Anthony Freud, leader of the famed Chicago Lyric Opera since 2011 and a talented and empathetic navigator of changing times in the opera world, plans to step down next summer.
“This is my 30th year as an opera director, and I will be 66 next month,” Freud told the Tribune in an interview Monday in his office at the Lyric Opera House. “This feels like the right time for a new chapter. And from a Lyrical perspective, I believe this is a coherent and logical time.
After leaving the Lyric on July 31, 2024, Freud said she planned to move back to her native Britain with her husband. Before coming to the Lyric, Freud was general manager of Houston Grand Opera from 2006 to 2011 and president of the Welsh National Opera from 1994 to 2005.
Given the length of the planning cycle in the opera world, Freud’s influence will certainly be felt in the 2024-25 season, and even into 2027. However, “there is room to change,” he said.
Freud was the first chief executive appointed from outside the close-knit world of Lyric. The company’s founders included a 28-year-old executive named Carol Fox in 1954, and subsequent chief executive Ardis Krainik became Fox’s deputy. He was followed by William Mason, Freud’s predecessor who also spent years at the Lyric.
By contrast, the Lyric was the third major opera company Freud directed.
Freud said he is most proud of the partnerships he has built through projects such as Lyric Unlimited, a division dedicated to community and educational initiatives. This type of collaboration outside the traditional opera world has not previously been part of Lyric’s DNA.
He also said he was proud that the company had not hibernated during the pandemic, but had created risky but wildly successful online programs that reached hundreds of thousands of opera lovers around the world, particularly presenting its production of “Twilight: Gods.” Yuval Sharon’s radical move to the car Adaptation of Wagner’s “Gotterdammerung” on a 13-acre site in the Millennium Lakeside Parking Lot. This production, perhaps more than any other, symbolized art’s refusal to be cowed by what had become a devastating epidemic.
In general, Freud argued during his tenure that opera companies should operate on a double track and serve their core audience with favorites such as: “Aida” And “La Boheme” balanced by new operas such as Terence Blanchard’s “The Fire in My Bones Has Been Silenced” And “Factotum” Will Liverman and DJ King Rico’s new opera is set on Chicago’s South Side.
“I tried both to honor the traditions of the Lyric and to take it in new directions,” Freud said.
Among these new directions was the production of Broadway musicals in the spring. “Fiddler on the Roof” In addition to coming from Berlin, he also brings the Joffrey Ballet to the Lyric, filling its famously cavernous theater with the company’s annual productions. “Nutcracker.” At the time, Freud noted that the pairing of opera companies and ballet companies was common in European opera houses and was overdue in the United States.
From an audience perspective, Freud introduced more comfortable new seating as part of the Opera House’s extensive renovation during the pandemic.
When the Lyric opens for its new season this fall, it will also feature a newly glazed exterior lobby that offers patrons a climate-controlled buffer during Chicago’s harsh winters.
Other important projects during Freud’s tenure included an exciting production. “Macbeth” by Giuseppe Verdi It was directed by David McVicar, marking the Lyric’s first return to full strength post-pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis thwarted Freud’s desire to stage Richard Wagner’s entire Ring cycle, but three-quarters of it went on stage anyway.
When asked if he felt he had left behind a smaller company typical of his times in the performing arts, Freud said he preferred to view the Lyric as “a much more diverse and busier organization that does more activities.”
“We still have a significant subscriber base, as well as a large number of people who have never set foot in this location before,” Freud said.
On how it will contribute to the future, he said: “The city and those close to the city cannot benefit sufficiently from performing arts. “Chicago is a global cultural hub, a potential magnet for international tourism and the arts, and deserves much more investment.”
The unprecedented post-pandemic wave of exits of high-profile arts leaders, including Freud’s departure, Robert Falls’ departure from the Goodman Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s Barbara Gaines, and the replacement of the Lyric’s beloved musical director Andrew Davis a part of. The mysterious Italian conductor Enrique Mazzola is one of Freud’s most important recruits.
“I have always felt,” said Freud, a reserved man who captured his emotions, “that the more unexpected the project, the more exciting it is.”
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
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