The Lure of the Lyric New Season Opens with Pair of Popular Operas

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Byline: Bill Gowen Daily Herald Classical Music Critic

bgowen@@dailyherald.com

Lyric Opera of Chicago

Where: Ardis Krainik Theatre, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive

When: Season opens Saturday and runs through March 30; evening performances at 6:30 or 7:30 p.m. with matinees at 2 p.m.

Tickets: Prices range from $31 to $176 Monday-Thursday and $42 to $187 Friday-Sunday

Information or to buy tickets: www.lyricopera.org, or call Civic Opera House box office at (312) 332-2244, ext. 5600. Major credit cards accepted

Lyric Opera of Chicago's "season of stars" is set to open Saturday and Monday with a double blast of two of the most popular operas ever written.

Saturday night's gala opening night will feature Giuseppe Verdi's "La traviata," followed by Giacomo Puccini's "La Boheme."

For "La traviata," soprano Elizabeth Futral will portray Violetta for this fall's performances, while the legendary Rene, Fleming will take the role when the opera returns for the second segment of its run in January, with tenors Joseph Calleja and Matthew Polenzani (Alfredo) and baritones Mark Delavan and Thomas Hampson (Germont) splitting the opera's two other leading roles.

Lyric Opera artistic director emeritus Bruno Bartoletti will conduct the fall performances, with music director Sir Andrew Davis taking the podiumin January.

For "La Boheme," directed by legendary Italian soprano Renata Scotto, the stars are Angela Gheorghiu as Mimi and tenor Roberto Aronica as Rodolfo for the October performances, with Serena Farnocchia and Gwyn Hughes Jones taking over in November. Soprano Nicole Cabell, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in Wales just weeks after graduating from the Lyric's Ryan Opera Center in 2005, will portray Musetta for all 11 performances.

"These are two of the most beloved operas in the world, and we are extremely proud of the casts we have assembled," said general director William Mason. "I can't recall the last time we opened the season with two operas on the same weekend, but these are repertoire productions that our staff is familiar with, so it makes things a little easier until we get into the little more complicated part of the season, such as 'Giulio Cesare' and 'Die Frau ohne Schatten.' "

"Giulio Cesare" ("Julius Caesar") by G.F. Handel (a Lyric Opera premiere), and "Die Frau ohne Schatten" ("The Woman without a Shadow") by Richard Strauss, form the second pair of operas this season. "Giulio Cesare" continues the company's ongoing Handel series that includes "Xerxes," "Alcina" and "Partenope," the latter starring renowned countertenor David Daniels, who returns for the title role of Julius Caesar. …