting…and put the guns down.” He also laments how “nothing gets solved.” 

Another devastating story was sung movingly by Chicago native and soprano Whitney Morrison as Yasmine Miller, a bereaved mother who lost her one-year old baby boy to gun violence. In June 2020, the 22-year-old mom and her toddler were driving home from a laundromat at 60th and Halsted. Shots fired from a nearby car killed Sincere. Ms. Miller delivered a powerful performance that conveyed the young mother’s heartbreak. The audience was very receptive to her compelling rendition. 

Four Portraits had much-needed humor in its storyline, poking fun at the technology in our lives that we now take for granted. One of the characters was named GPS, ably sung by Corrine Wallace-Crane. Yes, she sings the recognizable directions that lead us to work, home, shopping, and everywhere any more. There was laughter over the familiarity of being instructed to turn right, left, how many feet lie ahead, passing streets, etc. There were also chuckles as actors rode the CTA, and “doors closing” was announced. 

The giant screened set and projected graphics really benefited the show’s modern appeal. I liked the giant maps of Chicago expanding into the entire world. They were one of the best parts of the show. (I had wondered how the Lyric would handle having Carmen with its huge sets in the repertory.) Jason H. Thompson and Kaitlyn Pietras are to be commended as Production Designers for their clever, inspired graphics. 

Although the show overall was confusing with how the vastly different storylines jumped around (I would have preferred a more streamlined performance), the Lyric Opera is to be commended for trying to stay relevant with modern audiences. (There were quite a few empty seats after intermission which is a shame.) I admire them for expanding their horizons. Bravo! 

Catherine Hellmann is a teacher, daughter of an educator, and mom of a teacher and a librarian. Education is important in her family. :-)  She loves to explore Chicago neighborhoods, experience theater, try new restaurants, and read lots of books, especially historical fiction.   

Lyric Opera of Chicago presents the second of two Chicago-set world premieres in its season: Proximity, a trio of new American operas that confront head-on some of the greatest challenges affecting modern society: the devastating impact of gun violence on cities and neighborhoods, yearning for connection in a world driven by technology, and the need to respect and protect our natural resources. In an innovative production by director Yuval Sharon that is searing in its intimacy, revolutionary in its structure, and groundbreaking in its technical wizardry, Proximity is on stage at the Lyric Opera House for five performances only, March 24 – April 8, 2023.

Curated since its inception in 2019 by Lyric's Special Projects Advisor Renée Fleming along with Lyric’s General Director Anthony Freud and Sharon, Proximity brings together some of the leading creative thinkers in American culture, all in their Lyric debuts. Daniel Bernard Roumain, the acclaimed Haitian-American composer, and Anna Deavere Smith, the legendary playwright and actress, have written The Walkers, an opera that gives voice to families grappling with gun violence in Chicago. Caroline Shaw, a Pulitzer and Grammy-winning composer, has teamed with writer Jocelyn Clarke for Four Portraits, an opera about the impact of technology on society. And Pulitzer and Grammy-winning composer John Luther Adams has written Night, a short opera on the fragility of the natural world, set to a text by the late poet John Haines. 

The three operas are spliced and shuffled to create an entirely new work that zooms in and out from the scale of the individual to the community to the cosmic. Proximity, the synthesis of these three works, offers a compelling snapshot of 21st century life with all of its complex intersections and reveals our everlasting capacity for hope. 

A daredevil director’s bold vision. Familiar to Lyric audiences from his immersive drive-through production of Twilight: Gods in 2021 and its resulting film, director and Chicago-area native Yuval Sharon provides the unifying vision for Proximity. Sharon is a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship winner who is widely acclaimed for the work of his Los Angeles-based experimental opera company The Industry as well as Detroit Opera, which he has led as Artistic Director since 2020. Sharon is known for his unconventional body of work that seeks to expand the operatic form. “The ultimate irony in working on a project called Proximity is that most of it was made in the era of social distance,” says Sharon. “We chose the name Proximity because it succinctly captured one of the opera’s fundamental ideas: we are closer to our fellow humans than we are often made to feel.”

A creative team that expands what is possible in opera. The sweeping visual ideas of director Sharon are realized by Proximity's pathbreaking design team. Production designers Jason H. Thompson and Kaitlyn Pietras, who worked on Lyric’s Twilight: Gods, have created a stage design on a scale and complexity never before attempted in opera — a curved quarter-pipe video wall, 40 feet wide by 26 feet high, made of 140 LED panels and 240 black marble LED panels. Complemented by a robust on-set system of responsive cameras and other interactive features, the set design for Proximity affords audiences a new immersive way to experience opera.

Proximity also features the costume design of Carlos J. Soto, the sound design of Jody Elff, and the choreography of Rena Butler, all in their Lyric debuts.

Three distinct yet seamlessly woven sound worlds. Leading Proximity's musical forces is conductor Kazem Abdullah in his Lyric debut. Abdullah is a passionate advocate for new music who recently conducted Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels's Omar at LA Opera, where he was a member of its Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program. Abdullah will guide the 69 players of the Lyric Opera Orchestra in bringing to life the three unique soundscapes of Proximity's three composers. The 43 members of the Lyric Opera Chorus will be led by chorus master Michael Black.

The Walkers

Music by Daniel Bernard Roumain and libretto by Anna Deavere Smith

Composer Daniel Bernard Roumain is known for his signature violin sounds infused with myriad electronic and African-American musical influences. He is a composer of solo, chamber, orchestral, and operatic works, and has composed an array of film, theater, and dance scores. His previous work in opera includes the interdisciplinary chamber opera We Shall Not Be Moved, written with librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, which premiered at Opera Philadelphia in 2017. He has worked with artists from Lady Gaga and Philip Glass to Bill T. Jones and Marin Alsop and has published more than 300 works.

Anna Deavere Smith is an actress, playwright, teacher, and author. She is credited with creating a new form of theater by looking at current events from multiple points of view. Her theater combines the journalistic technique of interviewing her subjects with the art of interpreting their words through performance. Plays include Fires In the Mirror (a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize), Twilight: Los Angeles (nominated for two Tony Awards), House Arrest, and Let Me Down Easy. In 2012, President Obama awarded her the National Endowment for the Humanities Medal. Like Proximity director Yuval Sharon, she is a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship. The Walkers is her first opera.

After Lyric connected Anna Deavere Smith to Chicago CRED (Creating Real Economic Diversity), an anti-gun-violence organization co-founded by Arne Duncan and Laurene Powell Jobs, Smith created the libretto following a series of interviews with Chicagoans whose families had experienced gun violence. Several of the characters in the opera are people she interviewed, including Arne Duncan, CRED counselor and former gang member Curtis Toler, and Yasmine Miller, the mother of a toddler who was shot and killed only months before the interview took place. Other characters are an amalgam of real people who work as counselors and people who have been helped by the organization. Smith's libretto uses the actual words of people to create monologues and dialogue.

At the start of The Walkers, we hear about the history of Chicago gang violence from Arne Duncan and Curtis Toler and we meet Bilal, who has been released from prison and is experiencing PTSD. We meet the fictional character of Lil’ Bunchy Bates, a child who deflects attempts to be recruited to gangs until he is shot and killed while playing basketball. Violence breaks out at his funeral, targeting the suspected perpetrator. Across the city, Yasmine Miller is shot in a drive-by shooting that kills her toddler. The story ends with a message of cautious hope that the epidemic of gun violence and the related crises of segregation, police abuse, and gang violence will all one day end, and that the community will finally find peace.

Leading the cast of The Walkers are soprano Whitney Morrison as Yasmine Miller and baritone Norman Garrett as Bilal. Morrison is an alumna of The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, Lyric's acclaimed artist-development program. Last season at Lyric, she starred in Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Garrett has appeared with Lyric in Fire Shut Up in My Bones and in the recent world premiere of Will Liverman and DJ King Rico’s The Factotum. The cast also features baritone Gordon Hawkins as Preacher Man, tenor Issachah Savage as Curtis Toler, soprano Kearstin Piper Brown as Chief’s Daughter #1, and mezzo-soprano Zoie Reams as Chief’s Daughter #2.

The cast also includes several current members of the Ryan Opera Center Ensemble: bass Ron Dukes is Chief’s Son #1, tenor Martin Luther Clark is Chief’s Son #2, and soprano Lindsey Reynolds is Very Loud Girl. Rounding out the cast are tenor Jamion Cotten as Lil' Bunchy Bates and actor Jeff Parker as Arne Duncan. The children's chorus in The Walkers features 20 members of Uniting Voices Chicago under the direction of Josephine Lee.

Four Portraits

Music by Caroline Shaw and libretto by Caroline Shaw and Jocelyn Clarke

Composer Caroline Shaw is a musician who moves among roles, genres, and mediums; her recent work involves compositions for film, television, dance, and now opera. She was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music for Partita for 8 Voices and has received three Grammy Awards. She has written more than 100 works in the last decade, and has worked with artists as diverse as Yo-Yo Ma, Rosalía, Renée Fleming, and Nas. Her work as a vocalist or composer has appeared in the recent film Tár, the Showtime television series Yellowjackets, and the Netflix documentary of Beyonce’s Homecoming. Shaw's co-librettist Jocelyn Clarke is dramaturg at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. and has recently served in the writers room for the Starz television series P-Valley. His work abroad includes time with the Arts Council of Ireland and Dublin’s Abbey Theatre.

The first three of Shaw and Clarke's Four Portraits show a couple grappling with the disconnection of modern life — a fragmented telephone call with a bad connection, a crowded train of strangers, and a nighttime car trip with GPS. In the final scene, which begins with the first face-to-face conversation in the opera, spoken language recedes and acquiesces to the sonic landscape of the forest in a hopeful nod to a future unencumbered by technology.

Four Portraits stars countertenor John Holiday as A and baritone Lucia Lucas as B, both in their Lyric debuts. Holiday, winner of the Kennedy Center’s 2017 Marian Anderson Vocal Award, was recently seen in the Metropolitan Opera’s world premiere of The Hours and gained widespread fame for his appearance in Season 19 of NBC’s popular competition series The Voice. Lucas, an in-demand baritone who has sung at the Met, English National Opera, and across Europe, was featured in the recent documentary The Sound of Identity, which chronicled her journey as the first transgender woman to sing a leading role in a standard work at an American opera company.

Sopranos Kathryn Henry and Lindsey Reynolds, tenors Lunga Eric Hallam and Alejandro Luévanos, and bass Ron Dukes — current members of the Ryan Opera Center Ensemble — co-star as the Passengers, a group that also includes mezzo-sopranos Kathleen Felty (a Ryan Opera Center alumna) and Stephanie Sanchez and baritone Darren Drone. Mezzo-soprano Corinne Wallace-Crane sings the role of the GPS.


Music by John Luther Adams and libretto by John Haines

John Luther Adams began his career as an environmental activist and transitioned into composing upon realizing that music had a better chance of changing the world than politics. Since that time, he has become one of the most widely admired composers in the world, receiving both the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Music and 2015 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for Become Ocean, among many other honors.

For his contribution to Proximity, Adams was inspired by the work of his friend and longtime neighbor in Alaska, the late poet John Haines. One of Haines’s very last poems, Night offers a dark and troubling vision of the Earth's future, but Adams was drawn to its ultimate notes of hope and promise in the next generation, a theme that runs throughout each of Proximity's three works.

Night features mezzo-soprano Zoie Reams as an omniscient Greek sybil who launches the work's spiritual interrogations. Reams was seen earlier this season at Lyric as Ragonde in Rossini's Le Comte Ory.

Lyric strongly reinforces its commitment to new work. Following the extraordinary success of the world premiere of The Factotum earlier this season, Proximity continues to push boundaries for what is possible in and for opera. It brings a new kind of musical and theatrical experience to Lyric, to the city of Chicago, and to the world. Experience the world premiere of Proximity — only at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Important to know

·        Five chances to see Proximity: March 24, 26 (matinee), 29, April 5 (matinee), and 8.

·        A world premiere commissioned by Lyric Opera of Chicago: Proximity includes The Walkers, composed by Daniel Bernard Roumain with libretto by Anna Deavere Smith; Four Portraits, composed by Caroline Shaw with libretto by Caroline Shaw and Jocelyn Clarke; and Night, composed by John Luther Adams with libretto by John Haines.

·        Proximity addresses adult themes and contains some adult language.

·        Sung in English with projected English titles.

·        A total running time of 2 hours and 10 minutes, including one intermission.

·        Tickets and more information:

For updated information about Lyric’s ongoing health and safety protocols,

Lyric’s world premiere of Proximity is generously made possible by an Anonymous Donor, OPERA America, and support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Lyric Opera of Chicago thanks its Official Airline, American Airlines, and acknowledges support from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

About Lyric

Lyric Opera of Chicago is committed to redefining what it means to experience great opera. The company is driven to deliver consistently excellent artistry through innovative, relevant, celebratory programming that engages and energizes new and traditional audiences.

Under the leadership of General Director, President & CEO Anthony Freud, Music Director Enrique Mazzola, and Special Projects Advisor Renée Fleming, Lyric is dedicated to reflecting, and drawing strength from, the diversity of Chicago. Lyric offers, through innovation, collaboration, and evolving learning opportunities, ever-more exciting, accessible, and thought-provoking audience and community experiences. We also stand committed to training the artists of the future, through The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center; and to becoming increasingly diverse across our audiences, staff, programming, and artists—magnifying the welcoming pull of our art form, our company, and our city.

Through the timeless power of voice, the splendor of a great orchestra and chorus, theater, dance, design, and truly magnificent stagecraft, Lyric is devoted to immersing audiences in worlds both familiar and unexpected, creating shared experiences that resonate long after the curtain comes down.

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