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The Italian baritone Tito Gobbi (1913-1984) was an astoundingly versatile artist, with well over 100 roles in his repertoire. He made his Lyric debut in 1954 in Rossini's IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA. Among American companies, he was most closely associated with Lyric, where he sang 21 roles and for years was unofficially known as the “godfather” of the company.
Known worldwide as "La Divina," Greek soprano Maria Callas made her American debut in the title role of Bellini's NORMA during Lyric's very first season. Her debut brought opera fans from around the country to Chicago. Callas closed Lyric's 1954 season, on Nov. 17 singing the title role of LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR. She got 22 curtain calls and an ovation lasting 17 minutes. She would return the following season to perform her only staged performances of MADAMA BUTTERFLY.
The Italian baritone Ettore Bastianini (1922 - 1967) owned one of the truly stupendous voices of the 1950s. A true matinee idol at the Met, La Scala, and the Vienna State Opera, as well as at Lyric, he dazzled Chicago audiences for five seasons. He was especially celebrated for Verdi repertoire, in which his unmistakable dark timbre, his dramatic intensity, and his overwhelming charisma made an overwhelming impact.
The American tenor Richard Tucker (1913 – 1975), a huge favorite of this country’s operagoers for three decades, sang nine operas in nine seasons at Lyric. A remarkably authentic performer of Italian repertoire (as he proved here and in his longstanding association with the Met), he also excelled in French roles. He was remarkable not only for his ringing voice, but also for his musicianship and the overwhelming sincerity of his singing.
The German mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig (1928 - ) triumphed at Lyric in roles for which she gained international renown (Cherubino in LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, Dorabella in COSÌ FAN TUTTE, the Marschallin in DER ROSENKAVALIER), but also in two operas she sang very rarely, if at all, in other houses: MEFISTOFELE(as Elena) and LA FORZA DEL DESTINO (as Preziosilla). A fixture for decades at the Vienna State Opera, she brought her lustrous, wide-ranging voice and exceptional acting talent to the Met and the Salzburg Festival, while also forging a spectacularly successful concert and recital career.
The Canadian tenor Jon Vickers (1926 – 2015) riveted audiences with the blazing intensity of his portrayals. He was memorable in every performance he gave at Lyric in 10 roles during 13 seasons. Nearly all of them were among the most formidable roles in the repertoire and were signature roles for Vickers, from Otello and Tristan to Samson and Peter Grimes. His voluminous sound and his consuming involvement in his characterizations made him a unique, enormously sought-after artist worldwide.
Known worldwide as “La Stupenda,” the Australian dramatic coloratura soprano Dame Joan Sutherland (1926 - 2010) possessed what was often referred to as “The Voice of the Century” – shining in tone, massive in size, and gifted with staggering agility. A standard-setter in a large number of bel canto operas, Sutherland was hailed at Lyric in four signature roles – Lucia, Semiramide, Marie (in LA FILLE DU RÉGIMENT), and Anna Bolena.
Mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne (1934), one of the most beloved artists America has ever produced, memorably demonstrated her vocal prowess at Lyric. Having debuted in the company’s first world premiere, THE HARVEST, she went on to star in operas by Rossini, Handel, and Verdi, all closely associated with her. Triumphant in every major opera house and concert hall, she displayed a total command of her phenomenal instrument, matchless musicianship, and incomparable stylistic flair that combined to make her a true legend of singing.
One of Spain’s greatest gifts to singing, Alfredo Kraus, the lyric tenor (1927 - 1999) flourished at Lyric, singing 17 leading roles with the company. A master of bel canto style, he also excelled in French repertoire and was often referred to as the “grand seigneur of tenors.” Kraus was renowned for his sovereign vocal technique, which enabled him to sing superbly even at age 70. A venerated figure in every company where he performed, he boasted an elegant stage presence that ideally matched his aristocratic vocalism.