Hometown Tourist: The Lyric Opera

Hometown Tourist is a series that hears that chipper tip, “be a tourist in your hometown!” and says, “Okay!” When friends come to visit, I like to show them a combination of standard tourist spots and the neighborhood places they’d never know to look for. Why not write about all those places? If you have suggestions on Chicago places you’d like to see covered for Hometown Tourist, add it in the comments.

For the inaugural Hometown Tourist post, I thought I’d start classy: the Lyric Opera. “Ugh, Lisa,” I hear you all groan. “How boring! And overpriced!” But dearest fellow travelers, let me assure you that it is not boring! And it doesn’t have to be too expensive! I’ve seen three operas at the Lyric over the past five years, and I’ve never spent more than $75 on a ticket. That’s no pocket change, sure, but it’s maybe twice what you’d pay for a show at The Riv, and no one will be spilling beer on you or elbowing past for a better view of the stage here.

The Civic Opera House in Chicago

As to the boring part: I was raised on a lot of different kinds of music, but opera wasn’t one of them, so it’s not like I have an ear for it. But the tunes are stirring and the singing is powerful stuff. When I saw Aida on Tuesday, there were a few moments during Hui He’s solos that actually caused me to catch my breath, they were so lovely. The stories are never too hard to follow, so even when they’re told in Italian or German, they’re easy enough to follow. The emotions expressed onstage would be overblown if they were spoken in a play, but they take on more gravity in song form, and it becomes clear that the only way to truly express love or heartbreak is to devote an aria to it.

Right, so: opera can be riveting stuff, and it can be enjoyed without breaking the bank. Where do you go to see opera? In Chicago, there are a few companies that put on shows, but the biggest, most established one is the Lyric Opera. They have their own building on the Chicago River, and it is beautiful. It was built in 1929, and when they renovated it from 1993 to 1996, they kept the Art Deco style. This means that not only are you classing it up by going to the opera, you are classing it up flapper-style. What more could you ask for?

The theater seats almost 3,600 people, and when my friend Hannah and I were there on Tuesday, it looked to be just about sold out. On a Tuesday night! That’s a lot of music and theater lovers in Chicago, which warms my artsy heart.

That's a lot of aria appreciators

Where is it: Civic Opera House, 20 North Wacker Drive, on the northwest corner of Madison and Wacker

When to go: Weekday shows are cheaper, straight up. If you have a job that isn’t 9-5, they even have matinees, which are much cheaper. The season runs October through April, and show runs overlap.

What to see: Whatever your heart desires! If you wait past opening night, you can read reviews and see if something sounds particularly good. For example, Show Boat is getting raves this year. The only downside to this strategy is that tickets will be few and far between by the time the show run starts.

Cost: Tickets range from $35 to $200. Full-time students can get $20 tickets to some shows.

Some practical tips:

  • Unless you are an opera buff, you probably aren’t familiar with the various shows. (I definitely am not.) Do a little research beforehand; I always thought of opera as solos alternating with big choral numbers, so I was disappointed that Tristan und Isolde never had more than six people on stage at once. I listened to clips of operas before buying tickets this season, and found that Aida had a lot of choruses, so I went with that one. (And it did not disappoint. There were easily over 100 people on stage at one point on Tuesday, including dancers who really livened things up during the instrumental portions of the show.)
  • They are obsessive about starting on time here, so do not be late! The ushers will shut you out until intermission if you are late, so give yourself enough time to float elegantly up the stairs to your seat.
  • Speaking of seating, unless you’re shelling out, you’re probably going to be in either the First or the Upper Balcony. Try to get a seat closer to the front of the balcony, because it can get pretty claustrophobic at the back, with the balcony above crowding in on you and the rows of people in front of you partially obstructing your view of the stage. In fact, the Upper Balcony is less claustrophobic, so if you are looking at seats in the back of the Upper Balcony versus seats in the back of the First Balcony, I’d recommend going against instinct and choosing the Upper Balcony seats. You’ll get a clearer view and save money, too!

Oh look, I made a 30-second video of Tuesday’s trip to the opera.

Image 1. Image 2.

9 thoughts on “Hometown Tourist: The Lyric Opera

  1. The Lyric Opera is one of Chicago’s great cultural gems–one of the finest opera companies in the world. Nicely complements Symphony Hall, which houses *the greatest* symphony in the world.

  2. Lisa,
    This was wonderful, of course. Sorry about the lack of opera in the house (but glad at the lack of gangsta rap and death metal). How about doing a bit on the famous (or infamous) “Second City”?

    • Sure, Dad, want to fund a trip so I can give an accurate account? 😉

      There are some really good rap songs out there, you are missing out. But you know I appreciate the musical upbringing.

  3. Wow! I love this! I totally want to go see Show Boat, please! LOVE THIS NEW FEATURE. Thanks for starting with opera.

    • Thanks! Glad you like it.

      I’m confused as to how Show Boat is included. I thought it was a musical? The movie version I saw sure was. It had talking and everything, which I’ve never seen in an opera.

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