Lyric Unlimited presents AN AMERICAN DREAM Review – An Austere Story Beautifully Told

Unlike the grand columns that shelter the elegant foyer entrance to the Lyric Opera Theater on Wacker, The Harris Theater is a glass-fronted concrete monolith directly on the sidewalk of East Randolph Street. Inside, you descend 108 stairs (or use the elevator) to enter at orchestra level. Then you continue down the steeply raked theater lined with industrial-scaffolding leading to a jewel-like stage. Austerity surrounds you.

The Harris is a perfect setting for AN AMERICAN DREAM,

The Harris is a perfect setting for AN AMERICAN DREAM, produced by Lyric Unlimited, a critical component of Lyric’s mission that is dedicated to producing small-scale, contemporary operas, sung in English that have a socially impactful theme. The Harris Theater seats 1500, half the capacity of the Lyric Opera House, but still a large gathering of opera enthusiasts.

AN AMERICAN DREAM is a tragedy

AN AMERICAN DREAM is a story based on an amalgamation of facts, transformed into opera. The story is tragic.

During WWI and WWII German nationals living in the U.S. were detained in camps, as were some naturalized citizens as well. During WWII, all Japanese living in the U.S. were detained in camps. Japanese were prohibited by a Supreme Court decision in 1922 from becoming naturalized citizens. All immigration from Japan was prohibited by the 1924 Immigration Act.

The story involves a Japanese couple, property owners and farmers on an island off Seattle, and their daughter, Setsuko. They are forced to sell their land as our government rounds them up for detention. The buyers are an American veteran and his German-Jewish immigrant wife, Eva. They prosper on the cheaply bought farm, though Ava longs to be reunited with her parents in Germany. Setsuko is the only survivor of her family. They reunite after the Allied victory to share yet deeper secrets and tragedies.

AN AMERICAN DREAM makes you think.

There is one set - a trussed-roof frame hung over sparse furniture arranged in three simple rooms: kitchen, living room, and bed room. There are five principal vocalists, covering the range from bass to soprano. The orchestra of 15 is composed of strings, reeds, horns, percussion, harp and piano. These combine to produce stringent, terse harmonies that enhance the tension of the plot. Likewise the vocals are raw, showing heartbreak and loss. The trio of Eva, her husband and Setsuko at the opera’s end bound them in anguish.

AN AMERICAN DREAM is not a light evening of opera. For those, like this writer, with an appreciation for modern opera, it delivers. For those new to modern opera, the sixty minutes might seem to be a great way to learn this medium. In this writer’s view, however, if you are looking for a first opera experience, Lyric’s current production of La Traviata might be preferable.

AN AMERICAN DREAM is moving and shines a light on the past of the United States—a history from which we should learn.


Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.

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Music by Jack Perla
Libretto by Jessica Murphy Moo
Vocalists: Christopher Magiera, Catherine Martin, Nini Yoshida Nelson, So Young Park, Ao Li, Jeff Diebold
Conductor: Daniela Candillari
Director: Matthew Ozawa
Set Designer: Andrew Boyce
Costume Designer: Izumi Inaba
Stage Manager: Kristen Barrett


Sunday, March 17, 2:00 PM


Harris Theater
205 East Randolph


For tickets and more information, visit the Lyric Opera website.

Photos by Todd Rosenberg

Watch this video previewing Picture This Post's OPERAS WE LOVE - roundup.

Ann Boland
Portrait by Paul Sierra

Reviewer Ann Boland is committed to Chicago theater. Involved in the audience since the early 80’s, she’s witnessed firsthand the rise of our theater scene, our exceptional local talent, and the vigor of each new generation.  Ann handles public relations for authors and works on programs to help seniors with neurological movement disorders.  Please visit her website for more information.  


Click here to read more Picture this Post reviews by Ann Boland.

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