When Life Interrupts… (Opening night at Lyric Opera of Chicago, October 1 2011)

Saturday October 1, 2011 will most certainly be remembered for many things in the annals of Chicago operatic history:  It will have marked only the third time that the Lyric Opera of Chicago has mounted a production of The Tales of Hoffmann in some 35 years; it also marked the beginning of a new era in Lyric Opera history as a new General-Director (Anthony Freud) was passed the proverbial baton.  It further heralded the continuing ascension of an old colleague of mine (Matthew Polenzani) with whom I began my career so long ago; and sparked the start of what might well be a fine future for a new colleague (Emily Fons).  Furthermore, it celebrated the artistry of an operatic “old-shoe” (but Gucci or Prada for sure!!), in one James Morris, as well as continuing to welcome legendary soprano Renee Fleming to the artistic staff, as special consultant.  Yes, there was something for everyone at the opening of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 57th season–including an appearance by ‘yours truly’ for the 15th consecutive year.  (For the record: The Lyric also greets a new interim Chorus Master, a new Wig & Make-Up Mistress, along with an assortment of new choristers.)

It was originally to have been a new production, but resulted in a thirty-some-odd year old rejiggered import instead.  This was hardly the auspicious beginning that incoming General-Director Anthony Freud may have hoped for, but ultimately this decision was not his to make, given the pace at which productions are chosen in the years preceding their mounting on the stage.  But still, it is no exaggeration whatsoever to proclaim that a new chapter (or should I say a new ‘volume’) is being written at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

As City construction workers raced like mad to complete the new stretch of road that borders the entire opera complex (one enormous city block) for opening night, it seemed as though the limousines had been lining up for days–readying for the release of the well dressed Chicago elite who wait all year for the opening night festivities that include a 5:00 p.m. swanky cocktail party, an early performance curtain, free flowing non-stop champagne and hors d’oeuvres during intermissions, and–of course–the piece de resistance…the ever anticipated Opera Ball.  Paparazzi, Glitterati, a Red Carpet, Long Gowns, Tuxedos, and a sumptuous classic ballroom at the Chicago Hilton and Towers, replete with the finest food and the most beautiful flowers imaginable, make for the perfect dream-night for the wealthy, the “see-and-must-be-seen-crowd”, and–oh yes, opera fanatics!!  Even the most well connected, social event-weary regulars cannot help but gasp at what is surely the best show in town (The Ball, that is).

It is truly something to behold…except “When Life Interrupts”

You see, we opera singers are part of the show!  Not just on stage, but at The Ball too!!  We are invited guests.  In fact, we are the real stars of the evening, along with our spouses, dates, soul-mates, or significant others.  We purposefully mingle with, and are seated amongst the biggest donors, board members, top administrators, et al; except “When Life Interrupts”

But instead of heading to the Opera House with my tuxedo pressed and ready for the post-performance party, and instead of walking into the building with my beautiful girlfriend donned in a glorious gown that she purchased in San Francisco months earlier, and green satin Louboutin shoes that she purchased in Paris; I walked in the backstage door alone–dressed in sweat pants and a sweater–and ambled to my dressing room in a state of exhaustion.  This is what happens “When Life Interrupts”

At 4:30 a.m. Saturday October 1, my girlfriend awoke with the type of excruciating pain that sends the observer of that pain into abject terror.  In moments, we were off to the hospital…no time to call 911…it’s just a matter of getting to the hospital ASAP…no time to wait for an ambulance, that’s for sure.  The innocent vanity of the masses that would permeate the grand lobby of the Civic Opera House just hours later that same day does not exist in an Emergency Room; there are no wig and make-up rooms, only receiving rooms; no dressing rooms, just treatment cubicles where clothes are unceremoniously stripped off of you; no parade of Opera House Administrators tending to your needs/nerves or bolstering your confidence, just doctors and nurses moving in an endless scramble to deal with a steady flow of the suddenly ill or severely injured.  With too many questions and not enough answers, we endure the Triage process; and then we wait what seems like an eternity before the intravenous pain medication makes its way through a willing vein and into the bloodstream.

Long story short: Kidney Stones scuttled months of expectation and excitement for her, and relegated me to one of my most exhaustive on stage performances in years (as a result of spending 12 hours in the ER waiting for a diagnosis and a room).  She lay in the hospital while I walked the two lonely, unremarkable blocks home amongst a giddy opening night crowd post performance.  No one recognized me (no matter), and the night had turned a silvery cool as the breeze had increased; but at least I was finally home.  There was no Ball, no recognition, no dinner, no dancing, no limousines, no champagne.  All that remained was concern for my girlfriend’s well being, and the unmistakable perspective that is the residue of what is left in the wake of:

“When Life Interrupts”

P.s. The stone passed after about 72 hours; life went on, and so will the next performance.  As a friend wrote to me: “The Show Must Go On ‘pill’ is tough to swallow sometimes.”  But as Hyman Roth said in The Godfather, Part II: “This is the business we’ve chosen”…