The Civic Opera House is one of Chicago’s most valuable gems. Its Art Deco interiors harken back to the golden era in which it was built. Also called Lyric Opera House, the theater located at 20 North Wacker Drive opened in 1929. Today, it is still the second-largest opera auditorium in North America (only following the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City). The main performance space seats 3,563, located within the larger Civic Opera Building stretching 45 stories tall. It is home to Lyric Opera of Chicago, which has been producing thrilling and thought-provoking opera as well as core classics since 1954.
Civic Opera House Facilities
The Civic Opera Building is a 45-story skyscraper with two 22-story wings. Completed after just 22 months of construction, the building is shaped like a gigantic throne facing the Chicago River. The 3,563-seat auditorium and its backstage area occupy approximately one third of the building.
Along the side of the building is a colonnade portico, distinguished by gilded bronze doors at the far end. These doors enter into the equally stunning grand foyer, with gilt cornices and Austrian crystal chandeliers.
The space features original pink and gray Tennessee marble flooring, fluted Roman travertine columns and intricately stenciled ceilings. In 1994, the space was named the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Grand Foyer after the opera’s grand benefactors. Through the lobby, imposing double staircases lead to the mezzanine foyer and 31 boxes. Above the box level are an additional two balconies with 800 seats.
Civic Opera House Programs
Lyric Opera operates with a vision to be a world-class leader in innovative opera, designed for the 21st century. They strive to engage large and diverse audiences with thrilling opera that spans core classics, lesser-known masterpieces and new work.
In addition to performances, Lyric Opera sponsors Lyric Unlimited, which offers an array of educational, artistic and community engagement programs. More than 100,000 Chicagoans experience Lyric Unlimited programming each season. Programs include EmpowerYouth!, Caminos a la ópera, and Chicago Voices. Additionally, visitors can stop into the building for tours, talks, and events. For example, this year’s family opera is Earth to Kenzie.
Lyric Unlimited also helps to commision and present new, small-scale works of opera. Lyric Opera also helps propel future talent with the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, which prepares emerging singers for careers in opera through unique training.
Getting to the Civic Opera House
Located in the heart of Chicago at 20 N. Wacker Drive, you’ll want to leave some extra time to get to the theater. The best way to get here is via public transit. Take the L subway to Washington/Wells, Clinton, Monroe, or Lake. Bus stops for routes 20, 56, 60, 124, and J14 are easily located across the street from the Opera at Madison and Franklin.
If you decide to drive here, Lyric Opera patrons get an affordable parking rate of $12 per performance at nearby The Poetry Garage. Be sure to purchase parking vouchers in advance to enjoy this special rate.