Lyric Opera of Chicago Receives $2 Million Grant

Anthony Freud, general director of Lyric Opera of Chicago, announced today that The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is awarding $2 million to the internationally acclaimed company in support of expanded community engagement and new artistic initiatives. Freud stated that a portion of this generous grant will help fund the creation of a major and multifaceted new initiative, Lyric Unlimited, which will include a number of specific community engagement projects to be announced in the near future. It will also encompass Lyric’s current education-department programs. A further part of the Mellon Foundation’s grant will provide lead support for the previously announced world-premiere commission, Bel Canto, a new opera based on the bestselling novel by Ann Patchett.

“For Lyric to receive such a substantial grant from one of America’s leading foundations is a terrific vote of confidence,” Freud said. “We are deeply grateful toThe Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its longstanding commitment to new work, as demonstrated by its support of our upcoming world premiere, Bel Canto; and for taking a leadership role in fostering and endorsing Lyric’s plan to serve a wider public.Lyric Unlimited is a long-term, evolving initiative that will encompass company activities that are not part of Lyric’s mainstage season. It will comprise both large- and small-scale programs and performances that will take place both in and away from the opera house.”

Freud listed three key purposes for Lyric Unlimited:

  • to provide a relevant cultural service to communities throughout the Chicagoland area, including communities for whom opera and opera companies have been largely irrelevant;
  • to explore a wide range of ways in which Lyric can collaborate with cultural and community organizations throughout the area; and
  • to use Lyric Unlimited to advance the development of opera, exploring ways in which opera as an art form can resonate more powerfully, and in a range of different ways, with people of multiple backgrounds, ethnicities, and interests.

Details of several specific Lyric Unlimited programs, which are in advanced development, will be revealed in the coming weeks and months. “As we plan this exciting and ambitious initiative and the Bel Canto world premiere, I continue to be inspired by the close collaboration of our music director Sir Andrew Davis and creative consultant Renée Fleming,” Freud said.

Freud announced that Cayenne Harris will become director of Lyric Unlimitedbeginning in mid-July. She was formerly director for new initiatives at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Institute for Learning, Access, and Training, including the Citizen Musician initiative (see bio below). “I am delighted to have Cayenne joining our Lyric management team. Her experience and expertise will be an invaluable asset to our company,” Freud said.

Bel Canto

As announced in February, Renée Fleming, Lyric’s creative consultant, is curatingBel Canto, a new opera by composer Jimmy López and librettist Nilo CruzSir Andrew Davis will conduct and Stephen Wadsworth will direct. Bel Canto will premiere in Lyric’s 2015-16 season.

Both the 2001 novel by Ann Patchett and the new opera are inspired by the Lima hostage crisis of 1996-97, when members of a revolutionary movement in Peru held hostages at the Japanese ambassador’s house for 126 days. Central to the story is the fictional famed American soprano, Roxanne Coss, who will be portrayed by Australian-born American soprano Danielle de Niese. Like the novel, the opera will explore the tensions and unexpected alliances that develop when a group of culturally disparate strangers – the terrorists and their hostages – are confined in close quarters for months.

Mellon Foundation

Freud stated that Lyric is “deeply grateful” for The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s longstanding support of Lyric Opera of Chicago, which included a multi-year commitment to Lyric’s American Horizons initiative – a program that encouraged the presentation of American operas and expansion of the operatic repertory. The Mellon Foundation provided major support for this project, which included the 2004/05 world premiere of William Bolcom’s A WeddingThe Andrew W. Mellon Foundationalso provided funds to support Lyric’s radio broadcasts.

Cayenne Harris, Director of Lyric Unlimited

Harris most recently served as director for new initiatives at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Institute for Learning, Access, and Training. She was with the CSO since 2000 (the year she earned her Master of Music degree from Yale University) and held positions of progressively increasing responsibility in the areas of community relations, education, and community engagement before the Institute for Learning, Access and Training was formed. She oversaw Citizen Musician activities in Chicago; guided programming for incarcerated and at-risk youth, led development of diversity initiatives, worked closely with guest artists and partner organizations from a broad spectrum of performing and visual-arts disciplines to create a variety of engaging programming; and worked with community leaders to establish and sustain the CSO’s presence in Chicago’s neighborhoods. Additionally, Harris was a committed fundraiser and financial manager and well-respected administrative leader experienced in working with boards and volunteer groups.