Northern Illinois University Press

150 Years of Opera in Chicago

Robert C. Marsh

Completed and edited by Norman Pellegrini

"Fact-packed, lively.... 150 Years of Opera in Chicago radiates the affectionate and comprehensive knowledge of [Marsh and Pellegrini] about the most glamorous and expensive of the performing arts."—Illinois Heritage

"A fine book. With the unusual stylishness of the writing and its fascinating subject ... every line that you read demands that you keep going, and makes you read on and on."—Opera Today

"Essential reading."—Chicago Tribune

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 sixty years—and many visiting opera companies—would pass before the city established an opera company of its own. Robert Marsh recounts the trials and triumphs 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. This book also details the history and fortunes of the Chicago Opera Theater from its inception in 1974 to the present.

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.

Enlivened with nearly a hundred illustrations, 150 Years of Opera in Chicago embraces its subject enthusiastically. This broad and engaging over view is supplemented with a list of professional opera performances in Chicago, from 1850 to 2005.

(2006) 330 pp., 93 illus., 8.5 x 11
ISBN: 978-0-87580-353-1
cloth $45.00

Robert C. Marsh (1924–2002) served for 35 years as music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. At home in most of the major opera houses of the world, he saw Chicago opera against the background of the international world of music. He authored a number of books and hundreds of articles related to music.

Norman Pellegrini, who completed and edited this book, served for more than 40 years as program director of Chicago fine arts radio station WFMT.

Table of Contents

Author's Preface
1 The Roots of a Tradition, 1850–1864
2 The Crosby Years, 1865–1871
3 A Tradition Rebuilt, 1872–1889
4 The Met West, 1884–1910
5 A New Tradition, 1910–1929
6 The Ravinia Opera, 1912–1931
7 A New Theater, 1929–1947
8 New York Takes Over, 1943–1954
9 The Lyric Theater, 1954–1955
10 The Fox Years, 1956–1981
11 The Krainik Years, 1981–1997
12 A New Beginning, 1997–2000
13 A Changing Repertory over the First 150 Years
14 Paying the Bills and Broadening the Audience
Appendix A—Overview of Chicago Opera Staging Organizations
Appendix B—Annals of Opera in Chicago, 1850–2005
Selected Bibliography

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-353-1
cloth $45.00