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Lyric Opera Officially Opens New Center

The Lyric Opera of Kansas City on Friday marked the official opening of its new $10.5 million, two-building facility in the Crossroads Arts District. The crowd chanted together in a countdown: "Five, four, three, one!" With brief snips by pairs of scissors, a thick, bright red ribbon was cut. "We are open!" announced General Director Deborah Sandler.

Opening doors

The doors of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City's administration building opened Friday morning to about 100 arts officials, city council members, artists, dancers and others.

Guided tours were offered. One staffer began with a proud introduction near the entrance: "You’re in the lobby of our building, (it's a) beautiful two-story lobby, with our beautiful polished concrete floor."

The Lyric’s new facility in the East Crossroads includes two buildings. One’s a production center with shops for carpentry, wig and wardrobe, and paint. It also includes a rehearsal space with the same footprint as the Muriel Kauffman Theatre at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. It’s linked to the administration building, with light-filled offices and storage for scenery and props.

"Come on in," encouraged Director of Production Tracy Davis-Singh as she stepped into the cavernous set vault. "So, we have a nice dragon to greet everyone." Here, she's referring to a prop, a dragon, the first object a visitor will see.

According to Davis-Singh, this storage space holds 10 to 12 sets; the painted panels are stacked, shelved, and neatly labeled. It's a big change from the old scene shop.

"The previous place where we used to store our scenery was an old elementary school down in the East Bottoms," said Davis-Singh. "The school was broken into multiple times. The walls and ceilings leaked, so rain would get on the sets which would cause mold which is a very bad thing for opera singers."

Looking forward and back

In 2007, the Lyric Opera sold the Lyric Theatre and bought three buildings north of 18th Street. An old warehouse was re-purposed for the production center; two brick buildings were torn down, and a new administration building with metal siding and glass walls was constructed.

Artistic Director Ward Holmquist stood outside the center next to recently retired General Director Evan Luskin who said it's a bittersweet moment for him.

"Sometimes you don't know when things are going to fall into place," said Luskin. "And I'm just very happy for the company that we are where I had hoped we would be."

Holmquist said he’s still pinching himself. With this facility, he expects the company to do its best work because it now has all the right tools.

"We don’t have to operate from a position of weakness or make-do," said Holmquist. "We can really push to have our dreams come forth on the stage and in all the other ways in which we want to be a part of the community and the Kansas City performing arts community."

On July 1, 2012, Deborah Sandler started as the company’s new General Director. And the move into the new center took place just a few days later. Sandler sees it as a milestone for the company.

"In a sense it’s a declaration of where we want to go and who we want to be," said Sandler. "The energy is palpable I think and everybody is sort of at the top of their game. So we’re really charged up."

Each of the Lyric’s buildings will be named after longtime supporters: Michael and Ginger Frost and Beth Ingram. The complex will be called the Lyric Opera of Kansas City Richard J. Stern Center. According to board members, Stern helped the company purchase the Lyric Theatre in 1992; through the sale of that building, the Lyric was able to establish their new home in the Crossroads.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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