A PERSONAL STAKE
'150 Years of Opera in Chicago',
reviewed by MALCOLM TATTERSALL
This handsomely produced volume traces the history of opera in Chicago from its beginnings in a raw frontier town to its maturity in a major provincial city. Chicago saw its first opera, presented by a small travelling company, in 1850 and relied on a series of such groups for all its opera for the next sixty years. Local companies were formed from 1910 onwards but none lasted very long until the Lyric Opera, still flourishing today, was established in 1954. The book ends with an overview and a bit of crystal-ball-gazing: what is the future likely to hold? Aging audiences and rising costs threaten the viability of grand opera in Chicago, as they do elsewhere.
Robert Marsh was the opera critic for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1956 until his retirement in 1990, so the last third of the history has the benefit of his extensive personal knowledge. The archives of two of his predecessors, George Upton and Edward Moore, are the basis of the earlier part of the history.
150 Years of Opera in Chicago is more readable than most of its kind but cannot avoid occasionally collapsing into a litany of names and dates. It will be an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the beginnings of opera in the USA, the more so because 75 pages of appendices and indices, nearly a quarter of the book, ensure that all its information is readily accessible. It will also be of interest to those fascinated by the lives of the great singers, since international stars from Lilli Lehmann and Chaliapin to Callas, Sutherland and Caballé all appear in its pages. A personal stake in the Chicago arts scene will, however, be the common characteristic of the book's keenest readers.
Copyright © 7 September 2006
Malcolm Tattersall, Townsville, Australia
BOOK REVIEWS AT MUSIC & VISION
LYRIC OPERA OF CHICAGO
150 Years of Opera in Chicago
Robert C Marsh
Compiled and edited by Norman Pellegrini
Northern Illinois University Press 2006
ISBN10 0-87580-353-9, ISBN13 978-0-87580-353-1
xiv+316 pages, hardback