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Underground Opera

By Marie Tachouet

Concertmaster Robert Hanford, clearly parked in the wrong spot.

“Here come the cars!”

As opera musicians, we are used to hearing “orchestra to pit”, “15-minute warning to scene end”, and “fight brush-up in room 550.” This was a new announcement, the Lyric Opera Orchestra heard very frequently during Twilight: Gods. 14 times per performance, to be exact, as groups of cars drove through the Millennium Park parking garage.

Twilight: Gods, a new Lyric Unlimited co-production with the Michigan Opera Theatre, is a condensed and adapted version of Gotterdammerung, the final installment of Wagner's Ring Cycle. Adapted for modern times and arranged with English text by Yuval Sharon, this production also included poetry and transitions by interdisciplinary artist avery.r.young. Lyric's website educates audience members, “From the safety of your own vehicle, you'll be immersed in a series of live performances, videos, and installations brought to life by singers, small instrumental groups, and actors as you drive through the parking garage.” The production ran live from April 28-May 2 and a digital selection is in the works for this summer.

Principal Bassist Ian Hallas glows in the gloaming garage.

In addition to its innovative “progressive-dinner” scene presentation and the eerie subterranean setting, Twilight: Gods also offered Lyric Opera Orchestra members the opportunity to connect with live audiences for the first time since March 2020. As the cars concluded each scene (there were six, including a prologue) and entered the next, there was palpable excitement as we peered into their windows and watched them turn their FM dials to hear us live and safely from their cars.

Some passengers had “Bravo” signs, many smiled at us as they navigated to their parking spots, and there were more than a few waves. We deeply appreciated every single interaction! Mark Brandfonbrener of the Lyric Opera Orchestra cello section said, “I felt our audience reaching out to us through the closed car windows. Even though we could wave and share the music with them, I hope reading an article [in this newsletter] will let the audience know that we appreciated the contact with them and look forward to partnering with them as we resume at the opera house.”

In addition to providing renewed engagement with audience members, Twilight: Gods was also the first time orchestra members and artists have performed together, live, during the pandemic. Melissa Kirk of the Lyric Opera Orchestra viola section expressed, “To play together with my beloved colleagues again was a joy. My eyes filled with tears when Christine Goerke began to sing. The sheer beauty and majesty of her voice, booming around the parking garage was thrilling. For me, sharing this with an audience, despite the fact that they were in their cars, was why concerts are relevant. We share the magic, together.”

The Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra was thrilled to connect with you, our audience, for the first time in over a year. We have truly missed playing for you during the pandemic and your message is loud and clear: Lyric's audiences will return to live performance with passionate enthusiasm.

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