The company of Macbeth at Lyric Opera Credit: Ken Howard

“Well, here we are,” is how Lyric CEO Anthony Freud greeted an audience deeply happy to be back in the Opera House for the first time, 18 months after COVID shut it down—masks and breakthrough infections notwithstanding.

Then the curtain went up on a grim and dreary new production of Verdi’s unrelentingly grim and dreary opera, Macbeth. An appropriate way to mark Lyric’s first season under its new music director, Enrique Mazzola, an early Verdi specialist? Sure.

But after a year and a half of our own grim pandemic reality? In director David McVicar and designer John Macfarlane’s surprisingly clunky production, which confines the entire four-act, nearly three-hour opera to the sparse gray interior of the same 19th-century “ruined Presbyterian chapel?”

After all this time in isolation, ruminating in our own warped heads, looking at our own sparse walls? Trap doors, zombie kids, one room?

A program book essay gives this concept a hard sell, and it probably didn’t come cheap, but it looks, at best, like Lyric had to scrimp on sets. Let’s blame the pandemic.

Still, it’s wonderful to be in the room with Lyric’s great orchestra, superb chorus, and world-class cast. Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky (in her first crack at the role) is a forceful Lady Macbeth; bass-baritone Craig Colclough is her fatally weak spouse; tenor Joshua Guerrero is a palpably anguished Macduff; and bass-baritone and Ryan Opera Center alum Christian Van Horn makes a stalwart Banquo, whether alive or as the walking dead.

Macbeth, Thu 9/23, 2 PM, Thu 9/30, 7 PM, Sun 10/3, 2 PM, Wed 10/6, 2 PM, and Sat 10/9, 7:30 PM, Lyric Opera, 20 N. Wacker, 312-827-5600, $39-$319;
The Infinite Energy of Ada Lovelace and Petticoats & Sliderules, through Oct. 3, Fri-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM, The Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway; $30, seniors and students $25;

Jamie Barton and Stephanie Blythe in Chicago Opera Theater’s Carmen. Credit: Michael Brosilow

Meanwhile, last weekend saw the only two performances of Chicago Opera Theater’s semi-staged concert version of Bizet’s Carmen—a production that proved that if you’re creative enough, you don’t need any sets at all to knock the socks off an opera audience. Just drop two great mezzo-sopranos into roles each dreamed of playing but thought they’d never get a chance at, give them a fine little supporting cast (smartly directed by Joachim Schamberger) and a full orchestra (conducted by COT music director Lidiya Yankovskaya), and watch the fireworks. Jamie Barton—she of the withering sneer and creamy tone—ruled as an iconoclastic Carmen; Stephanie Blythe, in tenor alter ego, blatantly fake beard, and astounding tenor voice, was fully convincing as her dangerously jilted lover, Don José. If you were lucky enough to be in the audience at the Harris Theater for this, you won’t forget it. 

The Infinite Energy of Ada Lovelace with Third Eye Theatre Ensemble. Credit: Clint Funk

On the more-guts-than-glory storefront opera scene, Third Eye Theatre Ensemble opened a double bill of contemporary work by women composers that takes pioneering women scientists as its subject. Petticoats & Sliderules is a brief two-hander, in which Chicago-based composer Elizabeth Rudolph has set the words of mechanical engineer Lois Graham and suffragist and writer Elisabeth Woodbridge to music, and The Infinite Energy of Ada Lovelace is a one-act opera with music by Kamala Sankaram and a libretto by Rob Handel. Originally commissioned by Opera Ithaca, the opera tells the story of Ada Lovelace, the mathematically gifted daughter of Lord Byron and married mother of young children, who braved conventional mores to work with inventor Charles Babbage on an early computing machine. Her “caged bird” situation makes for dramatic interest, and the score, nicely played by a chamber ensemble conducted by Alexandra Enyart, includes some beautiful moments, but both of these pieces would benefit greatly from the addition of projected titles.