Ardis Gushes, Hockney Drones: Our Report From the Lyric Luncheon

About 70 members of both Chicago’s cultural elite and the media that cover them–all impressively adept at gawking–swept into the Guarantor’s Green Room at the Civic Opera House last week for a luncheon to pay homage to David Hockney. The artist is in town overseeing the Lyric Opera’s production of Turandot, for which he and collaborator Ian Falconer designed sets and costumes and did much of the directing as well. The luncheon was a classic example of how an event planned with the best of intentions can end up torturous and embarrassing.

The menu featured grilled salmon and a gushing Ardis Krainik, who couldn’t quite figure out how gracefully to acknowledge Falconer’s contribution to Turandot without pulling attention away from the principal guest of honor. The boyish-looking Falconer appeared not to mind the awkwardness of it all; he had a sweet, slightly supercilious smile on his face as he sat at a table of Lyric board members.

Hockney was invited to the podium sans Falconer to discuss their designs, only to ramble on and on without generating any interest in himself, opera, or the Lyric production. He did make the point–several times–that he likes to create precisely scaled models of his opera sets. Then he expressed his regret that the opera industry can’t manage to sufficiently remunerate renowned artists such as himself for their work. Hockney said he does the designs anyway because he loves opera.

He concluded by showing a videotape of scale models of the Turandot set and, presumably, of the lighting intended to illuminate his designs. But the lengthy tape was so dark it was impossible to tell much about the sets or his concept as a whole. (Perhaps the poor tape quality accounts for the palpable restlessness that had set in among those guests who had not dozed off.)

Then the floor was opened for questions. One guest wanted to know if Hockney was interested in working on any other operas, and before Hockney could answer Krainik chimed in that she was listening, a sign perhaps that she was ready to pencil him into the Lyric schedule again. Hockney hemmed and hawed for a few moments, then modestly answered he might like to tackle a Wagner Ring cycle, noting that too many Rings he had seen of late were underdesigned.

The question of the hour, however, came from a Lyric board member who boldly raised her hand to ask Hockney whether Turandot should be pronounced with the final t silent or not. (Nobody ever said board members needed to know everything about opera; they just need to know how to bring in the bucks.) Hockney was over the matter when Lyric artistic director Bruno Bartoletti piped up with the news that the t is indeed pronounced. Culture class for the day was dismissed, and the guests raced for the door.

A Theater at Navy Pier?

The Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority, which is overseeing the redevelopment of Navy Pier, has hired Suzanne Brown, the former deputy director of the League of Chicago Theatres, to explore the idea of building a theater for multiple performing arts in the pier. “We’re first going to look at the question of whether it’s feasible,” said Brown, “and if it is, what form it should take.” Some dance and music groups expressed concern about Navy Pier’s remote location relative to downtown Chicago. Brown, high on the scenic beauty of the pier, doesn’t think access to the pier would prove as much of a problem as some arts executives believe. While Brown explores the theater option, the first phase of reconstruction at the pier is expected to start in late spring; it’ll include exposition halls as well as space for restaurants, retail shops, and one or two museums.

Substitute Phantom

At the eleventh hour, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse has lost the leading man in its Chicago-area premiere of the Arthur Kopit-Maury Yeston musical Phantom, one of several new musicals based on the Gaston Leroux novel. Ken Ward was cast as the deformed antihero who wreaks havoc on the Paris Opera House, but he had to drop out a week into rehearsals because of a dislocated shoulder. Candlelight’s production staff had already molded masks to fit Ward’s face and was working on his wardrobe. Director Bill Pullinsi quickly fielded a new Phantom, Scott Cheffer, a veteran of many area opera productions and a friend of the rehearsal pianist. A Candlelight spokesman said Cheffer appeared calm at his first rehearsal, but the staff has plenty of new masks and costumes to make before the show opens on January 22: Ward was five-foot-seven, while Cheffer measures in at six-foot-three.

Michael Kutza’s 17-Year Plan

Michael Kutza, founder and director of the Chicago International Film Festival, would like to be in a new home by the time the event celebrates its 30th anniversary in 1994. “It’s something we’ve been planning for since 1977,” he says. A feasibility committee headed by Kutza and board chairman Yale Wexler is just be beginning to seriously explore the possibilities; tops on Kutza’s list of sites is Navy Pier, though the deserted Oriental Theatre in the Loop is another option. A permanent Film Festival home would have to be a year-round tourist attraction to be financially viable, Kutza reasons, so he’s also talking up an IMAX theater for giant-screen film presentations. Kutza may have been prodded by the fact that both the New York and Toronto film festival organizations recently moved into new homes.