Interior of the Lyric Opera
Interior of the Lyric Opera Credit: Darris Lee Harris Photography ©2021

At a joint press conference today on the stage of the opera house, Lyric Opera and the Joffrey Ballet announced their 2021-2022 seasons—the first for Joffrey at Lyric, after more than two decades at the Auditorium Theatre. Noting that most of the world’s great opera houses regularly offer ballet, Lyric general director Anthony Freud welcomed the dancers as Lyric’s new “roommates.”  

Freud, who’s “cautiously optimistic,” said it felt “momentous” to have an audience in the opera house more than a year after it was shut down by COVID. There are questions—about capacity, social distancing, and masks—that can’t yet be answered, he admitted, but, “we’re back.”

The plan is to reopen September 17, with a new production of Verdi’s Macbeth. Directed by David McVicar, it’ll be conducted by Lyric’s new music director Enrique Mazzola (also present, in his trademark red glasses, at the announcement), and will feature Sondra Radvanovsky singing her first Lady Macbeth.  

That’ll be the first chance audiences will have to plunk their bottoms into Lyric’s new seats, which are a dusty-rose color and look a lot like the old seats. I can report that they’re firm but comfortable, and most are staggered enough to improve on the sight lines, which previously had most everyone on the main floor squarely behind someone else’s noggin.  

With the pandemic still hovering in the wings, there’ve been some adjustments: the plans currently are to keep performances to 2.5 hours or less (yes, a little cutting has been done), with no intermissions. Subscribers’ tickets will be sent on a show-by-show basis and anyone who buys a ticket but doesn’t want to come to the opera house will have the option of watching at home, via an online stream. Pre-opera lectures may or may not happen.

In addition to Macbeth, Lyric will present six new or new-to-Chicago productions: Donizetti‘s The Elixir of Love; Mozart‘s The Magic Flute; Daniel Catán‘s Florencia en el Amazonas; Missy Mazzoli‘s Proving Up (at the Goodman’s Owen Theatre); Puccini‘s Tosca; and Terence Blanchard‘s Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Former music director Andrew Davis will return to conduct a single, end-of-season performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. No decision has yet been made regarding the usual spring musical theater offering. Subscriptions go on sale today.

Joffrey artistic director Ashley Wheater (joined by Joffrey CEO Greg Cameron) announced that the ballet company’s season will begin October 13 with Home: a Celebration, a mixed repertory production that’ll include Gerald Arpino‘s Birthday Variations and two new commissions: Chanel DaSilva’s Swing Low, and Nicolas Blanc‘s Under the Trees’ Voices, along with Yoshihisa Arai‘s Boléro. After that, Christopher Wheeldon‘s Chicago-centric Nutcracker; Yuri Possokhov‘s Don Quixote; and Balanchine‘s Serenade paired with the world premiere of Cathy Marston’s Of Mice and Men. Subscriptions are available now at

The press event ended with a taste of what’s to come: first, Joffrey dancers Amanda Assucena and Alberto Velazquez doing some precisely executed Arpino, and then Ryan Opera Center baritone Leroy Davis singing a piece from Fire Shut Up in My Bones, which is based on the memoir by New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow.

Davis’s performance of this remarkable work said more than all the words previously spoken about what we’ve been missing and what will bring us back—masked and distanced or not—to the opera house.  v