Lyric Opera creative consultant and iconic soprano Renee Fleming said she was watching The Voice a few years ago when she realized that there’s a mass conversation going on around vocal performance and that “we’ve been left out of this mainstream dialogue.”
In an effort to do something about that, Lyric Opera put its jeans on (metaphorically, anyway) Thursday and headed to the Hideout to announce its new “Lyric Unlimited” outreach program, Chicago Voices. Lyric general director Anthony Freud, Lyric Unlimited director Cayenne Harris, and Fleming did the talking.
The two-year initiative consists of four generically labeled components, one of which will eventually allow people to upload a video selfie of their singing to the Chicago Voices website, chicagovoices.org. It’s anybody’s guess what might happen there.
Another possible route to fame—and what looks like the most interesting piece of the Chicago Voices pie—is its Community Created Performances. Love to sing? Got a story to tell through song? Eight to 12 friends who like to perform and want to develop that story with you? This is your chance. No previous training required.
Starting now, Chicago Voices is seeking proposals from amateur groups for stories arising from their neighborhoods. With professional help and financial support, three winning groups will turn their proposals into polished musical-theater works that’ll have a public premiere next fall. The plan is for a panel of judges to select semifinalists, after which video “profiles” of their stories will be made and posted to the website and a public vote will select the ultimate trio of winners. The deadline for the first round is March 1; instructions and applications are available on the website. (Hopefully a requirement that stories relate to the Chicago Public Library’s current One Book, One Chicago theme—”Chicago: The City that Gives”— doesn’t make things too gooey.)
Chicago Voices will also include a photographic exhibit, a discussion about Chicago vocalists at the Chicago History Museum, performances by local singers at various music venues, and expert panels. A multigenre “Gala” concert of vocalists with Chicago ties is scheduled at the Civic Opera House on February 4, 2017; it’ll be curated by Fleming and “shaped” with the help of musician Herbie Hancock, vocalist Kurt Elling, and singer-songwriter John Prine.
In conjunction with the Opera House concert, there’ll be a weekend of expert panels and master classes, to be held in partnership with Columbia College, on February 3-5, 2017.
The seed of all this was a three-day “American Voices” festival, including master classes and professional performances, spearheaded by Fleming at the Kennedy Center in 2013. In comparison, she says, Chicago Voices is “greatly expanded,” and, she’s hoping, will have legs: “My dream is to create a platform that will continue.”
What, if any, impact this ambitious initiative will have on other Lyric Unlimited efforts (like its commissioned one-act operas) should be clear when Lyric announces its 2016-2017 plans next week.