Anthony Freud has been general director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago since 2011. But it won't be until 2015-16 that Windy City opera fans will have the chance to experience the first full Lyric season that Freud entirely planned.
That's because the world's major opera companies often program their seasons as far as five years in advance in order to contractually lock-in star singers or to plan for complex productions. Nonetheless, Freud has already made a significant artistic imprint on the Lyric, which just commenced its 60th-anniversary season with a new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni directed by Tony-winning Goodman Theatre Artistic Director Robert Falls.
"Some things are inherited and some are things that I've planned," said Freud during a recent telephone interview about the Lyric's diamond anniversary season. "The production teams for many of the productions were my choice, including the opening night of Don Giovanni."
A native of England who previous ran Welsh National Opera and Houston Grand Opera, Freud was essentially poached from Texas before the expiration of his contact there to take over the Lyric. Freud is only the fourth Lyric general director following William Mason ( who is now helping out the financially troubled San Diego Opera ) and his predecessors of Carol Fox and Ardis Krainik. Freud is also the first Lyric general director to be hired from outside the company.
Since Freud has been in Chicago, he's spearheaded several new programs and collaborations to reach out to the wider Windy City community via the Lyric Unlimited initiative. The Lyric has added specially devised family performances to help introduced children to opera, plus it has reached out to other Chicago directors and performing arts companies for collaborative projectsnotably The Second City Guide to the Opera, which began with a starry one-night performance and brought back for a Jeff Award-winning run on the Lyric stage last year.
"I love opera as music theater," said Freud about bringing Robert Falls back to direct at Lyric, where he previously staged the operas Susannah and The Consul. "I believe that theater directors have an enormous amount to offer the art form of opera and hopefully Bob's association with us will only the be the start of us benefiting from Chicago being such an enormously strong and vibrant spoken theater center."
Other major Lyric outreach to expand and welcome audiences has been presenting musical theater works in and out of the opera house beyond the regular season. The Lyric adds Carousel in 2015 to its list of homegrown post-season Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals after Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music.
The Lyric is also reaching out to other diverse communities by staging new "mariachi operas" like Cruzar la Cara de la Luna and the upcoming world premiere El Pasado Nunca Se Termina this season. There's also a world premiere "klezmer opera" called The Property that ties tangentially to the Lyric's Chicago premiere of the opera The Passenger.
A vacant repertory spot for 2014-15 also allowed Freud to program Russian composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg's once-suppressed opera The Passenger, a 1968 work dealing with the Holocaust of World War II that only received a fully-staged production in 2010 in Bregenz, Austria.
The Passenger is an opera that carries extra importance to Freud, since his mother is a survivor of the concentration camp Auschwitz.
"Not all operas are about doomed 19th century lovers," said Freud. "I think it's very important to generate discussion, to generate discourse. I believe that opera needs to be relevant and I think that The Passenger is relevant to us all in important issues of today and we need to be proactive and united in trying to make sure that the civic footprint of The Passenger in the opera house is as broad as it possibly can be."
Along with celebrating the Lyric's 60th season, Freud has his own personal anniversary to commemoratethe 30 years he has been together with his husband, Colin Ure.
"My husband is very busy as a freelance dramaturg. He works with WFMT radio and the Chicago Humanities Festival and he does some supertitle translations for Lyric," said Freud noting that Ure, previously a singer and artist manager, relinquished of his position of Houston Grand Opera's dramaturg to join him in Chicago. "I really love what this city has to offer, and I must say, traveling as much as I do around the world, it absolutely feels like coming home when I fly back to Chicago."
The Lyric Opera of Chicago's 60th-anniversary 2014-15 season is underway now through March 15 with repertory productions of Mozart's Don Giovanni, Richard Strauss' Capriccio, Verdi's Il Trovatore, Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, Donizetti's Anna Bolena, Puccini's Tosca, Wagner's TannhÃ¤user and Weinberg's The Passenger. A post-season musical of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel plays from April 10 to May 3. A gala 60th-anniversary concert featuring out actress Jane Lynch ( TV's Glee; Best in Show ) as host is at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 1. Performances are at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr.; call 312-827-5600 or visit www.lyricopera.org .