There will be two Italian music directors in Chicago.

Enrique Mazzola will become the top conductor at the Lyric Opera of Chicago following the retirement of Andrew Davis at the end of the 2020-21 season. Mazzola joins Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since the 2010-11 season.

“It’s a big honor to be the colleague living next door to maestro Muti, one of the greatest Italian conductors,” Mazzola said during a telephone interview.

Starting his second season as principal guest conductor at Deutsche Oper Berlin, the 51-year-old Mazzola was artistic and music director of the Paris-based Orchestre National d’Ile-de-France from 2012-13 through last season. He made his Lyric Opera debut leading Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” in 2016-17 and returns as music director designate for Verdi’s “Luisa Miller,” which opens Oct. 12.

Mazzola said he agreed to a five-year contract. He will get an apartment in Chicago and make it his primary residence but likely will keep his homes in Paris and Berlin.

The transition was announced Thursday by Lyric Opera general director Anthony Freud.

Mazzola was approached by Freund early this year and was intrigued by Chicago’s musical life and its many museums.


“It was a good moment in my artistic life to open a new window on opera,” said Mazzola, who anticipates conducting three or four productions per season over alternating engagements in Chicago and Europe.

Born in Barcelona, Spain, on March 24, 1968, Mazzola made his Metropolitan Opera debut in Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” in 2015-16 and conducted “Lucia” there last season.

“I always thought that bel canto doesn’t receive a correct treatment by opera houses, conductors, singers,” he said. “In Germany, for example, when you do a bel canto opera, very often there are very short rehearsal period, rehearsal time, because bel canto is ‘easy.’ But, of course, it’s not easy.”

He led well-received performances of Offenbach’s “Orphee aux enfers (Orpheus in the underworld)” this summer at the Salzburg Festival. He hopes to shift the core of his conducting in the next five years to Verdi, conducting at least one early work per season. He mentioned “Ernani,” ”I Due Foscari,” ”Giovanna d’Arco,” ”Attila” and “I Masnadieri (The Bandits)” as operas that interested him.

Mazzoli’s favorite stage directors include Barrie Kosky, who staged “Orphee,” Christof Loy and Mariame Clément.

“In Chicago I will be part of a big team.” Mazzoli said. “Being part of a team means to listen, so I’m really ready to receive a lot of ideas and proposals from the Lyric and of course, I’m ready to bring and add my experience to the big knowledge of opera they have already.”

Bruno Bartoletti retired as the Lyric Opera’s music director at the end of the 1999-2000 season after 45 seasons with the company. Davis began his tenure in 2000-01 with Tchaikovky’s “The Queen of Spades,” a work he is to conduct again this season. Davis had planned to retire after Wagner’s Ring Cycle next spring but said Freund persuaded him to stay for an additional season. The 75-year-old also is chief conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and former principal conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Orchestra.