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Music: Chicago’s Comeback

3 minute read

Since Samuel Insull deserted it, the soaring opera house he built on Wacker Drive has stood out like a grim monument to Depression in Chicago. Last week while Insull was still defending himself against mail fraud charges in Federal Court (see p. 37), Chicago reopened the Insull house in a second attempt to restore its operatic good name.

The scene was as brilliant as Chicago could make it. Soprano Maria Jeritza was on hand to open in Puccini’s gaudy Turandot. As the cruel Chinese princess she sent chills down many a spine as she moved up & down the throne steps, pulling an enormous jeweled train, shrilling her desire to avenge all men. After the performance box-holders and guarantors had a party on the stage where they ate, drank and congratulated themselves on having their own Chicago opera again.

Groundwork for the new Chicago company was laid last winter by Banker George Woodruff and the late George Lytton, who believed that opera had a better chance of success if prices were moderate and singers’ salaries adjusted to fit a carefully balanced budget. Last year’s guarantee was $75,000 for a five-week season.

Less than half of it was used. This year’s drive was for $250,000, not yet attained. But among important Chicagoans there is a new faith in opera. Harold Fowler McCormick, who played patron long before Insull, is on the board of directors. Lawyer Thomas Hart Fisher organized a committee on repertoire and artists to guide Impresario Paul Longone. Swifts, Armours, Goodspeeds and Grahams are pulling for the “People’s Opera.”

High spots in the six-week season will come when Soprano Lotte Lehmann sings the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, when Frederick Stock conducts Tristan und Isolde, when Jeritza does Salome against new stylized settings, when Baritone Lawrence Tibbett sings his first Boris Godunoff, biggest test of his career. Instead of opera on Friday nights there will be ballet directed by Dancer Ruth Page (Mrs. “Tom” Fisher) who plans to give Jacques Ibert’s Gold Standard and Aaron Copland’s Hear Ye, Hear Ye, a courtroom parody.

In Insull’s day the Opera was run like a public utility. To Chicagoans the mechanics were obscure and uninteresting, always taken for granted. The turn of the tide was proved last week at the first-night reception. Instead of hurrying from the performance to their own cozy supper parties, all the opera bigwigs of Chicago lingered behind.

There was no one hero. Everyone appeared to be congratulating everyone else. George W. Rossetters hand was wrung because he is the new Opera president. George Woodruff had taken no back seat as chairman of the executive committee. Lawyer George Haight had worked hardest for guarantors. Mrs. Bartholomay Osborne sold boxes. Mrs. Arthur Meeker had worked with the Friends of Opera. Mrs. Charles Swift (Soprano Claire Dux) had helped with the repertoire and the artists. Samuel Insull sat secluded in his Seneca Hotel room. The directors had decided that it would be embarrassing to send him an invitation.

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