In its new iteration, this partnership between a pair of Chicago arts institutions seems to have found a more scalable show. The Lyric Opera and the Second City first teamed up in January, with the Old Town joint’s sketch performers joining forces with trained operatic performers and big-time celebrity hosts Renée Fleming and Patrick Stewart on the Civic Opera House’s stage to poke fun at their respective forms of art for an audience of thousands. While I didn't witness this one-night event, reports from the scene said the more nuanced bits didn’t quite play to the rafters.
This return engagement takes advantage of the Lyric’s dark summer months by bringing the audience onto the Civic Opera House’s stage, aping the Second City’s traditional comedy-club setting with cabaret-style tables and servers proffering cocktails and noshes as we look out onto the theater’s many gold-leafed levels. The atmosphere's much more like what you’d expect to find on Wells Street, with a high-class boost.
The Second City has long known how to tailor a show to a niche, whether it’s a cruise ship's captive audience or outreach on behalf of corporate clients. And this new collection of sketches, staged with vigor by Billy Bungeroth, is masterful in the way it rides the line between catering to Lyric regulars (who will issue “bravos” to very specific composer references) and opera newbies, who’re amply served by bits about bad audience behavior and opera’s excesses.
Lyric Opera regulars mezzo-soprano Lauren Curnow and tenor Bernard Holcomb put on way more than game faces to play with improvisers and actors Joey Bland, Molly Brennan, Lili-Anne Brown, Beth Melewski, Timothy Sniffen and Tim Ryder; the group sends up the tropes of their various disciplines with precision blackout sketches, traditional Second City–style songs and recurring bits like "Dr. Opera," featuring classic characters in therapy. Interspersing tasting portions of actual opera, such as Holcomb performing "New York Lights" from William Bolcom's 1999 A View from the Bridge, makes The Second City Guide to the Opera as effective an intro course as a master class.