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  • Teresa Fream, violin

The Best Laid Plans

Like so many things right now, this article is very different from the one I imagined I would be writing.

There are a few things in life that you know will be life-changing. For all of us who have careers, retirement is a big one: it changes so much, it redefines you, it refocuses your whole existence. And if you happen to be a musician in the opera world, there is another major event, if you are fortunate enough: The Ring, Wagner’s enormous four-opera epic, spanning a week and approximately 16 hours of some of the most exquisite music ever written. I was one of the lucky few who had these two milestones line up.

I have played two previous Ring cycles at LOC, so I understand what it takes. It’s not easy to get all four of these very difficult operas prepared, so they had taken over my life. Slow, steady practice to get this aging body to withstand the rigors and frankly, just learn all of the notes became my norm. I had a long way to go before feeling completely prepared, but I had a plan and I was being disciplined. After all, this was to be my finale with Lyric.

Here’s the picture I had for the last few years. In 2020, I would be 66 years of age (a perfect retirement age, to me) and Lyric Opera of Chicago would present three complete Ring cycles at the very end of the season. Imagine it: after 29 years in this fabulous orchestra, the very last music I would play with my amazing and dedicated colleagues would be the final, glorious pages of Götterdämmerung. Twilight of the Gods, indeed. I get goose bumps just thinking about what that would have been like. Perhaps after that last performance there would have been a party (with cake – always lots of cake), and I would have a chance to congratulate and say a final goodbye to Sir Andrew. My friends and colleagues would have hugged me and I would tell them how much I will miss them. We would make plans to stay in touch, congratulate ourselves on our accomplishment, have a drink or two, I would cry, they would cry…well, you get the idea.

You know how this ends. On Friday the 13th, we learned that the entire Ring and all services associated with it were canceled. And just like that, we were done.

It is not even a week later as I write this, so it still seems surreal. My practice parts sit on my music stand and when I glance at them I still feel a wave of urgency, until I remember it’s gone. I catch myself thinking about what I will wear to work, what food I will pack for my lunch, when to catch the Metra to get to rehearsal. But mostly I feel sad. Anyone who knows The Ring intimately, as we Lyric musicians do, will understand the emotional hole this leaves in our musical lives. We devote our lives to music for deeply personal reasons, and this hurts to the core.

Right now, we all have had our lives turned upside down by Covid-19. I would never deign to think that my sadness and anger over this is unique, or in any way more important than anyone else’s. We all have a story. But sharing my story helps me, so thank you. I am suddenly gone from the Lyric Opera of Chicago, an organization that defined my life for the last 29 years. I had hoped it would be on my terms, but the nature of viral disease had another idea. There’s a life lesson here for us all, I guess. Control is an illusion. This was a beautiful illusion, and I am deeply sad to see it go.

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