James Marcucci
James Marcucci, MPP Class of 2025, at the Lyric Opera

In this blog, James Marcucci, MPP Class of 2025, shares his first experience with opera in the city of Chicago.

Between finishing my Core classes, attending seminars at the Institute of Politics, and working two internships, my winter quarter had been busy. 

Nonetheless, I always made sure to head out somewhere new and interesting in Chicago at least once a week to recharge. I’ve wandered through the halls of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, examined the art of the impressionists at the Art Institute, and stood in awe before the human-headed winged bull Lamassu of Sargon II at the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures

One night recently, I decided to head somewhere completely new for me—the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

I was there to see Champion, an opera by Terence Blanchard with libretto by Michael Cristofer. Billed as "an opera in jazz,” it's based on the story of boxer Emile Griffith.

Admittedly, I had not approached this outing as a fan of opera—I was inspired to attend as part of College Night at the Lyric Opera, which offered discounted rates for students. But when I stepped through the great doors of that tall, ornate building, my skepticism began to dissipate. The building was beautiful, with high ceilings and chandeliers, and the people were dressed fancier than anybody I went around town with. 

(I was very glad I chose to wear a suit—and very conscious of the wrinkles on my shirt.) 

I found my seat on the sixth floor of the massive auditorium and noticed the ceiling, covered in beautiful old designs in gold and velvet. Since I did know opera performers don't use microphones or speakers, I had my doubts about whether I'd be able to hear the singing from where I sat. 

Emile Griffith on the big screen at the Lyric Opera
A boxer on the screen at the Lyric Opera

But once the curtain opened and the performers began singing, those doubts were quickly redressed. There’s something otherworldly about opera singing: I didn’t realize that a human being could fit so much song in their body. And the singing was as powerful and beautiful as the story—a fighter who didn’t want to fight, a lover whose desires were forbidden, and a killer whose ghosts haunted him forever. 

As I walked out of the Lyric Opera House, it was hard to think clearly with all the beautiful music still in my ears. But I was sure of one thing: I would be back very soon.