A life remembered through Opera Seasons

Throughout life, particular memories are brought to mind by reflecting on major life events. We may think of where we were during a world event. We may remember what we were wearing and what we were doing. As a Lyric Opera chorister, my life is a tapestry of life events and opera productions.  Each year my memories attach themselves to that particular opera season. Some go by seamlessly and blend into the next year.  Some seasons boldly imprint themselves in my mind and find a permanent home. 

Colleen poses backstage with several Lyric Opera of Chorus colleagues duringthe 1992 Lyric Opera of Chicago performances of Smetana’s ‘The Bartered Bride’.

I came to the Lyric Opera Chorus in the 1992/1993 season.  My first production was Smetana’s The Bartered BrideI was absolutely thrilled to be part of the company. My parents made the trip down from Northern Wisconsin and were quite proud as well as relieved that all that time and money spent studying had finally paid off.  It would not be long before events in my life changed greatly.

In the midst of the 1994/1995 season, I welcomed my first son and said good-bye to my father. After a weekend performing Bernstein’s Candide and Verdi’s Aida, Ten-pound Maurizio arrived.  Shortly after that, my family packed up the car and headed to my father’s funeral in Northern Wisconsin.  To this day, the words of Pangloss come to mind when dealing with the “gives and takes” of life; “…the best of all possible worlds.”

After living in a lively Latin neighborhood in Chicago for several years, my husband and I decided that we would move to a quiet little town in Northwest Indiana. During the 1997/1998 season, we packed up and headed to a sleepy little town called Chesterton about five minutes south of Lake Michigan in Indiana.  Peter Grimes was the large production going on at that time. The day we moved, it was windy and cold.  It was fitting that there were gale force winds on Lake Michigan at the time. Peter Grimes was the perfect backdrop for our move.

Lyric Opera of Chicago chorister Colleen Lovinello prepares her costume before a performance of Puccini’s ‘Tosca’.

Shortly after the 2000/2001 season, my family welcomed a new member. I was pregnant for the entire season.  As far as costumes were concerned, the beginning wasn’t so bad, The Great Gatsby. Toward the end of the season, I was having weekly visits with the wardrobe department.  They did their best to keep me looking presentable during Tosca and The Flying DutchmanI finished the season and spent my break enjoying my newborn son, Nicolo, who was born in April.

As the chorus made their way back to work for the 2001/2002 season, there was no way to know that September would leave us all shaken and uncertain about the coming season.  When the twin towers in New York were struck on the 11th, we were well into the rehearsal period of Verdi’s Otello. There was so much uncertainty. Our director Sir Peter Hall decided that it would be best to get home to England as soon as he could. We were left in the capable hands of the Lyric Opera Production Staff.  Otello opened on time on September 22nd

As I continue to write, I am overwhelmed by the amazing memories that are flooding my mind. During the 2005/2006 season in the midst of Bizet’s Carmen, we were overjoyed that the Chicago White Sox had won the World Series. In November of 2008, as the chorus was headed to the stage for the final chorus of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, Ohio was just tabulating its final results in the presidential election. We came up from the stage to learn that the U.S. had elected its first African American president.

In 2016/2017, the opera house was thrilled to celebrate with all of Chicago when the Cubs won the World Series.  Patrons anxious to hear about the progress of each game had a hard time keeping their phones at bay during the production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Even Maestro Enrique Mazzola was caught up in the excitement. In the future he will have a chance to enjoy all of Chicago’s sports teams.

At the close of the 2018/2019 season, I was just beginning to plan for a major celebration.  The child that was born a few seasons back was now graduating from high school in the spring. One of the final productions of that season was Massenet’s Cendrillon. It was a wonderful experience for the Lyric Opera Chorus and a wonderful way to close out the season.

Things have calmed down a great deal since my early days at Lyric Opera of Chicago.  There have been so many changes in my life as well as in the company.  This year I started the season the way I started the 1992/1993 season.  There are no children living in my house and I am thrilled to be a part of this company. I still think of those words spoken by Pangloss to Candide; “… the best of all possible worlds.”