150 Years of Opera in Chicago

Chicago's love affair with opera began early, in 1850, when the frontier town welcomed its first traveling opera singers. A full house applauded the opening performance, but during a repeat performance the next day, the theater burned to the ground. Nonetheless, Chicago had been bitten by the opera bug, and it has never lost its enthusiasm for the art. More than 60 years - and many visiting opera companies - would pass before the city established an opera company of its own. Robert Marsh recounts the triumphs and failures of the entrepreneurs and the colorful international artists who brought opera to Chicago and staged it in a number of different theaters. In the first half of the twentieth century, seven opera companies were started in Chicago - and failed. Finally, in 1954, three friends launched the company that became Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the city gained a company that not only thrived but earned recognition as one of the nation's great cultural institutions. Singers, musicians, enterprising impresarios, richly decorated opera houses, and performances that held audiences spellbound all figure into Marsh's lively account of opera in Chicago. The story also provides an overview of changes in the operatic repertoire, audience development, and approaches to production as opera grew from a stand-and-sing event to its full flowering as enriching musical drama. With nearly a hundred illustrations, 150 Years of Opera in Chicago embraces its subject enthusiastically. This broad and engaging overview is supplemented with a complete list of all the professional opera performances in Chicago, from 1850 to 2005. People interested in music - especially opera - and the history of Chicago will find this book invaluable.