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  • Susan Warner, Acting Co-Principal Clarinet

An Interview with Rick Greenman

Rick Greenman, Lyric Chapters Executive Board President

In late July, Rick Greenman, Lyric Chapters Executive Board President, chatted with me about his love of opera and his experiences at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Rick, how did you come to love opera?

When I was a kid my father listened to opera on the radio and on channel 11. Since his job kept him busy during the week, these Sunday opera-listening sessions were precious family time for all of us.

In the 1960s, I performed as a child supernumerary in several operas. My first “job” was to carry a three-foot-long battery-operated candle in Tosca during the mass procession. Régine Crespin and Tito Gobbi were the stars, and I vividly remember the priests swinging incense which wafted into the entire auditorium! Later operas included Otello with Jon Vickers, L’elisir d’amore, and Faust.

Because my first introduction to Lyric Opera was by way of the stage door with backstage scratchy loudspeakers and walls with peeling paint, when I finally attended my first opera as an audience member, I was amazed that the Lyric lobby looked like a fantasyland!

Starting with the 1966-67 season, my parents became subscribers to Lyric Opera. Their $35 front-row center dress circle seats were horrendously expensive! Whenever I wanted to attend the opera, I was able to go with one of my parents. In 1979 my uncle passed away so I took over his seat as a young adult and have been a subscriber ever since.

Tell us more about the Chapters Community!

The Chapters Community is made of 10 chapters throughout Chicagoland including Lake Geneva, Wisconsin—organized groups of suburban opera lovers who support Lyric Opera of Chicago and enjoy social and educational opera events together. In the past when there were no surtitles above the opera stage, Chapters presented lectures in local libraries to help educate the public (on the plots of the operas). They also helped in the Lyric offices and oversaw the Operathon back in the day. Nowadays the Chapters Community continues to fundraise for Lyric Opera as well as provide recitals and concerts for their members. During the pandemic, Chapters have been exploring virtual ways to unite opera lovers such as virtual concerts and post-concert Zoom chats. This year, the Lyric Opera Chapters are celebrating their 60th anniversary!

How are you getting your opera fix during the pandemic?

In Chicago, we know our orchestra and chorus are the best. We may take you all for granted, but we always know that you can transport the audience from day-to-day life and pull us into a fantasy. During the pandemic I have purchased a large screen TV so I can stream opera—but seeing opera on a screen is not the same as being there and sharing the moment with a whole house of people.

At Lyric we have come to expect musicians, singers, and productions at a very high level. Four or five times a season, the audience experiences an absolutely magical moment—a moment that is incredibly special when everyone in the production is fully engaged. As the audience walks out of the theater, we all look at each other knowing that we have shared this very special moment together.

Now we are going to turn the tables:

Rick Greenman, what have you always wanted to know about the Lyric Opera of Chicago orchestra?

Who has to sit in front of the brass in the Wagner operas?

Answered by Amy Hess, Lyric Opera of Chicago violist:

At Lyric, the viola section sits directly in front of the trombones and tuba. This does necessitate some aural PPE! When we sit in the last stand, we have sound shields placed directly behind our heads, either made out of plexiglass or a combination of wood and felt. Many of us also wear custom-fit musician earplugs. These earplugs cut down the volume across all frequencies and produce a much clearer sound than foam ones.

Thank you, Rick Greenman, for chatting with us and for loving Lyric Opera of Chicago!

Vintage photo from the Riverside (IL) Chapter Gala “le Masquerade” celebrating Lyric Opera’s production of A Masked Ball (2002-03 season).

Front center: tenor Patrick Miller and mezzo-soprano Viktoria Vizin

Back row: Rick Greenman, Harriet Marty, Joyce Van Cura (partially obscured)

Barbara Larsen, Deane Kalamaras, Marcia Capone

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