Anthony Freud, who took over in 2011 as Lyric Opera of Chicago’s fourth general director and later added the titles of president and chief executive officer, announced Wednesday that that he will retire in July 2024, two years before the end of his latest five-year contract extension.
“From a Lyric point of view,” he said, “I think we are in an exceptionally strong position at the moment. It’s a logical time for a transition, and I continue to be very confident about Lyric’s future, and I’m here for the next year, so it’s very much business as normal for the time being.”
Freud’s accomplishments include the 2012 establishment of Lyric Unlimited, an innovative artistic incubator and outreach arm of the company; the recruitment of the Joffrey Ballet as an artistic tenant in the Lyric Opera House beginning in 2021-22, and the 2019 hiring of Enrique Mazzola as the company’s music director.
Among the artistic highlights of his tenure, he pointed to the company’s four world premieres, especially last season’s “The Factotum” and “Proximity,” as well as Lyric’s new production of Verdi’s “Macbeth” in 2021 and Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” in 2022.
In addition, Freud led the company through the challenges of the COVID-19 shutdown with non-traditional offerings like “Twilight: Gods” in a Millennium Park parking garage and a film production of “Pagliacci.”
“We made the decision to do the opposite of hibernating,” he said.
“Anthony was Lyric’s first general director to have been appointed from outside the company,” Lyric board chair Sylvia Neil said in a statement, “and the development of the company under his leadership has been remarkable.”
But there have been some dark clouds as well. Lyric Opera’s 2023-24 season contains just six mainstage opera productions compared to eight in 2018-19.
“That is an acknowledgement that the financial resources that we have at our disposal post-pandemic are not what they used to be,” Freud said.
An internationally known opera leader, Freud is former board chair of Opera America and Opera Europa. He took over in Chicago after previous general directorships of the Houston Grand Opera (2006-11) and Welsh National Opera (1994-2005).
Freud said the moment just seemed right for his retirement.
“It feels like a logical time both from my personal point of view and a Lyric point of view,” he said. “Next year, I will have been an opera company general director for 30 years. I’ll be 66 at the end of next month, so it feels like a time for a new chapter.”
At the same time, he said, he wanted to give the company ample time to find his replacement, so it made sense to make his announcement before the company opens its 2023-24 season with “The Flying Dutchman.”
After living in the United States for nearly 20 years, Freud, a British and American dual citizen, and his husband, Colin Ure, plan to return to Great Britain upon the completion of his tenure.