Lyric Opera Presents PROXIMITY Review — Bringing Our Streets to the Opera Hall

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“Where DO all these guns come from?”

As these words are sung, we see a larger-than-life projection of automatic weapons raining down in a sea of electric orange. Our minds are jogged yet again by playwright Anna Deavere Smith’s libretto for The Walkers. In almost every bar, it challenges us to re think the conventional wisdom of the headlines about street violence and gang warfare in Chicago. All that patter about people going to other states to buy guns suddenly is revealed as a nonsense trope. 

Who could have predicted that we would learn this in an opera hall rather than on a thoughtful TV talk show?  

Arne Duncan knew…

Renée Fleming, the curator of this series, knew…

Lyric knew…

In his fleeting opener to the Proximity program book, Lyric’s chief artistic administration officer posits that the opera world has always been taking on controversy.  Maybe, but for this reviewer, Lyric’s mindful determination to reach out to and engage with the larger Chicago community strikes as unprecedented — in both content and style.

Opera-hall- sized projections of Google maps roll across the stage to give us the background of the streets The Walkers travel to enmesh in communities plagued by gangs and guns and to do the difficult work of intervening to break the cycles of violence. Brightly colored, fast-rolling, and all- encompassing, the projected maps and  streetscapes might be distracting for some. A jumbotron projector appears on and off to provide a closeup during arias — as we follow the staff of CRED (a non profit fighting gun violence), soul-stirring baritone Norman Garrett as a gang leader recently released from prison, and magnetic and pink-wigged soprano Kearstin Piper Brown as a girl gang leader wrongly accused by another gang of murdering a young boy, among others. This is operatic-scale drama that is from our real streets. The one-two punches of the lyrics are all the more powerful because they are edits of real-world interviews with all involved. SPOILER ALERT! You, too, will likely know in an instant that you will never read a shooting headline again without your mind’s ear remembering soprano Whitney Morrison's aria as Yasmine Miller recounting how she, a young mother, wounded in the hospital, was told by the doctors of how her baby son “didn’t…didn’t….didn’t… didn’t…didn’t…” “…make it.” One can read these words on a page or in a script, but The Walkers’ music burrows it deep, deep, deep down into your soul.

Lyric Opera Weaves Three Short Items into One Piece

The power of The Walkers’ heart- stopping moments is interwoven with two other mini-operas: Night, a John Haines poem about climate change set to music by John Luther Adams, and Four Portraits, an exploration of anomia and isolation. SPOILER ALERT! You, too, will likely keep smiling many days later as you remember the libretto for the singing GPS (Corinne Wallace-Crane) who not only calmly sings “Recalculating” but becomes quite chatty and interactive with lonely character B, sung by baritone Lucia Lucas as she drives her car.

Some, not this writer,  might find the hyper-stimulating projection designs off-putting.  Some, like this writer, might find the solo aria of Night in the context of a galaxy design more gimmick than compelling. In this reviewer’s opinion, the interweaving of the three operas into a piece rather than presenting them in a linear sequence is a masterstroke. This is especially so because the content of each opera tackles distinct aspects of our existential challenges — from local streets to the planet as a whole.  

Expect to be moved and perhaps follow the urging of pre-opera speaker and community activist Tanji Harper to “be the change you want to see happen!”


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The Walkers, Four Portraits, and Night
Curated by Renée Fleming & Yuval Sharon


Music by Daniel Bernard Roumain
Libretto by Anna Deavere Smith

Curtis Toler - Issachah Savage+
Arne Duncan - Jeff Parker+
Preacher Man - Gordon Hawkins
Chief’s Son #1 - Ron Dukes•
Chief’s Son #2 - Kamari Saxon
Very Loud Girl - Lindsey Reynolds•
Chief’s Daughter #2 - Zoie Reams
Chief’s Daughter #1 - Kearstin Piper Brown+
Bilal - Norman Garrett
Lil’ Bunchy Bates - Jamion Cotten+
Yasmine Miller - Whitney Morrison••
Passenger 1 - Kathryn Henry+•
Passenger 2 - Lindsey Reynolds•
Passenger 3 - Stephanie Sanchez+
Passenger 4 - Kathleen Felty••
Passenger 5 - Cornelius Johnson+
Passenger 6 - Alejandro Luévanos•
Passenger 7 - Darren Drone+
Passenger 8 - Ron Dukes•
Thomas Gaston - Darren Drone+
Uniting Voices Chicago


Music by Caroline Shaw
Libretto by Caroline Shaw & Jocelyn Clarke

A - John Holiday+
B - Lucia Lucas+
Passenger 1 - Kathryn Henry+•
Passenger 2 - Lindsey Reynolds•
Passenger 3 - Stephanie Sanchez+
Passenger 4 - Kathleen Felty••
Passenger 5 - Cornelius Johnson+
Passenger 6 - Alejandro Luévanos•
Passenger 7  - Darren Drone+
Passenger 8 - Ron Dukes•
GPS Corinne - Wallace-Crane


Music by John Luther Adams
Libretto by John Haines
Sibyl  - Zoie Reams



Conductor - Kazem Abdullah+
Director - Yuval Sharon
Production Designers - Jason H. Thompson Kaitlyn Pietras
Costume Designer - Carlos J. Soto+
Sound Designer - Jody Elff+
Chorus Master - Michael Black
Children’s Chorus Master - Josephine Lee
Choreographer - Rena Butler+
Associate Choreographer - Adam McGaw+
Wigmaster & Makeup Designer - Sarah Hatten
Associate Director - Alexander Gedeon
Assistant Director - Katrina Bachus
Stage Manager - Rachel A. Tobias
Musical Preparation - William C. Billingham
Noah Lindquist
Chris Reynolds•
Michelle Rofrano+
Fight Director - Samantha Kaufman
Projected English Titles - Colin Ure
Projection Programmer - Troy Fujimura
Front of House Sound Engineer - Stephanie Farina


MARCH 24. 2023 - APRIL 08. 2023


Lyric Opera House
20 N. Wacker Drive, Suite 860
Chicago, IL 60606


For more information and tickets visit the Lyric Opera website.

Photos: Todd Rosenberg

Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago.

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Amy Munice

About the Author: Amy Munice

Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.

Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.


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