Lyric Opera Backstage Tour Review - Pay attention to the men and women behind the curtain

The tour begins

Our backstage tour of Lyric’s incredible, vast, magnificent realm couldn’t possibly have been more enjoyable. As a matter of fact, I suggest that you make your reservations now (all the information is at the end of this article) and come back to finish reading. I’ll wait.

Along with 20 or so others, my husband, Herb, my knight in Lyric's shining armor, and I spent a most enjoyable Sunday afternoon up, down and all around the operatic inner sanctum.

Knight in Lyric's Shining Armor Photo: Patricia Simms

Our backstage tour stops included:

Fascinating building and company history in lush box seats where we could see how the opera house had been designed for the best acoustics.

Here we learned that Lyric, the vision of one spectacularly rich and influential man, Samuel Insull, opened its doors to the public six days after the historic crash of the New York Stock Exchange in 1929. 

But building a viable opera company took until 1954 when Carol Fox, Nicola Rescigno and Lawrence Kelly founded the Lyric Theater. Carol Fox stayed at the helm until 1981.

It was her successor, Ardis Krainik who established herself as one of the foremost opera managers in the world and Lyric began an impressive streak of balanced budgets and sold-out houses. She continued to oversee Lyric’s success until her retirement and passing in 1997.

William Mason succeeded Ms. Krainik as General Director of Lyric Opera and serves in that position today.

The view down from the Catwalk Photo: Herb Simms

The Catwalk: On the sixth floor, the Catwalk is a narrow passageway up there among the lights, openings for sending things like fake rain (uncooked rice) down on stage, cables galore and other scary-looking contraptions. We were very grateful it didn't sway!

Wardrobe and Costumes Photo: Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago

Wardrobe: We were surrounded by costumes so beautiful, well-organized and extensive it was like a fairy tale. All were designed to accommodate multiple singers of slight or expansive girth. Lyric designs, lends, catalogs, stores, repairs its costumes and receives costumes from other companies who do the same.

John the Baptist's head Photo: Herb Simms

Wigs and Make-Up: This is where the real magic happens! For example, for Salome, first the make-up artist made up Alan Held then in the role of John the Baptist. Next, props made a plaster form of his head and then the wig maker duplicated the dread lock-styled hair so when Herod asked for--and got--John’s head on a platter, it looked like Held had actually been decapitated.

The Armory Photo: Herb Simms

Armory: Displayed here is your complete violent death supply house with an amazing assortment of the marvelous ways to surprise the audience with hidden switches, magnets and slight of hand that would impress James Bond. Oh, yes, there was even real chain mail.

The Orchestra Pit Photo: Herb Simms

Orchestra Pit: Oh, the technology! Even though the orchestra is hidden, the conductor must see and be seen by everyone on stage, so there are discrete cameras located in various places invisible to the audience. During our tour, we captured a young girl in the act of pretending to direct the orchestra.  We hope someday she has a chance to do so!

Bring in the Clowns!

Scenery Handling Facility: No doubt about it, this is where the heavy lifting comes in. Lulu, challenging in so many ways, holds the record at Lyric with 31 set changes. Tristan und Isolde required a 22 degree raked (sloping) stage, a vast, labor intensive project to enable the audience to view the action at the back of the stage. In Pagliacci, we’ll see the clowns transported in a car propelled by a golf cart engine.

The Main Stage Photo: Herb Simms

At last! The Main Stage. There we stood, looking out into that vast, glorious space. What a wonderful experience.

Lyric Opera of Chicago, take a bow!

Lyric Opera of Chicago Backstage Tours are presented by Lyric Opera Guild Board on Sunday, March 1, and Sunday March 15. Tour reservations are $35 per person. The crème de la crème of opera tours, the Premium Tours are $150 and are followed by lunch with a Lyric Opera insider. For more information and to make your reservation, call 312-827-5626.

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