Furhter Discussion of the "Rake's Progress" Controversy | Letters | Chicago Reader

Furhter Discussion of the "Rake's Progress" Controversy 

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To the editors:

I am in disagreement with Dennis Polkow's response to the letter of Eleanor C. Miller (Letters, May 4), and on a couple of points. She pointed out that he was wrong in stating, in his review of The City Musick's The Rake's Progress [April 6], that the work had never before been presented in Chicago. He rather snidely replied that he knew about it, but doesn't "consider student productions of such important works worthy of the designation "premiere.'"

First, Mr. Polkow is surely aware that the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists (once, rather confusingly, known as the Opera School) is and was a professional organization. The singers who work there, both in LOCAA productions and in the fall season, are almost always already experienced, professional singers when they sign their LOCAA contracts.

Second, it is entirely inaccurate to label the Opera Center's premiere of the work a "student production." As it happens, I was in that show. We were not only paid, we were paid AGMA union scale, a distinction one will not find with any of the city's other professional opera companies. (I have never encountered a student production in which the singers were paid; in those cases, one is supposed to be doing it for the experience.) The male lead was sung by tenor Frank Little, who at the time was singing starring roles with regional companies and featured roles with outfits like the Lyric and the Met, also not in keeping with the "student production" label. The Rake's Progress was directed by George Keathley, and designed by a team from the Goodman Theatre. It was presented in the Civic Theatre, with full orchestra. It was, in fact, a thoroughly professional production.

Whether or not Mr. Polkow agrees with my assessment, he still should have informed his readers that the production took place; he said flatly in his review that The Rake's Progress had never been given in Chicago, period. That's obviously false.

Since John von Rhein of the Tribune made the same mistake, I wonder if perhaps the publicity for the more recent production was in error. If it was, Mr. Polkow should just say so. I certainly know how difficult it is to admit in the pages of the Reader that one has made a mistake--but sometimes one should just swallow hard and own up to it, without recourse to sophistry.

Bryan Miller

Oak Park

Dennis Polkow replies:

Perhaps Bryan Miller's involvement with the Lyric School and with its production of The Rake's Progress makes it difficult for her to see the forest for the trees. The issue is performance level, not money. Even if Lyric does pay those involved, so that it can justify the "professional" label, and even if an operatic "ringer" or two is brought in, these are still student productions, the point of which is to train those who may or may not go on to sing opera at a more consistently professional level, not to entertain or artistically enlighten an audience. (It is also primarily friends and relatives of the singers who attend these productions.) The point is that Lyric did not think enough of The Rake's Progress to gamble on a company production.

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