Changes at the Chicago Lyric

No time for Lyric to play it safe
Opera company loses Epstein’s voice of innovation
By John von Rhein
Tribune music critic
December 27, 2004
Matthew A. Epstein’s recent departure as artistic director of Lyric Opera raises questions about whether the company can continue to be a leader among top American companies, or merely will be a follower.
Lyric’s announcement that Epstein, the 57-year-old former vice president of the powerful Columbia Artists Management Inc., will leave at the expiration of his contract in April did not surprise many people in the opera business.
Epstein is known to be abrasive and outspoken. And his support for cutting-edge, revisionist opera productions put him increasingly at odds with the more conservative philosophy of Lyric General Director William Mason.
Epstein, the former chief of the Welsh National Opera, maintains a residence in New York and has kept a low profile in Chicago, even with respect to Lyric’s day-to-day operations. If the local opera public was aware of him at all, it was from the stentorian “bravos” he would give “his” singers from his aisle seat at Lyric performances.
It may not be entirely coincidental that Epstein is giving up his $254,758-a-year post just when his name is being bandied about as a contender for the departing Pamela Rosenberg’s job as general director of the San Francisco Opera. The chairman of the search committee told the San Francisco Chronicle it was “entirely possible” a new general director will be announced before the end of the year.
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