Renowned theater companies pair up for operatic laughs

The Second City and Lyric Opera of Chicago join forces in a debut performance this winter

July 18, 2012

Cassidy Herrington

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Two Chicago theater companies are joining forces in an unlikely double act.

The Second City and Lyric Opera of Chicago announced Wednesday that cheeky comedy and classical singing will share the same stage in The Second City Guide to Opera this winter.

The Lyric’s General Director Anthony Freud said the performance will not only appeal to opera fans, but also those who think “an opera house was the last place in the world they would ever be entertained.”

Second City spokesperson Alexandra Day said that each company will do what it does best, but with “areas of what we hope will be hilarious overlap.”  The show will feature the celebrated soprano, Renee Fleming, and a comedy star to be announced at a later date.

Fleming is also the Lyric’s creative consultant. She came up with the idea to unite Second City and the Lyric after hearing one of her recordings play during a Second City skit, Freud said.  

“On behalf of everyone (at) The Second City I want to thank Renee for not suing us,” Kelly Leonard, Second City’s executive vice president said. “We are obviously thrilled that our use of unaccredited sampling has become an opportunity rather than a cease-and-desist letter.”

Leonard said the two companies make a surprising but natural partnership because of the experimental nature of Chicago’s art scene.

“The city has always thrived when it mixes high art and low art,” Leonard said. “We are at our best when we are not bound by categories.”

Lyric Opera’s General Director Anthony Freud says the collaboration is an effort to bring opera to audiences of different backgrounds.

“You can ask, ‘What possible relevance could it have to a very 21st century, very un-European city like Chicago?,’” Freud said. “What I can say is that if you distill opera down to its basics, what is it? It’s telling stories through words and music.”

Freud said the collaboration is part of the company’s recently announced effort to bring opera to a wider audience. Lyric Unlimited focuses on community partnerships, education and performances at the opera house and around the city.

“Together I think we can try to explore how opera can find a way of becoming truly relevant to people and communities for whom it has had absolutely no relevance up to now,” Freud said.

This year, the Lyric will unveil its first program specifically designed for families, he said. It’s an interactive 70-minute version of the classic, Don Pasquale, called Popcorn and Pasquale. The theater is offering lower ticket prices for families and is also partnering with sponsors to provide free tickets to families in need. Lyric Unlimited is funded by a $2 million award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, announced earlier this month.

The Lyric's upcoming collaboration with The Second City is an example of these efforts to connect with new audiences and art forms.

To demonstrate the point, two Second City e.t.c. performers, Tawny Newsome and Michael Kosinski, acted out a musical sketch at the press conference Wednesday. The skit parodied the unlikely flirtation between opera and improv, featuring the operatic caricature,“Princess Tragedina,” and the improv actor, “Gary.” The troubled princess remarked how their relationship was hopeless because she requires “elaborate sets” – not typically found on an improv stage.

The fate of the Lyric and the improv relationship will unfold on the Civic Opera House's stage on Jan. 5.