The Second City Guide to the Opera Review – Seeing Opera Differently

From the moment we entered the Civic Opera House, there was a different feeling.  The lobby was unembellished, there were fewer people and everyone was directed to Aisle 6. The Second City Guide to the Opera  currently at the Civic Opera House through June 30th brings a new perspective to opera.  Patrons walk right past all those seats that are valued so highly they are willed from generation to generation and move to the steps and on to the stage.  Once on the stage, it would be easy to believe you are at The Second City.  There are the little tables, a few lounge chairs and couches, the signature three chairs on stage and a large wait staff dressed in tee shirts that look like tuxedos.  Patrons were enthralled.


Looking around, there was a broad mix of people, young and old, some who knew opera and those who didn’t, some had been to Second City and others had not. There were visitors from Florida escaping a convention.  Seated next to me was Kirtan, a young engineer who has only lived in Chicago three years. He  and his wife have been wanting to come to the opera, but which one? He said about attending this performance,  “I thought it was a fun way to learn about the opera!” “It’s comedy-club ambiance on the stage of the Civic Opera House,” says Lyric Opera general director Anthony Freud.


Fun, it was.  Some acts were so funny I was almost in tears.  It seemed that Lyric captured the feeling of The Second City and that The Second City in their typical style while skewering opera, found its essence.


Some highlights included a clarification of the “Overature”, “Intermission” and “Finale” all with appropriately hysterical lyrics and antics.  The eight performers included six from Second City and two from Lyric who mixed it up with everyone singing and spoofing. Second City ensemble members are Joey Bland*, Molly Brennan, Lilli-Anne Brown, Beth Melewski*, Tim Ryder, and Timothy Sniffen*. Billy Bungeroth* is director, Jesse Case* is music director and writer, and Kate James* and Timothy Sniffen* are writers. Singers from Lyric are mezzo-soprano Lauren Curnow and tenor Bernard Holcomb*, both former members of the Ryan Opera Center. (*participated in the January show). Lyric Opera Orchestra musicians violinist John Macfarlane (who also played the January show) and cellist Laura Deming and were a wonderful addition to the show. 


My favorite parts included Tim Ryder as Arnold Schoenberg, an improv opera based on a young couple who met at a Lyric Opera fund raiser, and the song about “Operaland” as a place to enter another world.  And this is the essence of opera, is it not?  And if you, too, want to escape to “Operaland” don’t let this great show get leave without seeing it.



This 23-show summer series is the first series of its kind ever at the Civic Opera House. Seating is general admission with three tiers: Prima Donna ($75), Tenor ($45), Bass ($35). Capacity is approximately 350. Prima Donna patrons are seated in lounge-style seating. Tenor patrons will be seated at cabaret-style tables, and Bass patrons will be on risers. Full bar selection and light savories prepared by Jewell Events Catering are available starting 75 minutes before the show starts, with beverage and light food service continuing throughout the evening.


The Second City Guide to the Opera lasts approximately two hours, including a 20-minute intermission. Shows are Thursdays through Mondays, and start at 7:30pm except on Saturdays, which begin at 7:00pm.  It contains some adult content—parental guidance suggested and many of the shows are sold out.


House lights illuminate the Ardis Krainik Theatre for more than an hour before each performance so patrons can take pictures from the stage and enjoy the beautiful Art-Deco space while waiting for the show to begin. Souvenir pilsner glasses will be available for purchase.

The Pedersen Room Restaurant at Lyric will have dinner seating 90 minutes before each show; reservations are not required but are encouraged to guarantee seating.


For general ticket sales and information, call 312.332-2244 or click

These performances of The Second City Guide to the Opera are presented by PNC Bank. The Civic Opera House is located at Madison Street and Wacker Drive. Tickets $35-$75. General Admission (GA) onstage seating—first-come, first-seated. Prices subject to change.The Pedersen Room Restaurant at Lyric will have dinner seating 90 minutes before each show; reservations are not required but are encouraged to guarantee seating.

Photos:Todd Rosenberg unless otherwise indicated


Addendum: You never know how a great idea will develop. Renée Fleming’s inspiration to have Lyric Opera of Chicago mix it up with The Second City resulted in a wildly successful collaborative show, The Second City Guide to the Opera. The relationship between the two companies has developed into a collaboration that has extended into other areas, to mutual benefit. Starting in May, two instructors from The Second City  began holding weekly improvisation classes with ensemble members of The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, the professional artist-development program at Lyric Opera of Chicago. The instructors are Tim Sniffen, one of the writers and performers in The Second City Guide to the Opera, and Anne Libera, director of comedy studies for Second City’s program with Columbia College. “They love what they’re learning and how it greatly benefits them as performers,” says Dan Novak, director of the Ryan Opera Center. “It’s also bringing them closer as a group.”  Novak noted that it’s The Second City’s first workshop with opera singers. “This is why you do these collaborations – the benefits keep evolving.”

Through the partnership between Lyric Unlimited and The Second City, a small group of high-school voice students have been invited to attend a special workshop designed just for them this month. They will learn essential improv techniques and how to apply these new skills to their current music training, increasing and enhancing their communication abilities onstage and offstage. In addition, participating students will have the opportunity to learn from the artists and staff involved in bringing this unusual combination of art forms together. PNC Bank is making this workshop possible and free of cost to participating students.


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