In the old days, when divas of both sexes swanned from continent to continent by glamorous ocean liner, they would hold court in an operatic capital for months or a whole season at a time, running the gamut of their greatest hits. Enrico Caruso, for instance, the greatest Italian tenor of them all, made his Metropolitan Opera debut as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto on November 23, 1903. By New Year’s Eve, New Yorkers had cheered him to the rafters in Aida, Tosca, La Bohème, Pagliacci, and La Traviata. In January, he added L’Elisir d’Amore and Lucia di Lammermoor to his portfolio.
In 2020, a star typically parachutes in for a single role, knocks off five or six performances, and rushes to the airport. This season at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, however, the versatile American tenor Brandon Jovanovich, 49, turns back the clock. In a nearly three-month residence, he tackles Gherman, the compulsive gambler in Tchaikovsky’s spine-tingling ghost story, The Queen of Spades (February 15–March 1); B. F. Pinkerton, the callow American naval officer who betrays a geisha in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (March 4 and 7); and Siegmund, the doomed outlaw in Wagner’s four-part “Ring” cycle (April 13–May 3).