Welcome to the Musical Field Trip Series. In this series, I’ll introduce you to some amazing and unique field trips to add to your music education repertoire. Even if you aren’t able to attend these in person, you can experience and enjoy them here. Today, we’ll begin with Behind the Scenes at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Chicago Lyric Opera Backstage Tour
Recently, I took my kids to a tour of the backstage at the Chicago Lyric Opera. It was more wonderful than I expected it to be.
Lower Level Exhibit
After traveling on the train to the city of Chicago from our suburb, we began the tour in the basement of the Lyric Opera, where the restrooms are. Each time I have been there they have had a different exhibit down there. This time it was about different directors and designers of operas who have worked at the Lyric.
Another time we were there, they had an exhibit related to the opera we watched The Passenger, which included a model of the set.
We had a great tour guide for our group of about 15 elementary aged students. Another tour with the teens was going on at the same time.
We began with her in the lobby where she pointed out that in the architecture and decorating throughout the opera house, there are musical instruments and the masks of comedy and tragedy.
Next we entered the theater and went to the seats that were furthest from the stage–top row of the highest balcony. She wanted us to see that no matter where you sit (even the “worst” seats), you still get a full view of the stage. We learned that in Europe opera houses, this is usually not the case. We could also hear people down on the stage, and the tour guide explained that the acoustics were such that we would also hear perfectly from those seats!
Then we went to the first level where the orchestra seats are.
We took a peek down into the orchestra pit.
One fun “secret” we learned was that the conductor is on video when he’s conducting. There are lots of video monitors in various locations so that those on stage and backstage can see him even if they aren’t looking directly at him.
See the flaps that open on the side? They hide the spotlight and video monitors from the audience.
When we were in the theater looking at the stage, the lighting designers were testing out different projections that we could see on the set pieces. And a backstage crew brought a piano onto the stage because there was going to be an audition.
Here is a view from the orchestra pit toward the seats in the house. It sure is a beautiful theater!
Under the Stage
Next we walked down the steps toward the orchestra pit and behind it under the stage. See the black net above the pit? That’s to catch anything that might fall off the stage so it won’t fall on the musicians!
In the center of this picture you see one of the several trap doors so that the singers can enter from below or exit down.
Around the corner, they had lots of props set up for the kids to look at. We saw how up close things looked so fake, but from the stage they look real!
We went behind the stage where the dressing rooms are. There are about 10 for the leads. Because they always have 2 operas running at the same time, the dressing rooms are shared. There is more than one closet in each so that they can keep their own things in it. The best part of these dressing rooms? Each one has a piano! See it reflected in the mirror?
The leads are hired separately for each opera, but the chorus works for the whole season. There is one dressing room for women (see below) and one more for the men of the chorus.
Costumes were next. So many beautiful costumes!
Hair and Make-Up
The most fascinating thing I learned on the tour was that every performer in the operas performed at the Lyric wears a wig made specifically for their head.
We saw these molds which are exact copies of the heads of the performers that they use to make each wig.
This video below showed the transformation of one of the singers that she went through to get ready for the performance (wig, make-up, and costume).
The next thing we got to do was walk across the catwalk, which is six stories up above the stage! They didn’t allow us to take photos there.
Here is the huge “garage door” where they load sets in and out of the theater. It’s the size of a semi truck.
The final thing we got to do was try on some of their amazing costumes.
I absolutely loved the behind the scenes tour at the Chicago Lyric Opera.
Have you done a musical field trip? Please share with us below in the comments or on this Facebook post.
And join us later this year for more great posts in the Musical Field Trip Series.