Chicago has many gorgeous buildings and architecture, but I would argue that the Lyric Opera is in a class of its own. The Lyric consistently features world class performances; making it one of the greatest Opera houses in the world. From the legendary opera performers, the ornate set design, and the elaborate costumes; it’s no wonder that with virtually every performance the seats of the Lyric are filled.

We’ve seen the shows, passed the building, now is our chance to get an inside look into this historic Chicago building.  To conclude the present Opera season, The Lyric Opera allows fans of the Opera house to have the rare opportunity to see the inner workings of the Opera house.  Throughout the tour, one will learn a variety of unique unknown facts about this famous Opera House. Today, I will share with you a few rare facts about the Lyric that stood out to me during the backstage tour.

History of the Lyric

Lyric Opera Backstage Tour

To begin the tour, we first received a general overview of the history of the building.  We learned that the Civic Opera Building first opened to the public on November 4, 1929 just 6 days after the great stock market crash. As you can imagine, this was probably the worst time for an Opera to open, since most people aren’t thinking about attending an Opera when they aren’t sure whether or not they’ll have a home the next day. While the Lyric hit a slight rough patch, as we look at the Lyric today it’s clear that they overcame this obstacle by continuously providing Chicago with world class performances.  The Civic Opera Building stands like royalty in comparison to other buildings in Chicago. This title is quite fitting as the building itself is shaped like a throne that sits along the bank of the Chicago River.


Lyric Opera Backstage Tour

During the tour, is one of the rare times you will see the auditorium completely empty.  Seemingly never ending rows of red plush seats fill the room.  Saying that there is plenty of seating inside the Lyric Opera would certainly be an understatement. This Opera House is the 2nd largest in the United States featuring 3,563 seats. It is 2nd to the Metropolitan in NY.  Out of the thousands of seats, you are probably wondering where is the best seat in the house. While there are traditional floor and balcony seats, each seat faces the stage so you are guaranteed to get a great view of the show regardless of where you sit. According to one of the tour guides, to get the best sound in the Opera house it is advised to sit closer to the ceiling since sound travels to the top of the building first. What this means is that the cheaper seats actually get a better sound. However, if you want to get a little bit more up close and personal; floor seats might be a safer bet. Either way regardless of where you are sitting, you will be able to enjoy the show anywhere in the Opera house.


Lyric Opera Backstage Tour

One of the things the Opera is known for, is that they do not skimp out on costumes. These costumes cannot be made from the materials of your local craft store.  Due to stage lighting, the Opera house staff will buy the best quality fabrics causing some designs to run upwards into the thousands of dollars. Since the fabrics are of the highest quality, this can also cause some of the costumes to be quite heavy for the performers. With that extra weight coupled with bright lights; that means one thing and that is lots of sweat. To ease up on the stains, performers are required to wear t-shirts underneath their already excruciatingly warm costumes.  As you can imagine laundry is quite an affair with the Opera having gone through 3,000 loads of laundry just last year. Next time you ever think about complaining about laundry, just think about the what the staff at the Lyric Opera has to go through.


Lyric Opera Backstage Tour

Since the Opera focuses largely on period pieces, I’m sure you can imagine that when we go back in time we notice that the hair was a sight to behold. From dramatic curls, elaborate up-dos there is all types of hair creations to be seen during the Opera.  To ensure that performers don’t have to worry about styling and damaging their own hair, custom wigs are created on their behalf. These aren’t your wigs that you can go and buy in any wig or costume store. These wigs are specially crafted with each performer in mind, with every measurement  taken into consideration. Only the highest quality human hair is used on the wigs. Synthetic hair is a no-no when trying to style these elaborate wigs. In order to create a realistic appearance, the wigs are pulled through a strand by strand netting.  As you can imagine, this task could be quite time-consuming for the staff. If you would like your own custom style Opera house wig, be ready to dish out at least $2,000. On the upside, these wigs are so realistic I’m sure no one would even know you are wearing a wig.


Lyric Opera Backstage Tour

One of the aspects of the Lyric Opera that makes it stand apart from other Opera houses are the acoustics. While the Metropolitan in NY is the largest in the US, remember that Chicago ranks number one in acoustics.  As you may or may not be aware, acoustics are incredibly important since Opera performers do not use microphones. When you listen to an Opera, know that there are some powerful voices that are able to fill those tremendous spaces. From the back of the theater to the front row, the sound is able to reach every individual in attendance.  Every single aspect of the room is taken into consideration to create a perfectly sound atmosphere. The absence of velvet on the walls, as well as the back of the seats, are intentional design elements that affect the acoustics throughout the building. Velvet is known to absorb sound which can create a muted sound throughout the performance.  While a generous amount of velvet gives the appearance of glamour; the Lyric Opera understands both the importance of acoustics and style.

There is no shortage of information to be learned throughout the tour. There is only one date available on March 22nd if you too would like to get behind the scenes access to the tour. You can make reservations by calling the Lyric Opera, or filling out the reservation form at

To see which exciting productions are making their way to the Lyric, be sure to check out