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Opera Houses in Chicago – Past and Present

The front of the Civic Opera House in Chicago with the sign for the Lyric Opera of Chicago

Opera, like the other arts, was relatively slow to develop in Chicago, and took some time before it really nested into the cultural fabric of the City. Currently, the most prominent opera house dedicated to Opera in Chicago is the Civic Opera House (home of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, one of America’s top opera companies).

Past opera houses play a surprisingly large role in Chicago’s history, with the first opera house in Chicago history ominously burning down in two separate fires.

Rice’s Theater 1 (1847-1850)

The first theater building to open in Chicago was Rice’s theater, opened by John B Rice in 1847. It would take three years for the first visiting opera group to make their way to Rice’s Theater, as a small group began a performance of La Sonnambula on July 30, 1850. Unfortunately on the second night of the performance the opera house tragically burned down.

Rice’s Theater 2 (1851-1857)

Rice wasted no time rebuilding the theater after his first one burned down. The second Rice’s theater went up in 1851. This was the home of entertainment in the town for 6 years before it had outlived it’s usefulness and was turned into business offices.

Chicago Auditorium (1889-Present)

The interior of the Chicago Auditorium
The interior of the Chicago Auditorium

The Chicago Auditorium (not to be confused with the Chicago Theater) opened in 1889 after lobbying by the Chicago Opera Festival Association. The building was, at the time, the tallest in Chicago and was made with all of the architectural marvels of the day like electric lighting and air conditioning. In the beginning, the opera performances at the Chicago Auditorium were put on by touring companies. In 1910 the Chicago Grand Opera Company was established and made home at the Chicago Auditorium

Today the Chicago Auditorium‘s stage is host to all types of performances including singers, dancers, and ballets. In the 2022-2023 season does not have any opera’s on the calendar.

The Civic Opera House / Lyric Opera House (1929-Present)

The front of the Civic Opera House in Chicago with the sign for the Lyric Opera of Chicago
The Civic Opera House in Chicago, Illinois

The Chicago Civic Opera (company) opened shortly after the Chicago Grand Opera Company, and mostly acted as a touring opera company. They would make home in the Civic Opera House when it opened up in 1929 with 3,563 seats, making it the second largest opera auditorium in the United States behind the Metropolitan Theater in New York. Sadly, the Civic Opera House was shut down shortly after due to the Great Depression. The Lyric Opera (originally the Lyric Theater) is said to be responsible for bringing back opera in Chicago in 1952. The Civic Opera House is still home to the Lyric Opera, one of the most prominent opera companies in the world. is a directory and blog devoted to delivering the most comprehensive information on the operas of the world. Our mission is to make opera enjoyable and comprehensible for all people, everywhere.

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